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The above
discussion focuses on self-evaluation for the purpose of improving the internal
performance of the agency in the areas of policy development and
implementation, program development and modification, building staff capacity,
and determining if the outcomes being achieved make a difference in the lives
of children, families, and the community. This discussion focuses on the use of
data and techniques of self-evaluation to build operational capacity within the
Children’s Safety Net which results in better outcomes for children and
families. The notion starts with the premise that community partners will
always do the right thing for children and families if they can be presented
with the empirical foundations which indicate what needs to be done to achieve
those outcomes. The members of the Children’s Safety Net are constantly
surveying the environment to determine what the community desires, identifying
the needs of children and families, allocating their scarce financial and human
resources to meet those needs, monitoring their agencies’ performance, and
providing feedback to the community to demonstrate the accountability for the
resources granted to them. Children’s Safety Net leaders are busy and are faced
with many decisions every day. Those who can show that their proposed
initiatives have the best opportunity to result in these better outcomes have a
greater likelihood of being heard and having those initiatives embraced.

follows are three examples set forth to demonstrate this premise. The first
occurred during Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s (Cleveland) initial
attempts to launch the Family to Family Initiative in the East Cleveland area. The consultants for the
Annie E. Casey Foundation collected and analyzed foster care data of the
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). One of their findings was
that eighty percent of the children in foster care came from a relatively small
number of zip codes in the county. One of these zip codes included East Cleveland. Val
Randle, the community collaborative coordinator for East Cleveland, with the strong support of
the DCFS used this data in two significant ways to increase the operating
capacity of the Children’s Safety Net.

There were no foster homes in East Cleveland, yet a
significant number of children came from that area. She used the data to show
the formal and informal leaders of the community this information. She met with
churches, groups, families, and organizations and presented this data. She also
had the information to indicate where the community’s children were placed.
Many were placed in the suburbs and some out of county. This made visitation
between parents and their children difficult and, in some cases, impossible. It
also meant that the community was losing one of its precious resources: its
young people.

The community responded to the challenge.
Families volunteered to become foster parents. DCFS supported Val’s efforts by
offering training in the community instead of at the central agency, offering
training on weekends and after hours, and providing other flexible ways to support
community families to become foster parents without compromising the safety of
children. Today, East Cleveland
boasts more than two hundred and fifty licensed foster homes in a community
where many said it could not be done. Children are remaining in their
neighborhoods in those instances when they cannot safely stay with their birth
parents. They are able to attend the same schools, churches, and maintain
contact with their parents. Foster parents work with the birth parents to
mentor positive parenting skills, and celebrate birthdays, superior grade
cards, and holidays.

The second instance involved the East
Cleveland Schools. The schools were busy trying to provide a quality education
for the community’s children with a dwindling tax base. Val met with the
superintendent and principals and again used the data to show how many children
were leaving the community while in foster care. She and the school leadership
calculated the number of students and the amount of revenue which was being
lost per student. When these two variables were totaled, they discovered that
the community’s schools were losing approximately $750,000 annually due to
children being placed outside of East
. Because of this new data, the schools
became full partners in the implementation of the Family to Family Initiative.
The data provided a win-win situation. Not only could the schools better
accomplish their mission of providing a quality education for the community’s
children by partnering with the Initiative, but they gained considerably more
financial resources with which to meet their educational needs.

A third example of external applications of
agency self-evaluation involves the courts and the placement of unruly and
delinquent children into the foster care system. In Ohio (as in most jurisdictions), courts have
four primary dispositions available to them. They can return the child home,
sentence the youth to the juvenile or adult corrections systems, grant custody
to the public child protection agency, or in the courts that have a service
delivery system attached to the court (in addition to probation), provide
court-directed community social services. As you can see, the courts’
alternatives are limited. Few have community social services other than
probation. Few children commit offenses severe enough to warrant commitment to
the juvenile or adult correction systems. Oftentimes, parents cannot or will
not provide care for their teenage youth. This leaves the court with only one
acceptable alternative: commitment to the children services agency.

An analysis of all children in foster care
indicated that at least one in six youth who were in foster care were placed
there as a result of an unruly or delinquent adjudication. In Ohio, this meant almost six thousand
children were placed into the custody of a public children services agency due
to delinquent or unruly acts (PCSAO Factbook, 2001-2002). These young people
were often placed outside of their home communities at significant taxpayers’
cost because community foster parents oftentimes did not have the skill or
desire to provide the care or meet the needs of a troubled teenager.

The outcomes for these children were often
poor. Many remained in placement until their eighteenth birthday, left the
foster care system, and either became homeless, went on to enter the adult
corrections system because of legal violations, worked in minimum wage jobs, or
returned home to their parents.

Counties began to collect the data to show
these trends, including information about each child in foster care, the reason
for the entrance into foster care, the cost of care, and the progress the child
was making. This information was provided to the courts, county commissioners,
and agency staff on a monthly basis. Awareness was heightened among all

The courts and agencies often deal with
children on a case by case basis. Because of this, there was little
understanding of the cumulative financial and programmatic impact of the many
individual decisions which had been made over time. Cases were not being
investigated and assessed on a timely basis, children were not being safely
reunified in a timely fashion, and other children were not being placed for
adoption in a timely fashion because resources which would have gone to hire
staff to do these functions were being spent on placements for unruly and
delinquent youth who were having poor outcomes.

A number of courts, public children services
agencies, and county commissioners began to develop mediation programs to
address disputes between teenagers and their parents and develop alternatives
to foster and residential care placements. Several children services agencies
began to provide courts with financial resources to develop court-directed
community-based service alternatives to out-of-home placement. The state of Ohio pursued a strategy
called the “Family Stability Incentive Program” which financially
rewarded counties that reduced their out-of-home placements. These financial
incentives could be used to develop new community-based alternatives to foster
care placement. A number of courts became certified to receive Title IV-E
reimbursement for placements and administrative costs. This funding provided
courts with new resources to develop community-based services including
supportive services and community alternatives to placement. Other counties
developed managed care agreements with private providers specifying outcomes
for individual children, case reviews, predetermined length of stay, and
contained costs for treatment. Through the collection and analysis of data,
agencies, elected officials, the courts, and the members of the Children’s
Safety Net saw a problem and developed a variety of interventions which began
to address that problem. Is it solved? By no means. Is it better than before?
Yes, and the data indicates that it is. Is there room to continue to improve?
Absolutely. Are agencies and other stakeholders on the right road? Yes. Do the
agencies need to continue tracking where they are going? Most certainly. Will
they need to make other adjustments? Probably. How will they know what to do
and when to do it? From the data.

This awareness, adjustment, and increase in
operational capacity would never have occurred without first collecting the
data, analyzing it, presenting it to the stakeholders who had the authority to
adjust the system, tracking the results of the adjustment over time, and
continuing to make refinements. Courts, county commissioners, members of the
Children’s Safety Net, parents, and the community will make adjustments and do
what is necessary to achieve better outcomes for their children if provided the
data that demonstrates the need for change. Based on the focus group research
discussed earlier and from feedback provided by elected officials, appointed
officials, and parents who are themselves a microcosm of the general public, it
is clear that the public expects no less.

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