Individual Perspective on Effectiveness in Child Welfare: A Conversation With Agency Leadership

Individual Perspective on Effectiveness in Child Welfare: A Conversation With Agency Leadership


♪ ♪ REBECCA: Hello again, everyone. I’m Rebecca Jones Gaston
with the State of Maryland and I have the pleasure
of talking about evidence from a child welfare
leader perspective. And so, I’m going
to talk a little bit about why it’s
really important for us as child welfare leaders
and also then how do we do it. So, we get lots of
questions all the time as a child welfare
leader at all levels from all sorts of folks who
want to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it or why can’t
we do something different. And so, we’ve
had those questions that we’ve had to answer
related to the 4E waivers for those states that
went forward with those, related to our CFSR, our PIPs and the upcoming
opportunity under Family First. Lots of questions about how,
why, what, when and why not? And so, as a leader
we have to figure out how to sort through
all of the questions. But I think I what’s really
important for us in leadership is figuring out the where. And that leads me to
be thinking about data, evidence information as a story. And what is the
story that we want to tell and what is the map for
the path that we need to do or follow to get
to where we believe we need to be as a system. And so, the first
place we start is what is going on with our
own system, our own agency? What’s happening? What is it that the
numbers are telling us? But sometimes
even more importantly what is it that our
workforce is telling us, what is it that our
communities are telling us, our fellow agencies and partners and probably the most
important is our families, children, and youth that we’re
working with and on behalf of. And so, we need to
talk to each other and figure out what’s going on and somewhere in the middle there’s kind of
what the reality is and the picture of where we are. And then what we
need to do together is think about where is it
that we want to be collectively and put a stake in the
ground, a line in the sand, however you phrase it and say,
okay, so how do we get here? And then it’s a
series of questions. And that for me is
what I find really is what when we’re
talking about evidence, data and information
it’s what are the questions that we’re asking, what are the answers that
we need to make decisions and what are the
additional questions that we need to be asking. And so, thinking about
that we as agencies and systems we have lots of rules. In case you haven’t noticed
there are lots of rules. And there’s lots of rules about
what we are supposed to do, what we have to do and probably even more
rules about what we can’t do. And so, in child welfare
we can’t share information about what’s
happening in our system. From education we
can’t share information about the education
information related to kids. For juvenile services
we can’t share information about what’s
happening with children being served in
juvenile services. And from
communities sometimes it is we can’t share information because we don’t know what
you’re going to do with it. And so we need to be able
to have the conversations that sorts through all of that and also push
ourselves to not be allowed to be stuck in the
barrier and just say oh, well, we can’t do it, because guess what
there are all sorts of things in our systems that
are working towards trying to align and
remove some of the barriers so we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got Family First coming. We’ve had the
Educational Stability and Success Act happening. We have the CCWIS. And it’s the acronym Comprehensive Child
Welfare Information System. So those really technical
sort of things are pushing us in our field to
be thinking about how are we actually
engaging with each other, our stakeholders and
our partners differently? We need to know all of this. Not just because
it’s interesting, although it oftentimes is, but we have limited resources. We have limited money. We have limited staffing. We have limited capacity to actually do some of the
things that we’re talking about. And you heard Alicia talk
about all the various things that go into levels of
evidence and practices. And they oftentimes don’t
align with what our workforce and our community
partners are actually set up to be able to do. And so those are
really important questions. And the bottom line is we still have some
compliance requirements. We have to be able
to be accountable for what we’re getting
from our federal partners, from our state partners. How are we using the
resources that we’re having and then how can we
actually answer those questions that I listed earlier in
regards to what are we doing, how are doing it, why
are we doing it and why not? And also, when.
There’s always the when. And so, if you don’t
take anything else away from the conversation today, I think we need to land
really confidentially on, we can’t do any of this
without having lived experience at the table with us
actually saying what’s needed and driving what those
decisions and questions are. And so, I want to share
a little bit of an example of some of the things that
we’ve been doing in Maryland. I’m a very visual person. I actually like data, I don’t like to have to
be the one to do the math or all the analysis. But I love this
concept of data and evidence and the
questions that it raises. And so, my team has
been actually very gracious in figuring out that
Rebecca needs pictures. So, I probably
wouldn’t have said at the beginning of my career that I was going to be
this far along in my career and say I need storybooks. I need a picture book to
be able to tell a story. But that really is ultimately how you create some
shared understanding about what the
evidence is telling us to do, what we’re doing,
and where we’re going. And so, they create pictures
that can have arrows going up, arrows going down, and figuring out is it
good that it’s going up or do we want
that arrow to go down? Being able to
have those questions not just at the
leader of the agency level, but with all leaders
within all of your staff and team members
within the organization and again most importantly
talking with the people that we’re partnering with
and those that we are serving. And sometimes that
means we are saying, yeah, we’re not
really doing this as well. Because guess what we
do know about foster care. We know at an
aggregate it doesn’t work. So, we talk about adding
evidence-based practices, evidence-based interventions. But the one thing we do
know foster care doesn’t work. So, the quandary we
have as agency leaders is, okay, so I’m leading an
organization doing something that we know doesn’t work how do I get to doing
something that does work? And that means we’re
going to have to partner with other organizations and I think
actually partner with folks that have nothing to
do with child welfare. The corporate world
has all sorts of ways of looking at
interventions, strategies, change strategies
and transformation. The medical field. But also, we can’t lose
sight of the important pieces that Renda shared with us is that we know that
much of the evidence that we rely on every
day is actually built from information
gathered about people that don’t actually look
like most of the families in the communities
that we’re serving. That’s probably why
foster care doesn’t work. We’re applying a science, an evidence to something that it wasn’t
actually intended to cure. So, we have to revisit in some
ways what our questions are and thinking differently about how we are actually going
to push ourselves outside of the boundaries
of some of the science and some of the parameters
that our systems have built and really be able
to look differently. Now let’s be
clear, I’m not saying let’s throw evidence-based
practices out the window. That’s not what
I’m saying at all. But let’s know what
the limitations are and ask the questions,
put some things in place and partner
around evidence building and accept a
definition of evidence that isn’t just have
we done a comparison, have we done a blind study? Because what we know, which is really how
child welfare field grew, is there are a lot of
promising practices out there that sit within communities, sit within other organizations, sit within families in a
way that actually has impact and change that we
just haven’t figured out how to put a data set to, but is really
powerful and impactful. So, looking for ways
for how we as we get better at being able to
say what we’re doing is actually
expected to have an impact. We need to do that. But we also need to
think about where are our gaps and what is it
that we need to build and how do we not intentionally or unintentionally set
ourselves up to be limiting what the possibilities are for what we can
actually do to help and support the communities, because last I checked children
don’t live on their own. I have evidence
in my house of that. Families don’t live in single
homes in any shape or form by themselves
without others around them. And communities there’s not just
one community in the world. There’s multiple communities. And so our work, our evidence, our decisions have to
actually represent the fact that there’s all
this interconnectedness and interdependency
and opportunities for us to continue to grow and learn in our field
by using what we’ve learned and figuring out how do
we continue to learn in ways that we’ve been limited before.

Daniel Yohans

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