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Measuring the Impact of Communications

Image of stakeholders

Many of us have fond memories of PBS, whether it be watching a documentary with family or engaging with development programs in school. PBS is continuing its mission to serve the American public with high-quality programming and services by launching the New Generation Initiative (NGI). The 18-month collaborative pilot spans six PBS stations across the U.S., and encourages child caregivers (including families, friends, and neighbors) to sign up for a text messaging service provided by the Colorado nonprofit, Bright by Three. This initiative has funding from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

Bright by Three provides an innovative texting program that combines expert child development tips, activities, and local events to adults caring for young children in Arizona, Colorado, Fresno, Indianapolis, New York City, North Carolina, and San Antonio with the goals of:

  • Increasing parent and caregiver engagement; and
  • Strengthening parenting and caregiving skills.

Rocky Mountain PBS is leading the initiative, and has engaged Spark Policy Institute to learn how the different PBS sites collectively had an impact in early childhood education in their communities, and on the parents in the communities.

But how do you measure the impact of a public awareness campaign?

Because the pilot must demonstrate accountability to its funders and organizational leaders as well as improving and adapting as it is implemented, Spark Policy Institute is using a strategic learning approach. This means finding the balance between what is easy to measure (such as text sign-ups) and what is most useful (whether caretakers had a shift in the attitudes, strategies, actions, etc.). A systematic review of qualitative data can help surface rich and compelling information. We’re also using a collective interpretation of data collected in real-time, to inform the campaign regularly and enable the greatest outcome in child development.

We look forward to sharing what we learn through this project, and invite you to apply strategic learning in your own work by exploring our Tools for Social Innovators: Strategic Learning Toolkit.

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What Does Systems Building Really Mean?

Systems building. Partnerships. Collaboration. These are commonly-used words in the world of social change. They come from the realization that nothing exists in a vacuum – even nature’s most basic systems thrive on diversity and interconnectedness – but what does it really mean? And what does it look like on the ground?

Over the past few months, Spark has worked with the Early Childhood Councils Leadership Alliance (ECCLA), a nonprofit organization that works to improve access to quality services and supports for young children by developing a strong statewide network of early childhood council leaders and stakeholders. There are 31 Early Childhood Councils (ECC) that serve 58 of Colorado’s 64 counties, working together to build effective, quality, and responsive local early childhood systems, coordinating of partnerships across diverse agencies.

ECCLA Map

As in many social arenas, systemic work is crucial to building effective and efficient early childhood systems. Through collaboration, ECCs were better able to:

  • Streamline fundraising efforts between traditionally competitive entities, thereby leveraging each other’s strengths to better serve the community.
  • Enhance communication and strategic learning across silos to identify service gaps and reduce duplication of services.
  • Integrate services across early learning, health, mental health, family support, and parent education domains – and provide comprehensive support as a result!

SystemThese outcomes are impressive, but we wanted to know: how do these early childhood systems really work? So, we asked the Councils themselves. The stories we heard were inspiring and revealed what systems building work really means in practice. For example, we heard how:

  • The ECC of Larimer County has played a key role in helping families in the county access health insurance. The ECC trained staff on Medicaid/CHP Application Assistance and provided funds for to help cover associated fees, which made a big difference for one family. After hearing how much money she needed to apply for Medicaid/CHP, a woman expressed her concern to administrators at her daughter’s child care center. Because of the training provided by the ECC, the center was able to direct her to a Medicaid/CHP technician on site who was able to get her financial assistance to cover the fees and helped with the application itself.
  • First Impressions ECC in Routt County played an integral role in creating a cohesive early learning community where providers work together to increase everyone’s financial resources, leading to more preventive and comprehensive services for families with young children. The ECC supported the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program so the income eligibility ceiling could be raised from 130% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to 185%.
  • Council members from the Arapahoe County ECC drafted SB 12-022, which is designed to mitigate the “cliff effect” many low-income families face by establishing more flexible guidelines for Colorado’s Childcare Assistance Program. This change has helped many low-income families across the state access quality childcare when they otherwise would have been ineligible.

These are just a few of the inspiring stories we heard through our work with the Councils. It is clear that systems building is more than just a catchphrase – it has real impacts on real people. And while this work isn’t easy, requiring thinking on a broad, comprehensive level, these efforts to create streamlined systems are improving outcomes for Colorado’s kids.

To learn more about the great work of ECCLA and the Councils, see the 2014 State of the Councils Report.

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Family Engagement in Policy and Governance Boards

Nowadays, family involvement is a pretty big buzzword. What does it really mean, though? It is certainly true that human services agencies, community agencies, and other organizations are increasingly interested in recruiting family and youth partners into their decision-making processes. It is also true that research supports the notion that family engagement is associated with positive outcomes for youth, families and systems. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to moving past the very basic “We need more families involved!” to something more concrete, there are misconceptions. Let’s explore the subject…

 

Family Engagement in Colorado

Did you know that Colorado is lucky enough to be fairly progressive in the family involvement arena? Family engagement is written into the Colorado Prevention Leadership Council and Early Childhood State Plans. The state was recently awarded a System of Care grant and many child and family serving systems are changing practices to be more receptive to the family voice. Colorado’s organizations are in the midst of a shift in culture and practice. In short, this needed change is upon us.

A practice change to include families more thoughtfully is equally good for workforce / line staff as well as for the systems in which they work. Families and youth consumers bring a perspective that staff members do not have: their lived experiences as beneficiaries of services and systems. As consumers of services, they will know the barriers and benefits first hand. This is true for board representation, as well as for coalitions and committees. Staff is unable to know their system like a recipient or consumer can, even if they are parents themselves.

“The system building process that fails to develop meaningful partnership with the constituency that will depend upon the system is inherently suspect and limited in its capacity to build an effective system.  Meaningful partnerships with families and youth require concerted attention, dedicated resources, and capacity building across all parties.” Sheila Pires, 2002

The rest of this blog provides a few definitions related to family involvement and outlines ways that our child and family systems (mental health, public health, child welfare, schools, juvenile justice) can support family partnerships.

 

Defining Key Terms

Colorado advocates and system partners have worked alongside families to formalize a working Colorado definition for Family Advocate and Family Member. These terms are intended to cross systems and offer a baseline of expectation and role clarification.

  • Family Advocate: According to the Colorado revised statutes (27-69-102) a “Family Advocate” means a parent or primary care giver who has been trained in a system of care approach to assist families in accessing and receiving services and supports; has raised or cared for a child or adolescent with a mental health or co-occurring disorder; and has worked with multiple agencies and providers.
  • Family Member: As defined by the Colorado System of Care Collaborative, a “family member” is a person who is raising or has raised a child, youth, or adolescent with special physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, substance use, developmental, and or educational needs. They have direct experience in working with many of the agencies and providers in their community and can provide valuable insights by serving on state and local boards, committees, and coalitions. They also can also be hired as Individualized Service Plan care managers and/or facilitators, family advocators, evaluators, and trainers.

 

Readiness Self-Assessment

Are you ready to bring on family partners? Is your board or committee ready to take the steps to change practices (by-laws and voting protocols) to enable full participation and voice? If you are on a board or committee that would like to include family and/or youth members, the Board Self-Assessment on Family and Youth Involvement is for you! This is a free self-guided tool that provides a succinct way to capture your group’s readiness, areas of strengths, and opportunities for improvement in order to transform the group culture to one that welcomes consumer’s ideas and sustains their involvement.

The results of the self-assessment point the user to specific sections within the Family and Youth Involvement Workbook for Policy and Governance Boards and Planning Groups , pointing out examples, worksheets, and talking points to help you move your organization towards a more inclusive place.

 

Listening to Families

In 2008 Spark conducted focus groups with families involved with Colorado’s child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice systems in 2008. Family members who have been working with systems suggested the following ways to create involvement opportunities for families and consumers:

  • Incorporate requirements around family involvement in requests for proposals;
  • Maintain and promote family and youth advisory boards; and
  • Create and adopt a process to evaluate the success of staff efforts to engage families and youth.

Family members also suggest the following strategies to make your meetings more family and youth friendly:

  • Hold informational meetings at existing events in communities;
  • Have meaningful, action-oriented meetings and roles for families to contribute;
  • Have family & youth members help identify agenda items for the meetings;
  • Provide food and /or childcare available whenever possible;
  • Have the various organizations bring in resources, information, and linkages to their programs; and
  • Use rules that are less formal and complicated than Roberts Rules.

 

More Resources

Besides the Family and Youth Involvement Guidebook, there are plenty of other resources out there to help you bring the family voice into your decision or policy-making effort. Here are just a couple:

  1. This six page document from the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health helps to identify authentic family involvement at a systems level, beyond just the presence of family members at meetings.
  2. Center for Juvenile Justice Reform: Safety, Fairness, & Stability For Youth and Families —Recommendations to Strengthen Federal Agency Support of Family Engagement Efforts, 2011 Georgetown University.

Also, check out the family and youth involvement section of the Igniting Change resource website for information about training families and youth to participate, engaging them in systems transformation, and engaging them in evaluation.

These suggestions and tips are another way to build off the great work happening in Colorado!