National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care
Implications for Administrators and Stakeholders
Effectively addressing accountability requires long-term and continuous commitment from agency leaders to create an environment that values transparency and informed decision-making, and that also provides adequate staffing, technology, time, and other resources to fulfill this commitment (Bass, Shields, & Behrman, 2004). Although funding for accountability typically is limited within most human service agencies, the grant communities implemented several strategies to help administrators and stakeholders maintain accountability.
Selecting, supporting, and sustaining those who carry out accountability work. While measures may be collected by a variety of individuals (agency data technology staff, caseworkers, project coordinators, and evaluators) someone must be responsible for coordinating the effort. Enough staff time must be allotted for all roles to ensure the quality of the data and resulting analysis. Finding ways for accountability work to be done by program staff, or other individuals who will have a long, active relationship with the agency (e.g., staff from a local university that often works with the agency), is important for two reasons:
- Accountability should be considered central to system improvement; therefore, evaluators (or those doing the measuring) should be engaged throughout the work, rather than being objective outsiders.
- Integrating accountability into operations will help sustain momentum after finite funding ends.
Knowing the limits of child welfare outcome data. Sometimes, balancing meaningful and feasible measures is challenging. No system can collect all information perfectly. Knowing the kinds of data that can be collected and what that data can reveal about child welfare agencies and the families served by them is critical. Great strides have been made over the last decade by child welfare agencies in tracking data about children. Because of Federal reporting requirements and child welfare agency goals, there is an emphasis on collecting data about outcomes for children. Agencies face many challenges when trying to track long-term outcomes across a large population of at-risk children. Currently, while data collected by public agencies may offer a good indication of how children are faring in child welfare agencies overall, these data can be less useful when evaluating the effect of a specific initiative or a specific activity. The ability of a community to use agency outcome data in real time for systems change depends on the technological and staffing resources of the county or State. Agencies often are limited in the kinds of data extractions and computations they can perform, and may have to wait 6 months or more to obtain data. To be fast, flexible, and targeted for systems of care activities, grant communities augmented traditional child welfare outcome data with process data and found creative ways to use the agency's outcome data (e.g., linking it with data about TANF).
Accountability for improvement versus compliance. Administrators can leverage accountability to improve systems. Moving from compliance-driven management to sustainable improvement requires administrators to harness and embrace new data technologies, engage new family and community perspectives, and integrate evaluative capacity-building strategies throughout the child welfare system and agency culture.
When implemented appropriately, accountability can be a valuable tool for building and sustaining effective systems of care. Demonstrating effectiveness, whether in terms of cost, outcome, or benefit to society, can mean the difference between sustainability and the end of a program, especially in difficult fiscal environments. Ultimately, the strength of measurement and accountability practices comes from the commitment of leaders to thoughtfully and faithfully apply what is learned to guide systems to better serve children and families.
"By showing the results of your efforts to date, you are helping those who need to invest the finite resources of a State, county, city, or Tribe to ensure that their investment will yield promising results for children and families and enhance the work of the agencies that engage with those families."
--Gary De Carolis, Senior Consultant, National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center
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