By Cortney Fielding
The USC School of Social Work and the Chinese Cochrane Center have launched the first online clearinghouse for human services professionals and policy makers in China, seeking easy access to culturally relevant social work practices.
The Chinese Clearinghouse for Evidence-Based Practice and Policy (CCE) will introduce the latest evidence-based interventions in social work from around the world into a rapidly globalizing society beginning to look outward for solutions to modern mental-health problems.
"Our mission is to provide human services professionals, community organizations and policy makers the latest empirical evidence on social work practices that are most likely to succeed within Chinese society, " said Haluk Soydan, director of the school's Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services, who will also serve as the CCE's scientific director. "While there have been some successful efforts in China, human services and social science in dealing with vulnerable populations and underserved areas is still strongly lacking. We believe this easily accessible website is a step toward widespread use of these mental-health interventions in the world's largest nation."
Gaining popularity within the United States, clearinghouses are web-based portals where quality-controlled scientific evidence of what works—or is possibly harmful— in professional practice and policy interventions is made available to professionals, decision makers and the general public in accessible and transparent language and format.
Scientific committees assess the best available scientific evidence of the latest research on programs and other innovations in health care, social services and other human services, providing in-depth coverage of a number of high-priority policy topics in social work practice and other human services.
Teaming up with the Cochrane Center, the School of Social Work sought to bring the clearinghouse model to China—a country that has traditionally resisted the idea that its citizens suffered from mental-health disorders similar to those in the West.
But that resistance is fading as China is forced to find modern solutions to its increasingly modern problems—especially where children are concerned.
But once available, it can reach more quickly and accurately train social workers, psychologists, doctors and counselors to work with this vulnerable population more than any other method, said Marilyn Flynn, dean of the School of Social Work.
According to the CCE, unbalanced economic development, a restrictive family planning policy, urbanization, the financial crisis and the impact of globalization have all conspired to increasingly expose Chinese children to complex health, education and safety risks, as well as psychological, cultural, economic and social deprivation.
And while the Chinese government recognizes the situation and has implemented some helpful programs to combat the problem, there is still a longstanding deficit that must be overcome.
When the CCE launched this September, its website included nine carefully selected evidence-based interventions concerning children with behavior issues. The interventions were largely taken from the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, supported by the California Department of Social Services.
In addition to the typical scientific review, Soydan and the CCE enlisted a culturally competent scientific committee to examine all interventions for feasibility, based on their own experiences and expertise in psychosocial interventions adapted for Chinese-American populations and their knowledge of Chinese culture.
"Just because it works in the United States, doesn't mean it's going to work in China," Soydan said.
One behavior-modification home-based program instructed parents to praise their children for appropriate behavior and refrain from giving attention to misbehavior. The committee noted that Chinese parents may hold cultural beliefs about motivation that contraindicate praise and favor criticism. Many believe children will stop trying hard if you praise them and are often uncomfortable with the strategy of ignoring misbehavior.
Duration of therapy was another common concern Soydan's team considered. One successful intervention used in the United States lasted 34 weeks for the children and 16 for the parents. Reviewers worried Chinese parents would feel reluctant to have their children spend such a big chunk of time participating in a program that is not directly related to improving their academic performance, given that academic performance is a focal concern for parents of school-age children.
The panel ultimately gave the program approval.
The CCE said it will grow to include adult and senior citizen mental-health interventions within the next year. In addition to posting research, the clearinghouse plans to build collaborative alliances with community organizations and other networks in social work practice and other human services in China; assist international networks in the production and dissemination of Chinese-generated scientific evidence in social work research for use in other parts of the world; and train faculty, students and agency staff in evidence-based practice and decision-making in the field of child welfare and social work practice.
"We are committed to working closely with professionals, decision-makers and community organization representatives in China, as well as with leading international organizations and networks in the pursuit of our mission," Soydan said.