When Christina DeNard checks in with Stacie Scott on a recent afternoon, she shares ideas about family meeting time for “the Scott Squad.” She discusses Stacie’s job transfer. She talks about appropriate chores for each child.
As a Success Coach for this blended family of eight, DeNard, a social worker, helps the Scotts assess their needs, set goals and navigate community resources. The voluntary service is a key part of the Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project, a pilot program in North Carolina that is shifting the way the child welfare system serves children and families.
The pilot grew from conversations between The Duke Endowment and Catawba County Social Services. The idea was to test the theory that children who leave foster care still need intervention. If social service departments coupled permanent placement with ongoing advocacy and support, perhaps they could improve outcomes for children and families.
“The federal child welfare system emphasizes finding homes for children, whether with adoptive families, relatives, or through reunification with the original family — but scant research has looked at whether children are better off as a result,” says Dr. Jean Spaulding, the Trustee who chairs the Endowment’s Committee on Child Care. “We wanted to find an effective way to move the focus beyond permanency to child well-being.”
With $1 million in grants from the Endowment between 2008 and 2012, Catawba County Social Services worked with the National Implementation Research Network in Chapel Hill, N.C., to develop a continuum of post-care services, including adoption support groups, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, the Strengthening Families program, educational advocacy and Success Coaches. The Catawba County Child Wellbeing Project began serving families in August 2010.
Although it’s too early for conclusive data, the ongoing evaluation suggests the model — especially the Education Advocate and Success Coach services — is “a stabilizing influence” for families. In 2012, the Endowment approved another grant of $481,442 to continue the effort, and $90,856 to conclude an initial evaluation.
“The project’s focus on evidence-based services is certainly more intensive and, at times, a little more expensive,” says Beth Brandes, assistant director of Catawba County Social Services. “But it promises more sustained benefits for children and families in the long run.”