Young Leaders Tackle Root Causes With Results Count Tools

Posted December 17, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Jim Casey Young Fellows

Jim Casey Young Fel­lows — young adults who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care — draw on their per­son­al expe­ri­ence and lead­er­ship skills to pro­pel the work of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive, which seeks to make sure their peers tran­si­tion­ing from fos­ter care suc­ceed in adult­hood. A tool known as fac­tor analy­sis, part of the Foundation’s suite of Results Count® skills and tools, is sharp­en­ing Young Fel­lows’ abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy the fac­tors that make the dif­fer­ence in how young peo­ple fare as they emerge from fos­ter care.

The Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive has been incor­po­rat­ing fac­tor analy­sis and oth­er Results Count tools into all of its work as one of sev­en Results Count hubs spread­ing this lead­er­ship devel­op­ment approach through­out their net­works. A key goal for the Foun­da­tion and the Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive is ensur­ing that young peo­ple have mean­ing­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to apply lead­er­ship skills that con­tribute to indi­vid­ual, site-lev­el and nation­al results on behalf of old­er youth in fos­ter care.

What fac­tor analy­sis does is ask the why’ ques­tions,” says Car­loe Moser, a Jim Casey Young Fel­low in North Car­oli­na. It helps peo­ple see the big pic­ture — the pat­terns, the struc­ture of the child wel­fare sys­tem, people’s beliefs. When we are able to get to the root caus­es of prob­lems, we are able to get much bet­ter solutions.”

Youth engage­ment and racial equity

One of the Jim Casey Initiative’s best-prac­tice prin­ci­ples, authen­tic youth engage­ment, is based on the con­vic­tion that rel­e­vant and sus­tain­able change requires the wis­dom and lead­er­ship of young peo­ple with lived expe­ri­ence in the child wel­fare sys­tem. They have unique knowl­edge of the issues and insight into solu­tions that effec­tive­ly meet the needs of young peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing from fos­ter care to adult­hood. Authen­tic youth engage­ment means giv­ing young peo­ple lead­ing roles in deci­sions affect­ing their lives.

Racial equi­ty is cen­tral to Casey’s youth engage­ment work. Young peo­ple of col­or are over­rep­re­sent­ed in fos­ter care; they enter the fos­ter care sys­tem at much high­er rates than their white peers and have dis­parate out­comes. Youth engage­ment and racial equi­ty go hand in hand,” says Alexan­dra Lohrbach, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation.

The mem­bers of the advi­so­ry com­mit­tee of Young Fel­lows are a diverse group of young adults from the Foundation’s net­work of 17 Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive sites. Hav­ing par­tic­i­pat­ed in Casey’s Youth Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, an inten­sive week­long annu­al gath­er­ing pro­vid­ing train­ing in lead­er­ship and advo­ca­cy, they are part­ners with the Foundation.

The Fel­lows are account­abil­i­ty part­ners,” says Lohrbach. They work on spe­cif­ic projects — for exam­ple, the work we are doing around per­ma­nen­cy. They work along­side the nation­al team when it comes to things like strate­gic direc­tion, and they have access to pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing expo­sure to the Results Count tools.”

Ask­ing Why?”

An espe­cial­ly impor­tant tool is fac­tor analy­sis, which helps inform the Young Fel­lows’ hypothe­ses about what it would take to improve out­comes for fos­ter youth tran­si­tion­ing to adult­hood. What should adults in the child wel­fare sys­tem do more of, do less of or do dif­fer­ent­ly? What are the spe­cif­ic bar­ri­ers to change? And how could they be reduced?

Begin­ning with out­come data for a par­tic­u­lar group of peo­ple, fac­tor analy­sis seeks to under­stand the sto­ry behind the num­bers by repeat­ed­ly ask­ing the ques­tion why.” Anoth­er impor­tant fac­tor analy­sis con­cept is men­tal mod­els — the assump­tions, beliefs and val­ues that peo­ple hold and that influ­ence behav­ior and shape the struc­ture of systems.

Young peo­ple are more than capa­ble of doing fac­tor analy­sis,” says Lohrbach. They are nat­u­rals at ask­ing why and are the ones who should be lead­ing us in talk­ing about the root caus­es of child wel­fare outcomes.”

Young peo­ple who used fac­tor analy­sis to guide strat­e­gy in North Car­oli­na were able to sup­port sys­tem lead­ers in doing fac­tor analy­sis as well. For exam­ple, to devel­op a strat­e­gy for con­nect­ing old­er youth with car­ing, sup­port­ive adults, the young peo­ple con­sid­ered that some staff may have men­tal mod­els about old­er youth that assumed their behav­iors need­ed to be con­trolled or pun­ished. This led them to iden­ti­fy child wel­fare staff valu­ing per­ma­nent con­nec­tions for old­er youth as a fac­tor that would make a dif­fer­ence in how old­er youth fare as they emerge from fos­ter care. Con­nec­tions are crit­i­cal to end­ing the pipeline of old­er youth exit­ing fos­ter care with­out the per­ma­nent rela­tion­ships that can help them nav­i­gate adult­hood. Thanks to fac­tor analy­sis, the Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive will be team­ing with the North Car­oli­na site in 2021 on a prac­tice mod­el that cen­ters con­tin­u­ous qual­i­ty improve­ments for recruit­ing, train­ing and sup­port­ing staff who work with old­er youth in care, among oth­er elements.

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