Leading With Evidence: Documenting Progress With Data and Evaluation

Posted October 17, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog leadingwithevidence 2016

More com­mu­ni­ties are seek­ing to har­ness the promise of evi­dence-based strate­gies to build a bet­ter future for chil­dren, fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties. Child wel­fare agen­cies also feel an urgent and grow­ing need to con­tin­u­al­ly improve out­comes. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and the William T. Grant Foun­da­tion recent­ly brought togeth­er child wel­fare admin­is­tra­tors and researchers from across the coun­try in a two-day sym­po­sium to meet these objec­tives. We want­ed to give par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­ni­ty to estab­lish a shared lan­guage and frame­work for using research and evi­dence to dri­ve pol­i­cy, and to explore ways to over­come the bar­ri­ers that so often impede the effec­tive use of that evi­dence,” said Suzanne Barnard, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group.

As par­tic­i­pants at the Lead­ing With Evi­dence sym­po­sium dis­cussed, shift­ing to evi­dence-based strate­gies requires build­ing rela­tion­ships, chang­ing the cul­ture and earn­ing trust.

While many evi­dence-based pro­grams and research exist to help child wel­fare admin­is­tra­tors achieve bet­ter out­comes, some areas of child wel­fare pol­i­cy and prac­tice still need a high­er lev­el of evi­dence. One of those areas is deci­sion mak­ing in remov­ing and plac­ing chil­dren. Eval­u­at­ing promis­ing prac­tices to inform bet­ter deci­sions is the first step to fill­ing this gap.

Missouri’s Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices, for exam­ple, want­ed to improve its out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies by mak­ing its work cul­ture and deci­sion-mak­ing process more inclu­sive and fam­i­ly cen­tered. In so doing, years ago they adopt­ed Team Deci­sion Mak­ing (TDM), a prac­tice devel­oped by the Casey Foun­da­tion that aims to make the best pos­si­ble deci­sions about child place­ment by more ful­ly engag­ing fam­i­ly and oth­er key stake­hold­ers in those decisions.

Even though the state depart­ment believes TDM is improv­ing child wel­fare out­comes, the agency has come to real­ize the need to doc­u­ment progress through data and eval­u­a­tion, and to incor­po­rate these val­ues into expan­sion plans. In part­ner­ship with the Foun­da­tion, the Mis­souri Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices is now plan­ning a sys­temwide scale up of the new approach with­in the state’s trans­for­ma­tion zones,” but not all at once. This more delib­er­ate expan­sion plan comes with a strong com­mit­ment from wel­fare agency lead­ers to eval­u­ate the new sites, improve the TDM data col­lec­tion and report­ing sys­tem and strength­en the imple­men­ta­tion process with fidelity.

The Mis­souri ini­tia­tive is a strong exam­ple of how a child wel­fare agency can demon­strate its com­mit­ment to under­stand­ing and meet­ing the needs of fam­i­lies and mak­ing more informed deci­sions through the use of data, eval­u­a­tion and research.

We have a lot of buy-in right now from our stake­hold­ers,” said Julie Lester, deputy direc­tor of the Mis­souri Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices and a pre­sen­ter at the con­ven­ing. But we still need to rig­or­ous­ly eval­u­ate our efforts and be able to show whether our strate­gies real­ly do work for fam­i­lies, so we can make the case to our pol­i­cy lead­ers and leg­is­la­tors.” Anoth­er clear les­son: researchers, prac­ti­tion­ers and deci­sion mak­ers need to work togeth­er more close­ly to make real and sus­tained improve­ments in the lives of chil­dren and their families.

Read more about Team Deci­sion Making

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