Are we helping?

How do we know?

As non-profit child welfare agencies committed to our missions we are increasingly faced with external demands for proof of performance. These demands are appropriate — coming from funding sources as well as the general public. In addition to these external pressures, we need to know we are serving our clients in the most effective way. Last year The Home for Little Wanderers launched our Department for Performance and Outcomes to assist us in answering two vital questions: "Are we helping?" and "How do we know?" When it comes to high quality child welfare services, all too often at-risk children and their families get short shrift. Findings from a 2003 Casey National Alumni Study show that foster care alumni experience poorer mental health and greater mental illness than the general population. They also experience greater drug dependence and higher rates of bulimia. Findings like these beg the field to examine the effectiveness of services provided to foster care children and other children in the system.

The Home’s recently launched outcome initiative is dedicated to creating the circumstances that lead children to an optimal permanent family situation. It focuses on the improved mental health of children as well as enhanced family functioning. However, while outcome measurement can explain whether an agency’s services are effective, it cannot explain how or why. Agencies must also engage in rigorous and systematic evaluation of programs and services. Only after this has taken place can an agency make informed decisions about program development and improvement. As Paul Light of The Brookings Institution and The Kennedy School of Government said in a 2002 interview, "If you're coming to work every day because of the mission, you need to have some understanding of whether you are making headway. And that's got to be more than hunch and intuition."

A 2001 Urban Institute report concludes that outcome-based management and measurement in the non-profit sector is absolutely necessary. "Non-profits should build staff time and resources for outcome measurement into program budgets and use the resulting information to improve what they do."

The Home has heeded these recommendations and we call on other agencies to do the same. We pledge to set an example, using the knowledge we gain to make better decisions, practice greater accountability and provide better services.

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