New Analytical Tool Matches Kids and Providers for Better Results

Posted February 5, 2014
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newanalyticaltool icotop 2014

How are kids in child wel­fare sys­tems doing social­ly and emo­tion­al­ly? Research sug­gests that the answers to these ques­tions are pow­er­ful pre­dic­tors of whether chil­dren will suc­ceed in school and as adults. Not only do we want chil­dren to flour­ish now and lat­er in life, but we want to know: Is spend­ing on behalf of mal­treat­ed chil­dren bring­ing pos­i­tive results?

To address these urgent ques­tions, Casey’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group col­lab­o­rat­ed with Out­come Refer­rals, Inc., to form the Insti­tute for Child Out­comes (ICO). ICO’s first job: adapt­ing a research-based behav­ioral assess­ment and report­ing tool for use in child wel­fare set­tings. The tool is known as Treat­ment Out­come Pack­age (TOP) and uses a sim­ple, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed online ques­tion­naire to mea­sure child well-being across a dozen behav­ioral domains.

Mea­sur­ing well-being

Pub­lic and pri­vate child wel­fare agen­cies are increas­ing­ly mov­ing toward mea­sur­ing how well their efforts improve child well-being. Their great­est bar­ri­er to doing so is the lack of effec­tive mea­sure­ment tools. Most child wel­fare data sys­tems are set up to track where kids are, whether they are safe and how quick­ly they are placed with fam­i­lies. But exist­ing sys­tems don’t cap­ture infor­ma­tion from all the dif­fer­ent peo­ple involved in a child’s care, nor do they use com­mon mea­sures for track­ing how chil­dren are doing. This makes it hard to share knowl­edge and make crit­i­cal deci­sions about ser­vices and care.

TOP advan­tages

TOP aims to do bet­ter. It uses a com­pre­hen­sive set of emo­tion­al and behav­ioral indi­ca­tors to mea­sure and track children’s needs and progress over time. Chil­dren, care­givers and providers reg­u­lar­ly fill out a brief, web-based assess­ment for each child. TOP then uses the pow­er of new com­put­ing tech­nolo­gies to ana­lyze assess­ment results and pro­vide imme­di­ate, clear, read­able reports. One type of report high­lights children’s devel­op­ing strengths and issues. Anoth­er pro­vides man­agers with data on providers’ effec­tive­ness in treat­ing spe­cif­ic con­di­tions and chal­lenges. The reports can be used to match chil­dren with ser­vice providers.

We’ve nev­er been able to match children’s needs with provider strengths before,” says ICO CEO and Chief Sci­ence Offi­cer David Kraus, the child psy­chol­o­gist who devel­oped TOP. TOP can ben­e­fit kids whether or not they have a clin­i­cal or Med­ic­aid diag­no­sis.” Also, to make it eas­i­er to admin­is­ter, no clin­i­cians are involved in over­see­ing TOP; the process can be man­aged by caseworkers.

Pilot­ing TOP in Cleveland

Since 2012, ICO has been part­ner­ing with the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty, Ohio, Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices to test and improve how TOP is used. So far, case­work­er response has been pos­i­tive. The best part is get­ting infor­ma­tion about where the child is at,” says one case­work­er, espe­cial­ly teens who are able to rate them­selves.” Says anoth­er, For me, what’s use­ful is being able to look at all the dif­fer­ent clin­i­cal behav­iors and then have dis­cus­sions with providers and the clin­i­cal team—to get on same page.”

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