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Implementation Science

Center for Effective Interventions brings implementation science to community agencies

young girl at therapy session

The DU Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) is home to a little-known center that makes a big community impact.

GSSW’s Center for Effective Interventions (CEI) helps agencies, communities, tribes and government programs in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas to effectively implement Multisystemic Therapy for chronic and violent juvenile offenders and their families.

Multisystemic Therapy is an evidence-based intervention for youths ages 12–17 who are involved — or at risk of involvement — in the juvenile justice system. The family- and community-based approach has been shown to reduce out-of-home placements, keep kids in school and out of trouble, improve family function, decrease adolescent psychiatric symptoms and decrease adolescent drug and alcohol use.

But that’s only if implementation adheres to the Multisystemic Therapy model, and that’s where CEI comes in. Funded by the agencies it works with, the center provides technical implementation support that includes weekly consultation with therapy teams as well as tracking of fidelity and outcomes.

“Agencies who try to do this kind of program without technical support do not get the same kind of outcomes,” explains CEI Executive Director Suzanne Kerns, a research associate professor at GSSW. “What we’ve seen is program drift; without some technical support, what often happens is that therapists — with the best of intentions — will start to make flexible choices around treatment that undermine the effectiveness of the treatment.”

As interventions such as Multisystemic Therapy scale from research to implementation in the community, positive effects often diminish markedly. But, Kerns explains, “Technical support helps the teams to function more like how they function in the research setting.” And that provides better outcomes for the population an agency serves and a better return on the agency’s investment in an intervention.

Numbers show the power in CEI's approach. In the past year, CEI and its partner organizations have served more than 600 youths. Nearly 90% of those kids completed treatment, were in school or working, and were thriving at home with no new arrests.

CEI was founded in 2000 at Metropolitan State University of Denver, but moved to GSSW in 2015. The center currently consults with 20 teams from nine agencies providing Multisystemic Therapy. A strategic planning process for the center and GSSW is underway, and an expansion in the center’s scope is on the horizon.

“CEI emphasizes the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practices, which ensures that what is developed through rigorous research is able to be adapted and executed to change people’s lives,” says GSSW Dean Amanda Moore McBride. “I look forward to the growth of CEI’s offerings, bridging the gap between research and practice.”

The new scope likely will include support for evidence-based interventions beyond Multisystemic Therapy. There's also potential to expand program-evaluation capacity, partner with researchers who need help bringing interventions to the community, and help agencies determine which evidence-based practice best meets their needs.

“We want to engage in a more thoughtful dialogue about what would be a good fit,” Kerns says. “There are thousands of programs out there. We could help agencies to narrow the field to the most effective and realistic possibilities and support them in their planning and implementation process.”

“I want CEI to create a bridge between the University and the community — to partner with agencies so when they have a question, we can look at it together with an empirical lens,” Kerns adds. “Our goal is to bring the best of implementation science to help agencies implement effective evidence-based interventions for children and families.”

Contact the Center for Effective Interventions to learn more about their services and how they can help.