July 1998

Grant Results

SUMMARY

In 1997 and 1998, the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington conducted two state leadership policy forums on systemic reforms to improve state and state-federal services for families and children.

The forums brought together teams of high-level state policymakers and individuals experienced in starting or promoting community-based family support from 16 communities in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

They sought to develop guidance for communities and states about strategies to strengthen and expand family support programs, build statewide family support networks, and link family support more closely with broader child and family service system reform.

Key Findings
As a direct result of the forums, the grantee drew the following conclusions about how to best link family support with systems change:

  • The neighborhood-based aspect of support and service strategies is essential.
  • Networks of family support must be community-specific, and public systems must individually link with each network.
  • The most useful materials for communities as they develop goals and strategies are a set of principles and extensive examples of what has worked for other communities.
  • Peer technical assistance is effective for people at all levels.

Key Results
In addition, the Center for the Study of Social Policy started a "peer-to-peer" technical assistance network consisting of state and local officials with considerable family support program and policy experience.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with a grant of $139,367 from August 1995 to October 1996.

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THE PROBLEM

The modern family support movement emerged in the late 1970s as neighborhood programs developed across the country to provide a range of preventive, family-centered supports and services to families raising children. These early programs developed independently of one another, often as a result of grassroots efforts by parents, schools, health clinics, or other community service providers.

The federal Family Preservation and Family Support Act of 1993 stimulated the growth and development of these agencies even further. Longitudinal research has indicated that family support interventions produce positive long-term outcomes for parents and children alike, including reductions in welfare dependency, family violence, and delinquency and substance abuse in children.

Changes in federal programs suggested that states would gain substantially greater freedom to decide how to allocate federal funds for child and family services and how to structure their state and local service delivery systems. These changes also resulted in fewer federal dollars flowing to states for child and family services. In many states, broad-based efforts have emerged to reform these services.

A 1994 RWJF grant of $2.7 million (ID# 023924) funded a national program, Family Support Services Program (SFS), run by the Family Resource Coalition (FRC) in Chicago, to help the nation's huge number of neighborhood family support centers organize permanent statewide networks. These networks have established a common locus for staff training, introduction of "best practice" service models, and mutual problem solving.

The FRC statewide network-building program has provided technical assistance to many family support centers founded by grassroots community groups. While the networks have significantly helped the family support movement, FRC believes that policy measures benefiting the family support movement will be more durable if they are part of a broader state commitment to restructuring and reforming the entire system of state and state-federal services for families and children.

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THE PROJECT

Under this grant, two successive policy forums were designed, convened, and conducted by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) with extensive consultation from FRC. These forums sought to develop guidance for communities and states about strategies to strengthen and expand family support programs, build statewide family support networks, and link family support more closely with broader child and family service system reform.

Forum participants discussed issues such as common challenges and stages in the development of strong statewide family support programs and networks; promising strategies for developing and extending statewide family support services; and the nature of child and family system reform. Attendees included parents, community activists, businesspeople, policy analysts, foundation representatives, and service providers.

In order to reinforce the state leadership goals of the project, each forum was conducted in cooperation with a "host" state, with invitations produced by the governor's office. Participants in the first forum came from states that CSSP considered to be at the leading edge of family-child services policy nationwide, and the second forum's participants came from states approaching that standing.

Sixteen communities in Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington State, the District of Columbia, and two California counties (Los Angeles County and San Diego County) were represented at the forums.

An additional aspect of the project was the creation of the Peer Technical Assistance Network, to be run by CSSP, and consisting of state and local officials with considerable family support program and policy experience. Forum attendees comprised the network's initial membership, allowing them to continue to work together on common problems and emerging issues, and, in turn, to create a strong cadre of technical assistance providers for the broader family support network movement.

Other Funding

This project was co-funded by four other foundations: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Howard Heinz Endowment, the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

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KEY FINDINGS

As a direct result of the forums, the grantee drew the following conclusions about how to best link family support with systems change:

  • The neighborhood-based aspect of support and service strategies is essential for success. Because of their small size, neighborhoods provide families with an easily identifiable, natural source of support. Programs should be located in "natural hubs" where families feel comfortable, such as schools, community centers, housing projects, or churches. Planners should work to involve parents from the earliest point, allow natural parent leaders to emerge, and hire neighborhood residents as staff.
  • Networks of family support must be community-specific, and public systems must individually link with each network. Before the forums were held, those in the field tended to see family support networks as a series of separate support programs linked across a state. After the forums, participants began to regard the connections between public and private resources within a neighborhood as the most important family support network.
  • The most useful materials for communities as they develop goals and strategies are a set of principles and extensive examples of what has worked for other communities. Those attempting to establish family support networks in their own communities seek guidance on principles and strategies which they can adapt to fit their particular needs. They do not want specific, detailed models to replicate.
  • Peer technical assistance is effective for people at all levels: neighborhood, local government, state government, public sector, and private sector. As demonstrated by the forums themselves, peer interaction provides learning opportunities not available by any other means.

Communications

Four hundred copies of the forum report, Neighborhood Strategies to Support Families, were distributed to forum participants and people attending related meetings later convened by individual states or the grantee. The principles and strategies described in this report were reprinted in Strong Family, Strong Communities, published in 1997 by the International Initiative for Children, Youth, Families (Leicester, England). Learning from Colleagues (1998) describes lessons learned during the first phase of the Peer Technical Assistance Network.

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AFTER THE GRANT

The grantee continues to convene national meetings of states and neighborhoods, now known as Community Governance Partnerships. The grantee also expanded the Peer Technical Assistance Network, now co-funded by four other foundations (the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation).

Through this network, a team of two to five people from one state visits another for two to three days of joint problem solving. Within the first year, 35 states or localities benefited from their experiences with the first 20 peer matches of the program.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

State Leadership Policy Forums on Community-Based Family Support Services

Grantee

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (Washington,  DC)

  • Amount: $ 139,367
    Dates: August 1995 to October 1996
    ID#:  027145

Contact

Frank Farrow
(202) 371-1565
ffarrow@cssp.org

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Publications

Neighborhood Strategies to Support Families: Current Approaches and Future Directions. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy, 1997.

Learning from Colleagues – Family/Professional Partnerships: Moving Forward Together. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy, 1998. Also available online.

Strong Family, Strong Communities. Leicester, England: International Initiative for Children, Youth, Families, 1997.

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Report prepared by: Patricia Patrizi
Reviewed by: Renie Schapiro
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Terrance Keenan

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