By Laura Pinsoneault, founder and CEO of Evaluation Plus, a TA provider for the Child Safety Forward initiative

The Child Safety Forward initiative was launched in October of 2019 with a goal of reducing child abuse and neglect fatalities and injuries through a collaborative, community-based approach. 

Funded by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and supported by a technical assistance (TA) team led by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation (Alliance-COA), Child Safety Forward is a demonstration initiative taking place across five sites. The five sites include: Cook County Health in Illinois; Indiana Department of Health; Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut; and Sacramento County, California’s Child Abuse Prevention Council. 

Child Safety Forward just released a brief highlighting the evaluation results of its initial planning year, which was originally scheduled to close out in October 2020 but was extended through December 2020 to allow sites to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evaluation Plus, the TA provider and evaluator, utilized a Developmental Evaluation (DE) approach to support the Alliance-COA in planning for and adapting the TA, learning community, and communication strategy. DE is defined as an approach that is often used in complex systems challenges. It includes real-time feedback to program staff that simulates research and development to enable continuous adaptation and adjustment.

This approach allowed the Alliance-COA to stay nimble as it deployed early TA and coordinated the learning exchange in the planning year. 

The planning year evaluation was organized around five learning cycles: 

  • Developing an initiative level theory of change 
  • Building a robust TA model that is responsive to capacities and needs of demonstration sites 
  • Understanding the value of a learning exchange for demonstration sites and its potential for the broader field 
  • Exploring and understanding how COVID-19 influenced Child Safety Forward 
  • Reflecting on how various decisions made during the planning year contributed to the development of demonstration sites’ implementation plans

Our learning around each of these cycles was aided by action learning activities (e.g., facilitated discussion around a framework, after-action reviews) with the demonstration sites and TA team, survey data collection, observation, and by prototyping different strategies for delivering technical assistance and learning opportunities and getting feedback and data on how successfully those strategies were in advancing our goals. 

Key takeaways from the evaluation highlighted changes needed in our systems if we want to accelerate progress toward a child and family wellbeing system:

  • Using a public health approach that relies on ongoing assessment of need and rapid testing and evaluation to design and address strategy creates a cross-sector approach that is responsive and adaptable to community priorities. 
  • Capacities and policies and practices for how to shift power dynamics between systems and families, address racism and disparate outcomes in child welfare, and engage in a higher-level dialogue about to support families across systems are underdeveloped.
  • We need focus on learning by crediting multiple sources of data and information.
  • Capacities to design, experiment with and participate in learning collaboratives to sustain effective strategies for child maltreatment are not engrained in our systems yet, and technical assistance and shared learning are needed.

By the end of the planning year, the demonstration sites presented comprehensive implementation plans focused on a variety of strategies and systems-level outcomes rooted in their data collection activities. 

“Each of the implementation strategies identified by the five sites are unique and specific to their communities, honoring the data they collected over the past year to identify community-led solutions that support resilient families and keep children safe in their homes,” commented Amy Templeman, director of the Within Our Reach Office at the Alliance-COA. “They share one common trait – they are predicated on demonstrating a public health approach to child and family well-being called for by the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. With a focus on increasing equity in systems that serve families, elevating families into relationships of equal power, building protective factors, and supporting families who are having trouble weathering one or more of the storms impacting our country right now, each of the demonstration sites are hoping to create a body of knowledge about what works to reduce child fatalities. And, over time, we will share these findings broadly across the field to inform policy and practice at a local, state and national level.”

As we work toward creating this body of knowledge, evaluation will continue to play an important role in helping the sites adapt to the challenges that emerge and better address the complex systems change that needs to occur to shift our current child welfare system into a child and family well-being system.

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Laura Pinsoneault is founder and CEO of Evaluation Plus, a TA provider for the Child Safety Forward initiative. Through her leadership of Evaluation Plus, Laura brings extensive expertise in helping partners translate complex change ideas into meaningful results.

Disclaimer: This product was supported Casey Family Programs and  by cooperative agreement number 2019-V3-GX-K005, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.