Why should leaders assess their family support services?
As more children are adopted and placed in guardianships, it is important to examine the support services available to help these families thrive and stay together. For this reason, in 2019 AdoptUSKids developed a Support Services Assessment Tool to help systems learn about the quality and accessibility of these services. The tool helps you and your stakeholders rate your services across different metrics and identify areas of strength and gaps.
As one part of its larger assessment of the state’s support for families, the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation* (QIC-AG) adapted the tool to help North Dakota and Maryland get the clearest picture of their services. We asked leaders from each state what it was like to engage in a robust system assessment with the help of the QIC-AG.
Why do a service-array assessment?
For Julie Hoffman, North Dakota’s adoption services administrator, it was important to understand how their newer program was working so they could plan for future growth: “I really wanted something that would help us to strategically build the program and add services in a meaningful way. The assessment gave us the opportunity to evaluate what we were doing and how we were doing it, and develop a plan to move forward.”
For April Edwards, the placement and permanency manager in Maryland, an assessment served as a logical continuation of the work she did as a fellow in the AdoptUSKids Minority Professional Leadership Development program. April had surveyed child welfare staff to gauge how well they understood available pre- and post-adoption services and educated staff about the supports available to families after adoption. She explained, “There was a resounding theme that we do good work before adoption finalization, but after finalization, we do a lukewarm handoff regarding service availability.”
How did they engage stakeholders?
The first step in any assessment is to get the right people involved. It’s important to gather a diverse team of people familiar with the post-adoption and guardianship service delivery system. The team may include leaders from public child welfare agencies, the state’s adoption manager, and staff from post-adoption and guardianship service providers.
Including adoptive parents, guardianship caregivers, and young people who experienced foster care is also critical to the success of this type of assessment. The site teams found great value in gathering information directly from families.
Leaders in North Dakota thought creatively about how to best engage families. They did not have a formal network to tap into but quickly learned that many families had close, informal connections. Once they engaged one or two of these families, the families helped them hear from a wide range of families in a focus group and a broader survey.
Julie stated, “QIC-AG was very helpful as we developed questions for families. We wanted to get really targeted with what we were asking families, and our QIC-AG site consultant helped us keep that focus and ask the questions in a way that really got at what we wanted to know.”
As part of the assessment, North Dakota created a survey for parents. North Dakota also asked for parent feedback on the survey before they sent it out to more families: “As we were writing the survey, we piloted it at our post-adoption family camp. We asked 10 families at that camp to review the survey, which made the survey itself a lot better and got us more reliable answers.”
In Maryland, the assessment team always challenged themselves to think about these questions from the family perspective. April explained, “We had adoptive parents in the permanency workgroup who participated in the assessment. We also have a state youth advisory board and a very active resource parent association that we run things by, and they weighed in on the assessment, too. Getting their viewpoint was important to us.”
These two agencies learned firsthand that stakeholder feedback can be an important contribution to understanding the system as it actually works, rather than how it’s intended to work.
What comes next?
What do you do with the information you collect after the assessment? Action planning is a critically important step in making changes, and it should be guided by the results of your assessment.
For Maryland, the assessment confirmed what April Edwards suspected: there were services available, but families didn’t know about them or how to access them. They plan to remedy that by creating a searchable database for adoptive families, modeled after an existing directory in her jurisdiction. “Maryland currently has Maryland Access Point, a directory for adult services,” April said. “You can look up by zip code or by what services are available. We plan to develop something similar for adoptive families. Right now we are deciding what that will look like, and we are basing those decisions on the results of our assessment. The goal is for this to help families have better access and understand what’s out there.”
North Dakota is analyzing data from its survey with a plan of creating a report that will be used for advocacy efforts. They are also creating a manual for staff providing post-adoption services to ensure more consistency. “One of the main things the assessment told us,” Julie said, “is that the way we provided services wasn’t always consistent from area to area. In building a new program, we were trying a lot of new things, different things, and we didn’t have consistent protocols for the different services. One of the ways this assessment was really helpful to us was in helping us understand that we should have a consistent program across the state.”
You can do it, too!
We think April said it best: “Anytime you have QIC-AG, AdoptUSKids, or any other federal program offering these types of services, you should take it. It’s free TA! The QIC-AG site consultant really helped us with everything we needed and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”
*What is the QIC-AG?
The QIC-AG was launched in 2014 to help systems meet the changing needs of adoption and guardianship families. The project initially worked with eight sites to implement evidence-based supports and develop and test promising practices. The QIC-AG developed The Permanency Continuum Framework, along with a Continuum Assessment Tool, to help describe the changing needs of families during their adoption and guardianship journeys. Two additional sites, North Dakota and Maryland, were added more recently.
The National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) is a cooperative agreement, funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, designed to promote permanence when reunification is no longer a goal and improve adoption and guardianship preservation and support. Learn more about QIC-AG on their website.