Child Welfare and Performance Management in Maine

Jodi Beckstrom, a 2011 graduate of the Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School, has written an interesting blog post on the school’s Social Innovators Blog.

In it, she describes recent efforts to develop a child welfare-focused performance management system at Wraparound Maine (WM), “a community based service initiative that grew out of nationally-recognized child welfare reform in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).”

According to Beckstrom,

Wraparound Maine functions as an alternative to residential treatment for youth ages 5-18 with serious emotional or behavioral disturbance who are in residential care or at high-risk of such placement.

After ground-breaking work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in ten years time, Maine’s reform efforts including Wraparound Maine cut in half the number of youth in out-of-home care and decreased by 76% the percentage of youth in out-of-home care who were placed in an institutional setting. Yet the Director of Special Projects for OCFS and WM Project Director, Frances Ryan, saw the potential for more progress. She wanted to explore “how to best evaluate Wraparound Maine sites to delineate factors predicting excellence, especially factors that presumably lie just outside the usual program parameters.”

Ultimately, Ryan believed that a modern performance measurement system might allow the Department to institutionalize its best innovations and reform efforts.

Beckstrom was assigned to help to develop this system.

The challenge appeared to be identifying the factors that ignite real change in the complex lives of children and families. To find these factors, measurement needed to come first. Wraparound Maine had been working with an evaluator since its inception, so we started there. But we needed to find a way to move beyond short-lived, retroactive program evaluation information and into data-based decision making processes that could be embedded into the culture of the organization.

To do this, Beckstrom used a guide from Root Cause, entitled Building a Performance Measurement System: Using Data to Accelerate Social Impact. The result?

We re-assigned staff who might best deliver the new data tools and help facilitate the shift to data-based decision making. We conceptualized how feedback loops could be utilized to continue informing the process. New language was inserted into contracts that aligned with performance measurement as well as into the process for annual site reviews. Considerable effort also went into coordinating with key departments to develop inter-departmental and interagency dashboards.

Because Beckstrom was a summer fellow, the project is presumably continuing without her. She ended her blog post with a question.

Working on this project helped lead me to the larger question for other innovators as well: Which elements of organizational and institutional capacity need to be further developed that will allow effective approaches to transcend the predictable tumult of leadership changes, shifting priorities, and diminishing resources?


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