Despite growing research productivity and accessibility to its products, studies consistently show a gap between the availability of scientific knowledge and its application [1–4]. Health researchers from the United States and the Netherlands have estimated that 30% to 45% of all patients are receiving inappropriate cares according to scientific evidences and from 20% to 25% of provided cares are unnecessary or potentially harmful .
Just as in the healthcare field, the desire to develop more solidly evidence-based practices in the child welfare field faces substantial obstacles [5–8]. In the province of Québec, youth centres form a network of organizations mandated to offer psychosocial services and protection to children in difficulty and their families. An estimated 100,000 young people receive youth centre services annually. The majority of such services are offered as part of protection measures and are aimed at children and families seriously affected by neglect, maltreatment, sexual abuse, abandonment, or severe behavior disorders.
Over the past years, the Québec Youth Centre network has invested significant financial and organizational resources in the implementation of evidence-based programs and practices. However, this transformation poses a challenge both in terms of bringing practitioners' clinical interventions more in line with evidence-based practices and encouraging the administrators of these organizations to make evidence-based strategic and administrative decisions .
Despite the large number of children and families receiving services from child and family social services in North America, very few studies have examined research knowledge utilization in such organizations. Indeed, most studies that have examined research utilization have been conducted in the health service sector with nurses [10, 11]. From a recent systematic literature review carried out by our research team, we established the existence of N = 45 theoretical models of knowledge utilization, where among these 36 have been developed in the medical and nursing field. Only five of them dealt with the social intervention field, and none have been developed specifically in the child and family welfare context.
Given the different organizational culture of the medical field, which is highly hierarchical compared to child and family welfare sector of activity, one might wonder about the degree to which knowledge about determinants of research utilization in the health field can be applied to social and youth protection services. In addition, evidence is produced less frequently in social research due to the complexity of the variables under study and the more limited possibilities for controlled experimentation as compared to biomedical sciences. Finally, research utilization in clinical practice poses an even greater challenge in the child and family welfare field in that research-practice collaboration in child and family welfare is far more recent than in the healthcare field, and interventions are based for the most part on the clinical judgment and practical experience of practitioners and decision makers . A number of studies have examined the attitudes of child and family welfare service providers toward adopting evidence-based practices. They indicated that different factors, namely organizational culture, work climate, organizational support, access to knowledge, and quality of training can influence the use of evidence-based practices in an intervention [13–16], as well as professional burnout and service provider turnover .
A recent survey by Children's Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) examines the perception of executive directors (N = 80) and practitioners (N = 483) of their organizations' ability to utilize research knowledge . The survey revealed that fewer than 50% of respondents consider their organizations amenable to translate research knowledge successfully. There was general agreement among executive directors and practitioners concerning this issue. The results of a study conducted in the United Kingdom, with the participation of professionals from 50 child and family welfare services organizations, corroborate the organizations' role in supporting research and knowledge utilization by their staff. While a high proportion of the respondents (90%) considered that responsibility for the implementation of evidence-based practice should be shared by all, they stated that first there must be a strong leadership on the part of the administration .
To our knowledge, only one study has pertained to evaluate the real extent by which scientific knowledge is used by practitioners in child and family welfare services. The Australian study, conducted by Holzer et al.  with N = 495 professionals, showed that 62% of practitioners said they used research-based knowledge either often or always in their interventions. From a qualitative analysis applied on the content of 59 interviews conducted with respondents, the observations also suggested that two main factors influenced the use of research-based knowledge in clinical practice: organizational factors affecting support in access to and utilization of knowledge, and the concrete implications of knowledge for practice and its dissemination in formats adapted to users' needs . However, no empirical study has examined or compared the determinants of research knowledge utilization for practitioners and administrators in child and family services.
The development of a better understanding of the conditions that contribute to the use of research-based evidence by practitioners and decision makers in the field of child and family welfare is vital to ensure better support for the translation of research-based knowledge into practice [9, 19].
Determinants of knowledge translation
Why is it so difficult to achieve high utilization of research-based evidence, and what are the key factors in this process? Studies show that organizational and individual determinants are involved in research knowledge utilization. On an organizational level, compatibility between types of knowledge available and the organization's need for new knowledge has been shown to foster the process of knowledge translation [20–22]. In this respect, the study of Barwick et al.  conducted in Ontario children's mental health services indicates that one of the major obstacles to knowledge translation is the lack of relevance of scientific information that is available to practitioners.
In addition to the relevance of available research, elements related to the organization itself may play an important role in knowledge utilization by members. Studies show that significant involvement by organizations throughout the research process, the implementation of a favorable organizational culture, and the presence of positive research values foster the acquisition and translation of research knowledge into practice [2, 23–27].
Thus, an organization's receptivity to research knowledge utilization and its leadership in the domain have an important influence on user efforts to acquire, understand, and even participate in the development of knowledge; relatively unreceptive organizations are less likely to acquire research knowledge [18, 23, 24, 28, 29].
On an individual level, receptivity and attitudes of potential users towards research knowledge have been identified as being important factors in knowledge utilization [30, 31]. Indeed, research results are often viewed by professionals as an incomplete source of knowledge. The integration of research knowledge into the knowledge developed by professionals and its integration into professional practice are particularly complex because the two areas of knowledge are the products of different cultures [32–34]. To be recognized as useful and applied effectively by professionals, such results must correspond to their clinical observations, practical knowledge, and relational skills .
Such difficulties may explain, in part at least, the significant gap that exists between the available research knowledge and its utilization in planning and intervention [1–3]. The use of research increases when the knowledge corresponds to users' needs and when users see the suitability of such knowledge to their own context [2, 31, 35–37].
In this respect, users' motivation to unfold efforts in acquiring and utilizing research knowledge may be influenced by their perception of potential risks in using research results in practice. Users' motivation to use research knowledge might be increased by the frequency and quality of contacts between researchers and users. 'Relational capital', or exchange mechanisms and level of trust existing between researchers and professionals, may be a determining factor in knowledge utilization because it contributes to bringing knowledge producers and users together and thus increases receptivity to the utilization of research knowledge [23, 30, 38]. Indeed, it has been shown that beneficial collaborative experiences with researchers improve users' attitudes towards research and increase the probability that they will engaged themselves in the knowledge utilization process [2, 36]. Such collaborative experiences generally occur within the framework of exchange mechanisms of varying complexity, ranging from the simple exchange of written documentation to personal contact. Indeed, several studies have addressed the importance of such user-researcher exchange mechanisms in fostering knowledge utilization [2, 28, 39].
Although exchanges and relations between researchers and users of knowledge appear to play an important role in knowledge utilization, the notion of 'relational capital' is a concept that needs refinement in its definition to provide a better understanding of its relation to knowledge utilization and to clarify the conditions that foster the development of such capital between researchers and practitioners.
The theory of knowledge diffusion has played a central role in the development of theoretical models of knowledge translation, especially in the healthcare field . Researcher efforts to disseminate research knowledge, especially when such efforts are intense and focused on mechanisms of interactive exchange with users, translate into products that are better adapted to users' needs and are better understood due to the greater amount of explanation that surrounded the dissemination, Studies highlight the fact that intensity of interactions between researchers and practitioners contributes to increased diffusion efforts by researchers and involvement by users . However, diffusion efforts that are adapted specifically to targeted user groups by the producers of research knowledge are relatively uncommon .
Targeting knowledge utilization
In addition to factors related to organizational characteristics and the receptivity of individuals able to influence knowledge utilization, choice of knowledge application strategies and users' targeted in the strategy itself seem to be crucial elements in knowledge utilization. Indeed, knowledge utilization needs and types may vary depending on the targeted users. Research indicates that knowledge utilization needs, as well as the appropriate messages and formats for transmitting knowledge, differ greatly depending on whether users are practitioners, program administrators, or political decision-makers [41–43]. For example, practitioners and administrators occupy different roles in child and family welfare. Practitioners intervene directly with the clientele, while administrators are responsible for making decisions related to service planning and administration. Thus, practitioners would be concerned with integrating research knowledge into their regular practice. This presupposes the organizational ability to support the transformation of practitioners' clinical practices over time in accordance with evidence-based practices [44, 45]. Conversely, program administrators would be more concerned with finding specific information to help them make short-term decisions regarding the best action to take, i.e., evidence-based decisions [9, 41]. One of the key questions in promoting better utilization of research knowledge is to sort out whether knowledge-translation processes differ according to types of users, and if so what are the nature of processes at hand. Few studies have explored these questions. Two studies in the medical field have examined different forms of research knowledge utilization and compared knowledge-utilization processes engaged by different types of clinicians [46, 47]. Results of these studies suggest differences in frequency and end-results of knowledge utilization depending on whether the knowledge is being used by nurse administrators, educators, or staff nurses.
In summary, research in the field of knowledge application suggests that research results utilization is determined by a complex set of variables comprised of organizational elements and other individual user-related elements. Exchange mechanisms and collaboration between researchers and professionals may play a determining role in this field. However, despite these advances, the specific roles of different elements and their interrelations remain unclear. While studies on the question to date provide a basic understanding of the factors at play in the equation, precise knowledge of the processes involved has yet to be developed.
This lack of knowledge is even more pronounced in child and family welfare, because the majority of studies on knowledge translation are conducted in the healthcare field. Moreover, while administrators and practitioners occupy different roles in child and family welfare services, no research conducted specifically in this field has examined whether the determinants of knowledge translation are different for the two groups of users.