2004 Jordan Institute
9, No. 4
Using Data-Based Newsletter to Engage Staff, Others Around Child Welfare Outcomes
It is hard for people to act on information they do not understand or value. Therefore, agencies that want outcomes data to have a positive influence on child welfare practice must put that data in the hands of frontline staff and other stakeholders, and they must do so in a way that is timely, relevant, and clear.
This can be a difficult task. Learning to do this in your agency can be easier when you have a good model to follow. For this reason, we present the following discussion of the data-based child welfare newsletters produced in connection with Family to Family initiative activities in Wake and Guilford Counties.
Resistance to Ownership
Her problem was that, as a planner and data analyst with no background in childrens services, Harper was seen as an outsider by frontline staff in her office. Child welfare workers saw her efforts to help them work with data as intrusions that would only lead to more work for them. They didnt see the connection between their work with families and capturing, analyzing, and talking about data.
Today, Harper says, its a different story. Now, if Im a few days late with an outcomes report, people come up to me and ask, Wheres my data?
What accounts for this transformation? Harper says that after meeting initial resistance, I fell back and tried again. With the help of her agencys self-evaluation team (SET) she took an inventory to assess peoples satisfaction and comprehension of data to see how they were using it. After looking at the results, she and the SET revised the way they presented data.
Harper also used a different interpersonal approach. I approached people by saying, This is YOUR data. It is what youve been collecting all along, and we are not asking you to do anything different. Were just going to look at it in a different way.
After that, she found it wasnt a hard sell. People want to see the impact of what they are doing.
The simplicity of the presentation is part of this data newsletters accessibility. It is also part of what encourages people to use it: by not commenting on the information, it leaves the task of interpretation to readers.
The way the data summary is disseminated says a lot about Wakes commitment to self-evaluation, openness, and accountability. An electronic version is sent to all agency staff, who are encouraged to share it with anyone they wish. Hard copies are posted on bulletin boards in several spots throughout the agencyincluding the client waiting roomand mailed to vendors and community stakeholders, such as leaders in the faith community.
In addition, the agencys community outreach workers incorporate child welfare outcomes information from the newsletter into their quarterly presentations to partner agencies (e.g., the police). Copies of Wakes data summary are also shared with the agencys vendors, such as those who provide contract foster care services.
Harper and the SET create the newsletter using a variety of sources, including local placement data and longitudinal data from the NC Division of Social Services. Harper uses SPSS software for the statistical analysis and formats the newsletter using Powerpoint and Access.
Despite the accessibility
of Guilfords newsletter, Stewart concedes that it can still be a
challenge to get people to make connections between child welfare practices
and outcomes. But she says that, based on the number of requests for data
she receives from individual workers and supervisors, it is happening.
One of Guilfords next major goals is to begin tracking quality of life outcomes (such as educational attainment, employment, and general life skills) for former foster youth. I am quite excited, Stewart says. I believe this shows how far our agency has progressed in the self-evaluation process.