Systems That Track Case Outcomes May Prove a Hard Sell in Bare-Budget Times
During 1998 and 1999, Family Service America (FSA) developed both a bi-weekly newsletter on child and family issues and a database to track and evaluate outcomes, allowing family service agencies to compare their performances and demonstrate their effectiveness in the field.
In October 1988, during the project, Family Service America merged with the National Association of Homes and Services for Children (NAHSC), a child advocacy group, to form the Alliance for Children and Families (Alliance).
- Family Services America launched a newsletter covering child and family issues in June 1998.
- The Effective Practices steering committee released the first set of outcomes and indicators for child welfare agencies in October 1999.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through a grant of $409,502.
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and the Federal Budget Reconciliation Act of 1997 placed new demands and challenges on agencies helping families and communities cope with a broad range of health and health care-related issues.
New roles for state government and the introduction of managed care also have complicated the environment in which family service agencies operate. In addition to these external forces challenging the field, there has been a paradigm shift in the field itself, in which the problems that affect families are addressed by community-oriented initiatives that focus on the strengths of individuals and communities rather than the weaknesses.
This asset-based approach often involves a coalition of community members, including community leaders, business leaders, schools, neighborhood associations, police departments, and families.
This grant from RWJF supported both a biweekly newsletter on child and family issues and the development of a database to track and evaluate outcomes, allowing family service agencies to compare their performances and demonstrate their effectiveness. The newsletter was to be modeled after American HealthLine, a digest of health policy news created during the health reform period of the early 1990s with support from RWJF (ID#s 019873, PC354).
FSA planned to collect data and develop benchmark measures of best practices and outcomes in eight areas:
- family self-sufficiency
- child development
- family preservation
- substance abuse
- coping with divorce
- domestic abuse prevention and intervention
- adult day care.
The RWJF grant initially funded FSA, the nation's largest network of non-governmental family social service agencies, with 260 member organizations providing assistance to over 4 million people annually in more than 1,000 communities. In October 1998, FSA merged with the NAHSC, a child advocacy group, to form the Alliance.
The Family Foundation of North America (the official grantee institution) is the fundraising agency for the Alliance and another initiatives. NAHSC had also begun an outcomes measurement initiative, working with an external contractor, the Corporation for Standards & Outcomes (CS&O), a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based firm that develops outcomes information and management services. The Alliance retained CS&O to implement the database under the RWJF grant.
It also formed a steering committee comprised of representatives from FSA and NAHSC member organizations (see the Appendix) to help draft an initial set of outcome measures and indicators for child welfare organizations. The scope of the database was scaled back to focus exclusively on children.
- FSA launched a newsletter covering child and family issues in June 1998. Family Briefing was initially disseminated biweekly by broadcast fax, but it subsequently became a weekly sent out via e-mail. As of the end of 1999, circulation had grown to 500 social service professionals, journalists, and others interested in child and family issues. It also is available to Alliance members online.
- The Effective Practices steering committee released the first set of outcomes and indicators for child welfare agencies in October 1999. Release of the Effective Practices measures came later in the grant period than initially anticipated, in part due to distractions caused by the merger and difficulties related to the development of Internet-based data collection software.
As of July 2000, nine Alliance members had officially agreed to use the database system for collecting and tracking their own outcomes data and comparing their performance to other agencies.
The Alliance compiled two reports of highlights and trends from previous Family Briefing newsletters and distributed them to Alliance members in 1998 and 2000. Alliance members can access the newsletter through the Alliance Web site. The Effective Practices outcomes measures and tracking system was introduced to member organizations of the NAHSC at its annual conference prior to its merger with FSA.
- In order to gain the participation of child and family agencies in outcomes tracking systems, it is necessary to demonstrate to agency staff how such systems can empower them in their jobs. Many child and family agencies lack the financial resources needed to implement outcomes tracking systems, and may resist making the necessary investment in such a system. In addition, their decision-making process may preclude quick decisions on project participation and other matters.
AFTER THE GRANT
Since the grant ended, the Alliance has been actively working with CS&O to expand its Effective Practices initiative to include family and community outcomes measures, in addition to the existing children's measures. The steering committee is also working to introduce asset outcome measures (such as the number of students who graduate from grade school) in addition to the deficit reduction measures (such as fewer pregnancies) that are already included in the system.
The Alliance has developed a marketing plan to expand the subscription base of both Family Briefing and Effective Practices beyond its membership.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Research and Dissemination of Information on Children and Family Services
Family Foundation of North America (Milwaukee, WI)
Dates: January 1998 to December 1999
Thomas J. Harvey
(414) 359-1040, ext. 3655
Effective Practices Steering Committee
Director of Public Policy
Boys Town, Neb.
President and CEO
Director of Program Services
Mary Jo Buchanan
President and CEO
Family Service of Morris County
Director of Operations
President and CEO
Georgia Baptist Children's Home
President and CEO
Family Service of Greater Boston
Donald A. Verleur
Olive Crest Treatment Centers
Santa Ana, Calif.
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Books and Reports
Family Briefing Highlights: JuneDec. 1998. Milwaukee, Wis.: Alliance for Children & Families, 1998.
Trend Report 2000: A Summary of Highlights from Family Briefing and Other Information Sources. Milwaukee, Wis.: Alliance for Children & Families, 2000.
Measuring the Rainbow: A Journey to Family and Community Strength-based Outcomes Measures. Milwaukee, Wis.: Alliance for Children & Families, Children's Aid and Family Services, and Heart of America Family Services, 1999.
Family Briefing, Milwaukee, Wis.: Family Service America and the National Association of Homes and Services for Children, June 30, 1998 (first biweekly issue).
Family Briefing, Milwaukee, Wis.: Alliance for Children & Families, February 14, 2000 (first weekly issue).
"Effective Practices, Phase I: Child Interview, Draft Outcomes, Indicators and Data Fields for Children," Alliance for Children & Families, 1999.
"Effective Practices, Draft Family and Community Outcomes," Alliance for Children & Families, June 2000.
Presentations and Testimony
Gerald E. Driggs and Tom Harvey. "Effective Practices Initiative: A Partnership Between the Alliance for Children and Families & Corporation for Standards and Outcomes," at the First National Conference on Best Practice, sponsored by the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services, July 30 to August 1, 2000, New York, N.Y.
World Wide Web Sites
www.alliance1.org provides up-to-date information on the Alliance's activities, including Family Briefing, news releases, public policy and advocacy, resource development, programs, library and information services, and a list of experts in the field.
Report prepared by: Laura Newman
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Program Officer: Marc Kaplan
Program Officer: Terrance Keenan
Program Officer: Stuart M. Schear