Blog Archives

Government-Faith-based Partnerships: Looking Hard at Open Table

About two years ago, a small national organization called Open Table found its way to our door. They’d been referred by a mutual friend at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a higher-up there we knew from his days as director of mental health services in Connecticut.

He knew we were interested in how faith communities could be harnessed on behalf of vulnerable young people; we’d done three large studies on the topic (within the broader context of spiritual-based programs in youth services). He also knew that Open Table was potentially powerful — so powerful that SAMHSA itself had decided to fund demonstration projects in its Systems of Care communities around the country.

We, of course, are primarily interested in young people. What intrigued us was that, at first blush, Open Table seemed capable of doing the one thing that the traditional social service system had never been able to do: stick with youth over time, not as paid professionals but as actual friends.

At first blush, Open Table seemed capable of doing the one thing that the traditional social service system had never been able to do: stick with youth over time, not as paid professionals but as actual friends.

The idea isn’t terribly complicated. Open Table partners with an interested congregation that commits to hosting one or more year-long “Tables.” Congregations buy a program license, and six to eight volunteers per Table are trained in how to support a person transitioning from poverty. The congregation partners with a  local social service agency, and from that agency gets referrals to clients who both want and are deemed ready to receive help. Open Table recipients (in faith-community fashion, they are referred to as “Brother” or “Sister”) are diverse: in the seven years since Open Table began, recipients have been homeless LGBTQ youth, ex-offenders re-entering the community, single mothers in recovery from substance addiction, and young people aging out of foster care. They may have mental health issues, or addictions, or felonies behind them; no matter their circumstances, all of them are looking for a way to move forward.

In congregational settings, private homes and restaurants, Table volunteers begin meeting with their Brother or Sister once a week, where they work through a structured series of steps based on the recipient’s personal goals. Each Table’s progress is closely monitored and supported by the program itself, which employs mental health consultants. Tables are not about treatment, though, or even social work — and that distinction is important. It is skilled group mentoring that emphasizes friendship above all.

In the language of our field, Open Table provides “aftercare,” and organic aftercare at that, based on real relationships with people who are personally invested in caring. The assumption is that Table volunteers bring two essential things to the process: 1) their “human capital,” or the connections and know-how to navigate ordinary life, and 2) their willingness to non-judgmentally walk alongside a person experiencing profound yet surmountable problems. Evaluations to date show that for the recipients, the Table process is a bridge to education, better jobs, and long-term relationships. For volunteers, the process provides eye-opening exposure to the realities of poverty.

(For those wondering, as we did, about the religious content: Open Table doesn’t allow proselytizing and isn’t about winning converts. In fact, it doesn’t allow any religious language whatsoever unless requested by the person being helped.)

We were so interested in the potential of Open Table that we became evaluators to it, joining a group of consultants that includes John VanDenBerg, the wraparound services pioneer. For our part, we’re going to keep talking about Open Table and looking hard at how much of the missing piece it can be for young people trying to find their footing. We encourage youth service providers to take a look as well.

By Melanie Wilson
Youth Catalytics Director of Research

How does Open Table look in practice? Watch Jessica, a former foster youth who became homeless after aging out of the system in Texas, explain it.

Posted in evaluation

Is Open Table Group Mentoring the Aftercare Solution We’ve Been Waiting for?

About a year ago, a small national organization called Open Table found its way to our door. They’d been referred by a mutual friend at SAMHSA, a higher-up there we knew from his days as director of mental health services in Connecticut.

He knew we were interested in how faith communities could be harnessed on behalf of vulnerable young people; we’d done three large studies on the topic (within the broader context of spiritual-based programs in youth services). He also knew that Open Table was potentially powerful — so powerful that SAMHSA itself had decided to fund demonstration projects in its Systems of Care communities around the country.

We, of course, are primarily interested in young people. What intrigued us was that, at first blush, Open Table seemed capable of doing the one thing that the traditional social service system had never been able to do: stick with youth over time, not as paid professionals but as actual friends.

At first blush, Open Table seemed capable of doing the one thing that the traditional social service system had never been able to do: stick with youth over time, not as paid professionals but as actual friends.

The idea isn’t terribly complicated. Open Table partners with an interested congregation that commits to hosting one or more year-long “Tables.” Congregations buy a program license, and six to eight volunteers per Table are trained in how to support a person transitioning from poverty. The congregation partners with a  local social service agency, and from that agency gets referrals to clients who both want and are deemed ready to receive help. Open Table recipients (in faith-community fashion, they are referred to as “Brother” or “Sister”) are diverse: in the seven years since Open Table began, recipients have been homeless LGBTQ youth, ex-offenders re-entering the community, single mothers in recovery from substance addiction, and young people aging out of foster care. They may have mental health issues, or addictions, or felonies behind them; no matter their circumstances, all of them are looking for a way to move forward.

In congregational settings, private homes and restaurants, Table volunteers begin meeting with their Brother or Sister once a week, where they work through a structured series of steps based on the recipient’s personal goals. Each Table’s progress is closely monitored and supported by the program itself, which employs mental health consultants. Tables are not about treatment, though, or even social work — and that distinction is important. It is skilled group mentoring that emphasizes friendship above all.

In the language of our field, Open Table provides “aftercare,” and organic aftercare at that, based on real relationships with people who are personally invested in caring. The assumption is that Table volunteers bring two essential things to the process: 1) their “human capital,” or the connections and know-how to navigate ordinary life, and 2) their willingness to non-judgmentally walk alongside a person experiencing profound yet surmountable problems. Evaluations to date show that for the recipients, the Table process is a bridge to education, better jobs, and long-term relationships. For volunteers, the process provides eye-opening exposure to the realities of poverty.

(For those wondering, as we did, about the religious content: Open Table doesn’t allow proselytizing and isn’t about winning converts. In fact, it doesn’t allow any religious language whatsoever unless requested by the person being helped.)

We were so interested in the potential of Open Table that we became evaluators to it, joining a group of consultants that includes John VanDenBerg, the wraparound services pioneer. For our part, we’re going to keep talking about Open Table and looking hard at how much of the ‘missing piece’ it can be for young people trying to find their footing. We encourage youth service providers to take a look as well.

By Melanie Wilson
Youth Catalytics Director of Research

How does Open Table look in practice? Watch Jessica, a former foster youth who became homeless after aging out of the system in Texas, explain it.

 

Posted in evaluation, promising practices, uncategorized

Pregnancy Prevention for Youth in Special Circumstances: What It Takes to Do It Right

 

wymancoverWe’re excited to share a resource for teen pregnancy prevention programs that we developed for Wyman, based on our and others’ experiences implementing the Teen Outreach Program® with young people in foster care and juvenile justice settings (or who have other characteristics that make them special). Biggest takeaway? Working with young people in special situations requires a whole new set of tools and approaches, some adapted to the young people themelves and some to the larger systems that serve them.

We loved all the inteviews, connections and new learning, and look forward to helping other agencies learn from our and our colleagues’ experiences!

See Implementing the Teen Outreach Program® with Special Populations: Lessons Learned from Seven Youth-Serving Agencies

Posted in evaluation, news, organizational development, promising practices, uncategorized

‘Life is My Organization’

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Adults are okay, if you have to spend your days doing professional things. But lots of times, I miss young people.

I was reminded of that while flipping through evaluations from one of our Youth Thrive® trainings in Vermont. Digging in, I could see they were amazingly good. School social workers and safety officers, substance abuse counselors, family support specialists, mentoring program directors, workforce development managers — they loved this training. Excellent.

Then I came to an evaluation from the sole teenager who had attended. She’d dutifully filled in every line, answering even the questions about her organization and job title.

I haven’t stopped smiling since I saw them.

(By the way, it won’t surprise you that she loved the training, too. I know because she adorned her compliments with stars and hearts.)

 

 – Melanie Wilson

 

 

 

Posted in adolescent biology, evaluation, uncategorized

What’s the Future of ‘Pay for Success’?

PFS-Mass.WASHINGTON DC — Utah’s just-completed Pay for Success pilot is the talk of the town in DC, at least among a certain subset of policy researchers.

Not familiar with it? The Salt Lake County, Utah, High-Quality Preschool Program sought to increase the number of low-income children in the county who started kindergarten on track and ready to learn. Based on predictive assessments, the county estimated that, absent of some special effort, 110 of the 600 low-income children in its study cohort would need special education in kindergarten. Their pilot, funded through an outcome-focused public-private investment mechanism called Pay for Success (PFS), determined to change those numbers, and it did. After a year of the PFS-sponsored program, only one – yes, one – child was found to need special education. The win for the children was also a win for the taxpayers. The county says it has saved $281,000 in education expenses; presumably those savings will rise if children stay in mainstream classes over the long run.

Under the PFS financing model, social service providers sit down with public funders, private investors, and a project intermediary. Together they look at the evidence that the provider’s approach works, set numerical targets for success, hash out the cost of running and evaluating the program, and then make a deal. The private investors front the full cost of the program; the provider rigorously tracks outcomes, with the help of outside experts; and a third-party evaluator determines if, after a pre-established period of time, the program has indeed succeeded. If it has, the government steps in and pays the investors back, with interest, sometimes over an extended period as more and more savings are realized.

As a model for funding nonprofit services, Pay for Success is in its infancy in the United States, and the first few projects – those just completed and those still underway– are under intense scrutiny.

A panel at the Urban Institute this week spoke to a standing-room-only crowd (a crowd which, several speakers noted, could have fit into a supply closet just a few years ago) about the future of the model. The panel included Shaun Donovan, director of the OMB (a PFS enthusiast); the Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams; Antony Bugg-Levine, of the Nonprofit Finance Fund; and other policy experts and bureaucrats working with the model. Together, they made an impressive case that Pay for Success can demolish funding silos and create powerful new relationships capable of driving dramatic improvement in services. There’s also a lot that it can’t do, or probably can’t do. In other words, much remains unknown about the true potential of PFS.

The Upside

The PFS approach is highly appealing, at least for some types of projects. It can lead to:

  • More effective services. While government may tolerate mediocre results, private investors will not. Private money focuses attention on results and better aligns incentives and expectations. Service providers are no longer paid to provide a service. They’re paid to produce success. For their part, city, county, state and federal funders get to do more than expand, contract or defund programs and ensure grantee compliance; they get to truly change the lives of the people in their communities.
  • The vigorous use of independent evaluators. This is a very good thing, since programs that conduct or contract out their own evaluations can’t be expected (though surprisingly often, they are) to reach conclusions that are truly objective.
  • More honest conversations between providers and funders. Instead of writing grants that promise the moon, PFS-based discussions focus on what’s actually achievable. The three parties at the table – government, the provider, and the investors – are interested only in what’s concrete and realistic. If outcomes are in fact better than anticipated, as in the Salt Lake County project, that’s great, and everybody has learned something about what is possible. But PFS is an opportunity for government and the private sector to peek behind the curtain of social programs, and they can’t help but gain a more nuanced appreciation of the challenges that make progress difficult.
  • Full funding for programs. It goes without saying that most nonprofits are underfunded, and that public funding rarely pays the full cost of any particular set of services. That means that providers must divert a significant share of their energy and money to fundraising. Anyone who’s ever, say, dived into Boston Harbor in January to raise funds for some program or other knows this all too well. (Yes, that was me. I did that.) Under the PFS approach, providers can get full financial support for a program, eliminating the burden of chasing additional grants or gifts.
  • PFS has bipartisan political support. To liberals, PFS provides evidence that difficult social problems actually can be solved; to conservatives, it shifts both risk and reward to the private sector. PFS can also reduce public cynicism by promoting the expenditure of taxpayer dollars only on programs that demonstrably work.
  • Providers can do their work as they see fit. In PFS projects, service providers aren’t told what to provide or how to provide it. If something isn’t working, they can change it in mid-course. There’s no going back to a program officer hoping for a thumbs-up; the provider is the expert and they decide.

The Downside

Yet if PFS continues to expand, either as a discrete funding mechanism or as a general philosophy that shapes funding for social services, there are obvious reasons for concern.

  • A self-defeating focus on data. Just as a pervasive, laser-beam focus on outcomes could be a game-changer for the social service sector, it could also undermine the validity of services whose impacts are important but unmeasurable. Everyone in human services knows that proving success can be phenomenally difficult, and not just for the obvious reasons. A program may produce fabulous success, but not necessarily of the type, or on the scale, it intended to. Or it may indeed produce the success it desired, but the success may go undocumented because the provider didn’t apply the right tools and protocols. Or – a much worse scenario, and a common one – because the right tools and protocols haven’t been developed. Human beings are uniquely complicated, after all, and the outcomes of any particular intervention could be long distant and linked to a set of experiences and services that are interconnected. Benefits to clients can be real without being documentable, and ignoring that fact won’t help anyone in the end.
  • Fairly narrow ‘suitability’ criteria. PFS is one financial tool of several, and it only makes sense under particular conditions. Despite the almost palpable excitement about the model among providers and policy wonks alike, it may well be the case that only a minority of social service providers should even consider it. For one thing, by its very nature PFS can only support prevention programs, because those are the programs that, if done right, can produce large cost savings down the line. PFS-funded programs must be replicable and scalable, and capable ultimately of reaching large numbers of people. Most important of all, providers interested in PFS should already have clear and compelling evidence that their approach works. While investors vary in their motives and their tolerance of risk, none will happily lose their money, which is what will happen if program outcomes aren’t met. Proving to investors that your program will be successful isn’t a small thing, and you can’t do it on the fly. An intense orientation toward evaluation must already be ingrained in organizational culture; playing catch-up in hopes of attracting PFS investors won’t work.
  • Conducting PFS-funded projects can be difficult in ways that providers don’t anticipate. PFS projects can be taxing for social service providers, who under this financial scheme must focus single-mindedly on outcomes and the various processes and software packages that document them, sometimes to the exclusion of the more human work they’d rather be doing. Not all providers will find the trade-off worth it.
  • PFS involves risks to providers as well as to investors. Many social service providers are happy with the current system. Being paid a certain amount per client to provide a certain service is good enough. They feel their service works for their clients, and perhaps even know it works, anecdotally and through whatever data they’re already required to collect. Their public funders are satisfied, their clients seem satisfied, so why risk their program by developing intense numerical goals that perhaps they don’t end up meeting?
  • Government complacence. For that matter, many government bureaucrats are satisfied with the current compliance regime as well, or at least used to it. Pay for Success can feel enormously complicated, not least because the funding silo that pays for a prevention program may not be the same one that reaps savings down the road. And, as we all know, programs are often funded regardless of the evidence for them. That is to say, evidence matters, but politics usually matters more, making the whole evidence-based enterprise feel a little creaky. Which services require the intense focus of PFS, and which ones are protected from intense focus? This question would become particularly important if PFS moves beyond discretionary public spending (a relatively small slice of the budget pie) and into entitlement spending.
  • Perverse incentives. No one on the panel mentioned it, but I wonder if, with so much money on the line, clients may get pushed to the finish line too soon or be deemed “successful” too hastily. As one Utah resident skeptically noted in a newspaper article on that state’s early education PFS project, gains made by children in pre-K enrichment programs often disappear after a year or two. Is “success” a single-point-in-time determination, or up for reconsideration as time goes on?

Future Directions

Dozens of additional PFS projects are in some stage of development, and policy folks are watching them closely for new lessons. They’re developing toolkits, sponsoring webinars, and fielding questions from interested nonprofits. As they themselves point out, much will go right, but much may go wrong as well, as PFS grows and evolves. There is a great deal of work to be done in making PFS more than a boutique funding approach. The Urban Institute panel identified two important tasks:

  • Search for new ways to produce evidence of outcomes. Randomized controlled trials are expensive and time-consuming. Building knowledge about outcomes must necessarily fold in other kinds of less-expensive data, such as data automatically collected when former clients use public services or enroll in entitlement programs down the line. But there are inevitable privacy issues in mining this kind of data, and no one’s figured out a way past them quite yet.
  • Develop a tiered-evidence PFS project paradigm, so that incubator projects that are promising but lack solid evidence still have a chance at being funded. A second tier might involve projects that have been highly successful with a particular subpopulation and or in a single place but that must be proven with larger groups or in different locations.

There’s a lot to learn about Pay for Success and its suitability for any given provider and project. Read more at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and the Urban Institute. The Urban Institute is hosting a free webinar to potential PFS applicants on Oct. 27.

~ Melanie Reisinger Wilson, YC Research Director

Posted in evaluation, funding, news, organizational development, uncategorized

What ‘Counts’ Can’t Capture: The Spectrum of Unstably Housed Youth

kidswallIn January and February 2015, Youth Catalytics surveyed students in nine high schools in Connecticut, employing an innovative peer-report process designed to provide a reliable estimate of the number of teenagers in any given school district who have left home and are living somewhere else — a car, a friend’s house, a group home — temporarily.

The process was part of the state’s first-ever Homeless Youth Count and of Opening Doors-CT, a broad initiative that aims to design a comprehensive, integrated service system for homeless and unstably housed youth and young adults across the state. Direct counts of homeless young people are notoriously difficult to conduct, and no method effectively captures the large numbers of young people who aren’t literally on the street but still have no real place to call home. This approach questions youth directly about the living circumstances of their peers to arrive at a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the spectrum of youth homelessness.

In Connecticut, 5,439 students in 9 high schools completed the survey, which was administered to all students grades 9-12 in school on the survey day. A total of 930 unduplicated adolescents ages 19 and under were reported to be homeless or unstably housed. Put another way, for every 100 students completing the survey, 17 different young people were reported to be living somewhere besides home.

For every 100 students completing a survey, 17 different young people were reported to be living somewhere besides home.

Of young people reported as unstably housed, 25% were living with a friend; 15% with a girlfriend or boyfriend; 11% in a shelter or other transitional social service program; 6% in multiple settings; and 5% on the street or in a car. Thirty-three percent were reported to be living with a relative. Twenty-six percent of reported youth had been in their most recent living situation for 2-5 months; 16% for 6-12 months; and 12% for less than a month.

What’s the significance? It’s simple: communities only act on issues that are obvious and visible. Unstably housed youth aren’t either of these things. The only way we can prove they’re there — and thus drum up the support necessary to intervene early and help them stay in school and on track — is by  capturing estimates of numbers of young people all along the spectrum. Will there come a time when we stop trying to count, and start reaching out and offering help — and not just to those youth with absolutely no where to turn but to those on the way?

That’s our hope. That’s why we do this work.

Click here for more on this project, and detailed findings from schools.

(See the plan that resulted from the overall project, ‘Opening Doors for Youth: An Action Plan to Provide All Connecticut Youth and Young Adults with Safe, Stable Homes and Opportunities,’ here.)

~ Youth Catalytics Research Director Melanie Wilson

Posted in evaluation, funding, promising practices, uncategorized

Rolling Out Youth Thrive in Vermont

kidswallIf you teach social service and law enforcement personnel how to develop more productive relationships with youth, will the outcomes for youth improve? As a side benefit, will the professionals feel they’re being more effective, and thus be more satisfied on the job?  We’ll be finding out in Vermont, where we’ve been hired to conduct three-day intensive cross-sector trainings in Youth Thrive™ in two communities and smaller half-day overview trainings in four more. The goal is to train professionals of all types who interact with young people involved with, or at risk of involvement with, the juvenile justice system. The project, funded by the Vt. Children and Family Council for Prevention Programs and the state Dept. of Children and Families under a grant from OJJDP, is focusing on the communities with the highest rates of school suspensions, school dropouts, youth on probation and youth in detention.

Youth Thrive is a brain science-based youth development training that teach adults how to engage with youth differently — in ways that not only won’t backfire (too often the case now), but that will actually produce better outcomes over both the short and long term. In the two high-focus areas, we will provide the full 18-hour training to professionals across disciplines, including those working in mainstream and alternative schools, law enforcement, and state and private nonprofit social services.

Outside of New Jersey and Florida, Vermont is the first state to use Youth Thrive to build capacity and knowledge in city, county and state systems. The rollout of Youth Thrive there gives us the chance to evaluate both the knowledge that participants gain and — more importantly — the changes they take back to their workplaces. We’ll be following up with the participants after six months to see what they’re doing differently and what impact those changes are ultimately making in their system and personal practice. We’ll  also, of course, be tracking selected youth outcomes to see what changed for young people, and at which levels of the system.

Looking for the new frontier of youth development? It’s here. Give us a call and we’ll let you know how we can bring this indispensable training to your community.

The Vermont work is funded in part by OJJDP grant No. 2013-MU-FX-0555.

Posted in evaluation, news, promising practices, trainings, uncategorized

Fitting In Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

image3What’s worse? Being a teen who fits into society’s stereotypes or not? It turns out, neither is great. I recently attended a webinar focused on the impact of gender stereotypes on adolescents. This is an issue we’ve explored ourselves from various angles – first, from our perspective as allies and trainers on sexual diversity sensitivity; and secondly, from our view as researchers studying the early sexualization of girls.

In this webinar, Dr. Bryn Austin from Harvard’s School of Public Health presented new research that examines health disparities among adolescents, across a spectrum of gender conformity. The study showed that young people who are most gender non-conforming (i.e., those who least fit into society’s preferred gender roles), had higher rates of PTSD, depression, cigarette use and pain impairment. Researchers suggest this is because of stress pathways—that people who don’t conform to gender norms are more likely to suffer bullying and abuse. In fact, these young people have higher rates of psychological, physical and sexual abuse than their gender-conforming peers, and the harassment they suffer comes from both peers and adults alike.

However, study participants who most conformed to gender stereotypes (i.e., those who ‘fit the mold’ of masculine or feminine ideals), were at high risk for negative outcomes, too—just different ones. For example, highly gender-conforming males were more likely to smoke cigars or chew tobacco, and to abuse steroids or other supplements, while females on this end of the spectrum were more likely to use tanning beds, be physically inactive, and abuse laxatives (as a diet aid). So, whether young people are being punished by the ‘gender police’ for non-conformity, or whether they’re buying into dangerous gender roles themselves, the bottom line is: gender stereotypes are bad for virtually all adolescents.

This particular study focused on increased cancer risks, but as discussion leader Sophie Godley from Boston University’s School of Public Health pointed out, the impact of gender stereotyping reaches into every corner of public health. How do our own research decisions and program practices contribute to the ‘gender policing’ of young people? Are we reinforcing the gender binary—the traditional idea that gender only comes in two opposing options? In most cases, yes, and it’s probably because we don’t understand the alternative. Do we even consider gender-related factors when evaluating program effectiveness? What about the activities we offer to young people engaged in our services, the language we use, the way we label our bathrooms?

Youth Catalytics’ own work on early sexualization was sometimes criticized for its sole focus on girls – “What about boys?” became a common refrain – so we’re attuned to questions about how what we study impacts how we think about and present the issues. Webinar presenters encouraged people not to become embroiled in a battle over whether stress pathways or societal norm pathways were more important to address, but instead, to take a larger view—to examine how systems themselves perpetuate gender stereotyping, including acknowledging the feminization of the public health field as a whole. When asked for examples of how to do better, presenters offered two programs that move the needle on gender stereotyping: Rowing Strong, Rowing Together (a rowing team for teen moms in Holyoke, Mass.) and the school-based Coaching Boys into Men model.

I took away several questions, which I pass on to you for consideration: What are three ways your work unwittingly encourages young people to conform? Where are you making space for non-conformity? And finally, how can we ensure that when we talk about the alarming trajectories of various subpopulations of youth (e.g., young men of color or disadvantaged girls), we’re not overpowering the stories of the most resilient gender non-conforming youth we know?

~ Jen Smith

Posted in evaluation, news, promising practices | Tagged , , ,

Rigorous Evaluation of Family-School Communications in Two Vermont School Districts

 

Over the summer we had the pleasure of working with Partnership for Change, a grant-funded collaboration between the Burlington and Winooski, Vt., public school districts that is introducing student-centered learning to these north-central Vermont cities. The work put us in touch with more than 200 families of all income levels, a large percentage of whom were recent arrivals to the United States. By evaluating families’ experiences with the school systems, we helped the schools understand how different subgroups of families receive and act upon information, what families feel about proposed changes in schools, and which communication tools work, and don’t work, for families. In the end, the reports we produced presented a complex picture — but also dozens of actionable steps that both districts could take to improve communication with families, and ultimately academic outcomes for students.

Check out the reports here:

BURLINGTON, VT

WINOOSKI, VT

Posted in evaluation, news

Got the Outcomes Blues? Watch Our New Video

 

We’ve worked with agencies on developing programs indicators and outcomes for years and years, and the questions and confusions are always the same. Finally we made this quick, light-hearted video to explain it. Show it to staff, and they’ll get it too.

We’d love to know what you think, so please leave a comment below.

Posted in evaluation, trainings

EBP When You Can’t Afford It

 

As someone who helps agencies develop outcome and data management systems, I’m particularly interested in evidence-based practices in child welfare.

That’s why I recently checked out a recorded webinar from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute on the topic. In this case, the presenation focused primarily on the status of evidenced-based practices in the California child welfare system and the California Evidenced-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (www.cebc4cw.org).There is concern that emphasis on EBP might stifle innovation. And it’s expensive. Small agencies can avoid these traps by developing their own outcomes systems.

Most of the discussion and information were centered around the challenges and rewards of identifying and implementing EBP in large child welfare agencies and bureaucracies. For these large oganizations, getting adequate training and ongoing support in implementation are at least as important, and maybe more critical to success, than finding the right EBP to use. It’s also important to identify where EBPs can be usefully deployed.

But since smaller, independent agencies are my particular area of expertise, I was most interested to hear discussion of two points that validated the work I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.

  • There is legitimate and widely held concern in the professional community that the emphasis on EBP might stifle innovation, which is not how EBP should and could be used; and
  • Small private agencies can both innovate and avoid the large expense involved in buying EBP training by developing their own  logic models and collecting outcomes that test it. The information staff gathers by doing this can help legitimize, evaluate and improve their own programming as well as provide leverage to pursue academics and funders for collaboration.

Think about it: evidence-based practices became evidence-based because somebody collected solid outcomes showing that a particular approach works.  And once you’ve gathered persuasive data, you’ll be in a position to interest outside groups, including funders, in what you do.

~ Youth Catalytics’ Outcomes Specialist Doug Tanner

 

 

 

 

Posted in evaluation