When The Duke Endowment launched a retrospective evaluation of its out-of-home care grantmaking, we wanted outside experts to take a long, hard look at our work helping children in the child welfare system in the Carolinas. The Chapin Hall research institute at the University of Chicago took on the challenge, scrutinizing $49.6 million worth of investments in 80 organizations from 2006 to 2015.
The study, released late last year, taught us many things. Perhaps most significantly, it recommended that despite the many challenges to reforming complex, evolving and often fragmented child welfare systems, the Endowment should continue to invest in efforts to help foster children.
The study found that the Endowment’s shift away from providing unrestricted financial support created new challenges for the children’s homes and other child-serving agencies. However, the increased emphasis on seeking better programmatic and organizational outcomes through strategic support also encouraged providers to more clearly articulate their goals and strategies.
The study also took note of other major themes that emerged from the Endowment’s work over that decade: The broadening of the service array beyond residential care, the promotion of higher quality standards via national accreditation and staff competency, engagement with public child welfare systems, and the need for greater alignment of priorities among the Endowment, the states, counties and service providers.
The study suggested that, as the Endowment continues its funding of out-of-home care, it should continue modeling best practices in the use of data to drive innovation. It should apply implementation science and promote practice refinement. The researchers offered many other recommendations, and I encourage you to read the report so you can see them in detail.
Perhaps even more important is what we do with the evaluation from here. We’ve been talking a lot at the Endowment about continuous quality improvement. This report gives us a fresh look at our work, and some good thoughts on opportunities to do better for families and children.
We must do a better job of communicating our message concerning children in the Carolinas. We should be clearer about what we want to do and why we want to do it. We should set clear goals with measurable outcomes, and hold ourselves accountable for producing results. When appropriate, we should help others do the same.
We must use our role as a convener to bring people together to seek better results and needed reforms. As we think about our strategies going forward, we want to incorporate the learnings from this report into that work. As the Chapin Hall researchers noted, there is tremendous potential for improving the lives of children involved in the child welfare systems in North Carolina and South Carolina. We fully intend to spend the next decade and beyond pushing to help our many hard-working partner agencies turn that potential into reality.
Phil Redmond is Director of the Child Care program area for The Duke Endowment.