Redesign for Whole FamiliesTactical Lessons to Inform the Empowering Families Learning Community

What would it take to redesign programs with whole families at the center?”

The Future Services Institute, an initiative of the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, posed this question at the onset of the recent Redesign for Whole Families Summit

Throughout the two-day conference, government agencies, nonprofit providers, researchers, and thought leaders sought to tackle this question, by sharing best practices and stories from the field, brainstorming how to apply research to local contexts, and problem-solving challenges posed by the participants. While there is no silver bullet to developing an integrated, holistic, multi-generational approach to services, a few key implementation lessons emerged at the conference. These lessons resonate with Third Sector’s Empowering Families* cohort goals and will inform sites’ ongoing development of two-generation (2Gen) demonstration projects that leverage integrated data and outcomes-oriented contracts to promote improved outcomes for children and families.

Implementation Lesson 1: Interagency alignment on priority outcomes for children and families should serve as the North Star for redesigning and coordinating services across agencies and departments. On a conference panel, Raquel Hatter, Deputy Director of the Human Services Program at The Kresge Foundation and former Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, discussed how the driving force behind the 2Gen movement for integrated, family-centered services must be the need to demonstrate that all families are better off as a result of interacting with human services. Delivering positive outcomes for children and families needs to be the guiding light from which systems are designed; when government agencies have shared goals, they can reach across barriers to rethink how to best achieve those goals. Similarly, in a break-out session, Tracy Wareing Evans, President and CEO of the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), described how the first step for moving programs, organizations, or whole systems along the Human Services Value Curve starts with defining shared outcomes goals. Throughout the conference, I also met multiple County government officials from across Minnesota who are working on interagency initiatives to define priority outcomes for a specific beneficiary population and are then coordinating programming to mutually support those outcomes.

In the Empowering Families Learning Community, the Massachusetts team is in the midst of a similar, large-scale statewide effort to align various agencies on priority outcomes and to link data in order to measure those outcomes across five public assistance programs: the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, State-Aid Public Housing, Temporary Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Subsidized Child Care. This effort is part of the broader Learn-to-Earn (LTE) Initiative, an interagency workgroup, led by the Governor’s Strategic Innovation Office, that was launched to create better coordination across state agencies and ultimately break the intergenerational cycles of poverty. The LTE “Data Team,” which is leading the outcomes alignment and data linkage work, is made up of executive-level leaders from the Executive Office of Education, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Third Sector is facilitating the LTE Data Team’s creation of a shared definition of program success and their development of a system for regularly measuring success against those targets. These shared outcomes will serve as the North Star for increasing coordination across the five public benefits programs that help families along the path to self-sufficiency.

Implementation Lesson 2: Honor and elevate the expertise of frontline provider staff. The Redesign for Whole Families conference kicked off with videos of staff from local providers sharing their ideas for how programs and systems can be redesigned to support the multi-faceted and interdependent needs of families, and break-out conversations throughout the two days continued to come back to this point. In her session, Dr. Lane Volpe, Manager of Strategic Implementation for Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services (DHHS), emphasized how critical provider input and engagement has been in the development and execution of the County’s Integrated Services Delivery Model of Care. In their day-to-day interactions with clients, frontline staff are required to break down government silos and reach across program lines in order to support families’ pressing needs; they are naturally applying an integrated, 2Gen approach without a government mandate because that is what it takes to support families in meaningful ways. When governments seek to develop a more systematic integrated service approach, they can learn a lot from the techniques frontline staff are already using.

Recognizing the expertise of frontline provider staff, the Empowering Families Iowa team, from the Iowa Department of Human Rights, recently conducted a comprehensive survey of frontline staff of the Family Development and Self Sufficiency program (FaDSS), a statewide home visiting program. The survey solicited suggestions for 2Gen-related program changes and opportunities to increase coordination with partner TANF-funded programs that are administered through the Department of Human Services and Iowa Workforce Development. Input from providers will inform a forthcoming pilot of program changes intended to improve the programs’ effectiveness at supporting positive long-term outcomes.

Implementation Lesson 3: Family-centric programming must be co-created with families. Several sessions talked about the importance of deploying the principles of “user experience” and human-centered design by interviewing and partnering with families to create programming that best leverages the unique assets of their communities. Gloria Perez, President and CEO of the Jeremiah Program, a national model in 2Gen programming, shared how, whenever the program expands into a new community, they speak with families to learn the local landscape and adapt accordingly.

The Empowering Families team from the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, Florida (CSC Broward), believes that seeking participant input is not only a tool for improved program design, it also improves equity. As described in a recent blog post, CSC Broward has begun building a structure for incorporating community-based participatory action research (CPAR) into its assessment of community needs and progress toward outcomes. CPAR also invites “radical imagination” to enable program participants to envision possibilities for the future and engages them in researching and recommending a path towards the vision. Through this work, CSC Broward is running three youth-focused CPAR pilot projects to inform the issue areas of juvenile justice, child welfare, and behavioral health.

With these three lessons on how to implement program and system redesign for whole families -- start with shared outcomes goals, elevate frontline provider wisdom, and co-create with families -- the Empowering Families Learning Community will continue to develop 2Gen demonstration projects that inform and promote agency-level goals for using integrated data and an outcomes-oriented approach to improve the lives of children and families.

*Empowering Families is Third Sector's national Learning Community of seven states and counties working to improve outcomes for children and families. This cohort is partially supported by a 2016 Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant. Through this cohort, Third Sector, along with Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), will provide sites with two years of technical assistance (TA) to develop both Integrated Data Systems (IDS) and an outcomes-oriented contracting approach.