Elevating the Voices of the Workforce, Children, Youth, Families, and Communities


♪ ♪ Welcome back. As a reminder, if you can see us
but can’t hear us, please turn up your
speakers on your computer. And if you need
additional assistance, the helpdesk is available. Welcome to our session today, The Power of Feedback, Being a Vocal
Participant in the Process: Elevating the
Voices of the Workforce, Children, Youth,
Families, and Communities. Under the right conditions receiving feedback
makes us more effective. Each of us makes an
important contribution to our organization’s
collection and use of data. The workforce,
children, youth, families, and communities all
have an important role in evaluation and
continuous quality improvement in order to build evidence and form best practices. This includes
but goes well beyond being important data
sources and stewards. This session will explore ways the workforce,
children, youth, families, and communities can
be active participants in contributing to building a more effective
child welfare system that improves the outcomes of children,
youth, and families. My name is Madison
Sandoval-Lunn, and I am with the Capacity
Building Center for States, and I am the facilitator
for today’s session. I am joined today by an esteemed team
of family, youth, and child welfare
leaders across the country. And we’ll begin the
session by having them introduce themselves
and tell us a little bit about their role
in today’s session. Let’s begin by having
Sylvia introduce herself. SYLVIA: Thank you,
Madison. I’m Sylvia DePorto, and I’m currently a consultant. I have over 30
years of experience in the field of social work with 28 of those
being in the field of child welfare. I’m the former director of the City and
County of San Francisco’s Child Welfare Agency. And prior to that I
was in Riverside County, which is a large
Southern California county that’s mostly rural, and I was the assistant
director there as well but actually spent 21
years in Riverside County in child welfare and
started as a social worker. I moved to San
Francisco as the director because I really
wanted to experience an urban environment. Urban environments
have so much more resources than large rural areas
and so I really wanted to run an agency that had access to a lot of
resources for their clients. I retired last August
and I’m now a consultant. My focus is on leadership
development and coaching and the Indian
Child Welfare Act. I do a lot of
training for social workers across the state of California, and I’m happy to
be here. Thank you. MADISON: Thank you. Dee, would you like
to introduce yourself? Sure. Thanks, Madison. My name is Dee Bonnick, and I am a family consultant with the Capacity
Building Center for States. I’ve been a consultant
for over four years here, but prior to
that I have also been a family consultant
with our state department in Connecticut in
our child welfare agency for about like 10 years. And I’m also a parent advocate for children who
are coming into care. I also help them around the areas of special education. And my experience and expertise centers around family
empowerment and engagement. And so I’m just
really, really excited to be a part of this panel of just great
subject matter experts, and I’m just looking forward to our discussion today. Thank you, Dee. Louie? LOUIE: Yeah. Well,
thank you for having me here. My name is Louie Gasper. I’m a young adult consultant with the Capacity
Building Center for States. I have worked in a
variety of different roles in child welfare advocacy with organizations such as the International
Foster Care Alliance, the National
Foster Youth Institute, Foster Club and
California Youth Connection. In addition to that, I have also been studying
political communication at the Evergreen State College where I focus a lot of my effort specifically on
looking at statewide and national
policies in child welfare. And most
importantly, I am currently a youth in extended foster care. So speaking on this,
it means a lot to me both as a professional
but also talking about the opportunities that
we can give to our clients. MADISON: Thank you, Louie. And finally, last
but not least, Dakota. Similarly but
different than Louie, I am a former
foster youth myself, though I’m not in
extended foster care anymore because I’m older
now. So it’s pretty cool. My name is
Dakota Roundtree-Swain, and I am a young
adult consultant with the Capacity
Building Center for States. As a former foster
youth in Massachusetts, a former supervisor
with the local CASA program, and a current PhD student at Brandeis University
studying social policy, I think I can bring both
a macro and a micro lens. So not only am I
excited to talk to you today as a former foster youth and advocate for foster care, but I’m also
excited to talk to you as a practitioner
and as a researcher. So thank you for
having me here today. MADISON: Thank you,
all of our speakers, for joining us today. We’re going to jump
right into this session, and we’re going to
begin with you, Dakota. Youth and families have been an important data source, whether they have
been survey participants or focus group participants. What is the role
of youth and families in the evaluation and continuous quality improvement process? DAKOTA: That’s a
really great question. Thanks, Madison. I
think it’s very vital to have these
voices and this sort of engagement with CQI. As an example in my own work around improving
outcomes for youth aging out of foster care, I actually when I
was a supervisor at CASA identified the
problem that not all youth were receiving the same
services as other youth. And so by
identifying the problem and then going and
actually describing and analyzing the problem, we developed a
handbook to have resources all together from
all of the partners that we worked with, including asking youth and
families what resources worked best for them. So, when we put this together, we had this huge handbook, and we first
tested it with the youth that were on my caseload. And what we found is that they actually accessed
at least one new service. So it was working. It was really
addressing our problem. So originally the handbook was only shared with
CASA volunteers, but I advocated for it to be also shared with older youth, and they reported that
they felt more empowered and more in control
of their situations when they had these
resources at their hands. By asking youth
and families first how to develop resources and then asking
them to make comments and give feedback to
improve the resources, we get a better
product that’s richer and works better
for all of the people that we are engaging with. Further, by ensuring
that your organizations are engaged in CQI practices, we can make sure
that we are creating evidence-based
solutions that work. MADISON: Thanks,
Dakota. As a frontline staff, you could have easily
compiled the handbook without families
and without youth. Retrospectively,
why do you think it was important to you to
involve them in that process? DAKOTA: Well, as a
former foster youth myself, I think our voices matter. I think that we’re
not giving a voice to the voiceless. We have voices and we
need to elevate those voices. When I was in foster care, looking at the statistics
made me feel less alone but also like I was
facing an insurmountable task. The numbers for aged-out youth are troubling as we all know, but I think it
helped me grapple with my foster care identity. More broadly,
communities need to know the magnitude of
foster care because I’d like to believe
potentially optimistically that they would step
up and be foster parents because we have
these placement crises. I don’t think that
many people know about it, but it’s not just about
getting the word out there. We need to collect
data and disseminate data with foster youth and
families, not for them. By engaging former
foster youth and families in not just sessions like these but by helping them develop national and regional
surveys for measuring data, we can collect
more rich information that is informed on all levels by the people
experiencing these systems. Furthermore, by
engaging with youth and families
qualitatively, we allow for a more rich and
varied understanding of the experiences that people
experience in the system. MADISON: Thank you, Dakota.
DAKOTA: Absolutely. Thanks. MADISON: I’m going to
turn the same question over to Louie. So as a passionate youth
advocate for quite some time, what are your
thoughts about the role of youth and families
in evaluation and CQI? LOUIE: Well, I
think that there are a lot of roles that
youth can play in those. And before I discuss it, I’d like to briefly
give some context to a project that I was a part of as well as youth all
over the state of California. So in 2014 the
Continuum of Care Reform passed as one of the biggest child welfare
bills in the state, and this bill
was meant to reduce unnecessary
group home placements but also looking
at a larger level on how to
improve the foster home experience for youth as well as their specific
satisfaction levels. And in this process, the California
Department of Social Services was ultimately tasked
once this became a law into implementing it. And one of the
ways that they did so was by trying to
reach out to youth who had been in
the foster care system through organizations
to get their input for how this survey should
be developed and what to do. A big part of that
was there were members both at the ombudsman’s
office and the CDSS, the Department
of Social Services, that were alumni of
care who recognized what the importance
could potentially look like. So once the
Department of Social Services recognized that
they wanted youth voice, they reached out to a few different organizations, including
California Youth Connection which I got to be a part of, to look at ways of all right, looking at youth satisfaction, knowing that they want
to be able to gauge that, but it’s such a broad topic. And also it’s something where it can’t easily be identified. So there are two main ways that the youth voice
really brought this into perspective, and this was through their help in both the survey
development but also building recommendations
based off of the data. So through
advisory board meetings, having youth at the
helm both co-facilitating but also being in the
brainstorming meetings to be part of the
curriculum development alongside the stakeholders, this got to shed
light on a lot of emerging themes of why youth may not feel
satisfied or successful in their homes. So it wasn’t
just black and white, are you happy, are you not, but there were all
these underlying factors that these youth
were able to realize from their own experiences such as not being able to visit their brothers or
sisters while living in a certain home, and that’s what
caused the placement failure or experiencing over-medication. That was one of
the other reasons. So they were able
to look at the themes in their own life but
match that with the data. And lastly, youth
weren’t just involved in developing the questions and they weren’t just
involved in the collection but also the
dissemination strategies. A lot of these
youth were empowered through the
Department of Social Services to use their own
knowledge with social media in order to reach a
broader spectrum of youth. And I think that
that was a key piece, that they were
empowered to do that and also they were
given voice as far as what colors
should be implemented that would be youth appealing and how they should do this. So whether it’s
having youth as copy editors for a particular survey, having them as
co-facilitators and really building that
comfortability for the youth and also gaining
that qualitative data and information
in those workshops or whether it’s
just participating in a Department of
Social Services workgroup and getting to hear firsthand what the objectives are, I think that there
are a lot of roles that youth can play. MADISON: Thanks,
Louie. I think you brought up a couple of really great points. Number one, it wasn’t just inviting young
people to the table to react to something but they were really involved in the analysis of
the survey questions, developing the survey questions but also interpreting the data and providing recommendations
for improvement. What would you
say was the outcome of this level of
youth engagement? LOUIE: Well, the
outcome was very defined. The fact that youth had
participated in the survey created a
completely different outcome than potentially
what it would have otherwise been
released and disseminated. So having this
accurate content really helped. And one of the ways that youth were able to bring this is by their own
experience specifically with the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. So when this had come to light and they realized that
this was an opportunity to gauge the levels of
satisfaction for youth, a lot of these
youth also realized that there were policies
already put into place as the Foster
Youth Bill of Rights that they weren’t experiencing. And this is something
that youth in group homes are often mandated
to have this paper. So it’s something
that they see every day, and if not, it’s
something that you get while working or
while being in foster care. And this bill of
rights has stuff all the way from
medical care, to respect, to living conditions. So a lot of the
questions that youth got to form were based off of their knowledge off of that, and that wasn’t
picked up by researchers or people who were working in the development beforehand. So this got to really
put in relevant questions regarding the
foster care experience. So, one of the
emerging themes such as over-medication for
anti-psychotropic medication, a lot of the
youth expressed that they felt like they
were over medicated. They didn’t know
what they were taking, and they wanted that
data to be collected so they could
further analyze it. So the youth decided to
put a two-part question to see if youth
were on medication and if they were,
asking them further if they knew why. And this was
really important because this is information
that hadn’t been collected from the department in the past. And they also got to touch on other questions
such as asking if caregivers help
them with their homework and other things that
we may take for granted or not necessarily
realize as the building blocks of what makes a
successful home care. So ultimately
youth, as I said earlier, they got to be
involved in the designs, the colors,
dissemination strategies, but it’s also getting to be a full-circle project
because these same youth who started at the table at the Department
of Social Services are also going to
be ending this project or going into the
next step at the table as representatives
analyzing the data that they brought back. Thanks, Louie. Dee, I’m going to turn the
question over to you. So in a short period of time we’ve heard a lot
of different ways youth and
families can be engaged. As a respected family
advocate and family leader, can you tell us
a little bit about your thoughts around families in their role with
evaluation and CQI? DEE: Certainly. I think families should be
involved in everything. And in my work I
have seen families really be
involved on the front end when it comes to
the designing and the implementation of
practices and policies. It’s not so much in
terms of evaluation and that constant CQI, although we’re getting there and we’re getting better at it. Actually several years
ago I piloted a program called the Parent Partners
Program in Connecticut, and basically that
was designed to help provide peer-to-peer
support for families who currently
experience the system with alumni who have
already successfully gone through the process. It was a way for
families to get support, but it was also a way for child welfare
agency staff to get support and to get education and to get a
better understanding in terms of how they would have a better working
relationship with the communities in
which they served. Part of that also
was in that designing we also helped to
evaluate the program to see if it
actually was effective and see if we
could actually spread it out throughout the
other parts of the state. So we worked together as a team, and I loved that
spirit of collaboration between our child
welfare agency staff as well as the parent partners because we looked at what would constitute effectiveness. And some of the questions that we were looking
to ask and answer would be, did cases
get closed quicker, were children reunified earlier, did the
recidivism rate decrease, and then also
how do families feel about the process itself. Were they being educated?
Did they feel supported? Were they able
to find their voice and feel empowered to
be able to come up with some tangible ways in which they could be
participants in their own life throughout child welfare? And one of the
examples that I like to think about in
terms of a success was a mother, a young mother, who her three children
had already been — rights had
already been terminated and she was on her
way to losing the fourth. And what ended up
happening is that she partnered
with a parent partner and they began to work together as well as her
child welfare worker and she in that sense
became empowered herself. She found her voice. She was able to
really speak about things that made sense for her when it came to her care, what was the things that would make her
successful, and she actually had that applied
to her own case. And so the success is that she was
reunified with her child. That was eight years ago. She never returned
back into the system. And so that is just a little bit of what our
parent partner project was able to do. And the data really
supported that success. So we were able to expand it throughout the entire
agency in Connecticut. And so there are parent partners that are hired as staff, as professionals
throughout the agency in every office in the agency. And so I’m really,
really proud about the work that we
have been able to do and just broaden the
horizons in terms of what youth and families
can bring to the table. MADISON: Thank you, Dee.
DEE: You’re welcome. And, Sylvia, we know that you are a child
welfare leader as well and have
experience as a director. Can you share another example of where families
and/or youth were involved in implementation of a CQI? SYLVIA: Absolutely.
Just following up on what Dee just
talked about and about engaging parent
partners in the development of new processes in
an agency because of continuum of care
reform in California, San Francisco had
to implement a new child and family
teaming process. And we had to do it jointly with our
behavioral health partners. And so, one of the
things that we started out with was an implementation team. And part of our
implementation team included the staff
who were going to be involved in conducting
the child and family teams, the
facilitators, the policy staff who could shape policy around how our child and family teams were going to be conducted. And we included
our parent partners. So our parent
partners were parents who had successfully been
through our system, and we felt it was
important for them to be a part of this process. So, one of the things that our parent
partners actually suggested in our
implementation team process was for us to build
in a 15-minute pre-meet before the child and
family team meetings so that the parent
partner could prepare the biological
parent for the meeting. So they would tell them
what was going to happen, what was the
purpose of the meeting, what the structure of
the meeting would be, what the facilitation would be and prepare them
for that meeting. But they also
suggested a post meeting, a 15-minute post
meeting to debrief with the parent
so that the parent could talk about
how they felt about how that meeting went for them and to make sure that
their voice was heard. And we asked very
specific questions — or the parent partners did about the timing, the
length of the meeting, the facilitation of the
meeting, was it helpful, but also the
process that we had used to establish family goals, was that process
helpful for them. And so that
information was collected, and every two
weeks we would have an implementation team meeting. We would bring all the staff and the parent
partners together and we would debrief what happened over those two weeks through child and family team meetings. And as we debriefed,
we would really learn what worked well,
what didn’t work at all, and what do we need to change and let’s throw out some ideas. And our parent partners were key to putting forward ideas that we then
integrated into our process to test for the next two weeks. And so we continued to do that. We tested our child
and family team process for a year before we
really put it into place. And each time we
tested the changes that people were suggesting. And they were staff suggestions, they were parent suggestions. Anybody that had an idea, we would put
forward and test it. And so it really
made the process of implementing our
child and family teams much richer and
deeper than I think it would have been if we had just started implementing them. MADISON: Thank you for that. I think there was a common theme in all of these
conversations here in just a quick few minutes, which is when families and youth are involved with
evaluation and CQI, that the changes are
probably going to be more effective, longer lasting, and more sustainable. A great point that I
think you brought up on this conversation
is that the workforce was also invited to the table and involved in
this process for change, which sometimes
we don’t always see. We see leadership
involved in that process. So the stewardship
of accurate information is really important. So what do you think is the role of frontline staff in
seeking and utilizing feedback in
their day-to-day work for professional and
program development? Well, we had an
excellent opportunity in San Francisco with the National Child
Welfare Workforce Institute. They came into San Francisco. We partnered with them to do a comprehensive organizational
health assessment just for child welfare. And with that came
a leadership academy for managers and supervisors. And the organizational
health assessment and the two leadership
academies can be found on the National Child Welfare
Workforce Institute website, which is one of
the resources that you can have access
to if you’re interested. It was an
opportunity I think that we were taking for our staff to really engage them
in the change processes that were going
on in the agency. As a result of
continuum of care reform, we were going
through a lot of changes in the organization. It’s hard enough to
do change on your own, especially in child welfare because there’s so many. So we really wanted
to engage the staff in that process. And we wanted to
build an opportunity for managers and supervisors to really be more
engaged in the change that was happening
within the agency. So through the
leadership academies, the managers and the supervisors each had to
identify a topic of change that they wanted to implement that was within their
scope of responsibility and their ability
to change of course. One example of this kind of work was we had a hotline — we were implementing the signs of safety in our agency and we had a hotline supervisor who really wanted to incorporate the language from
the signs of safety into the hotline screening tool. And her theory
of change was that she would get richer
information from the caller if she put this into place. And so that’s
just one example of some of the work that was done. Each project did
require the development of a theory of
change and a logic model that really delineated the steps that each manager or supervisor had to take to
implement this change. And in this
process these projects would be brought
by the supervisor or the manager to
either a supervisor meeting or a management meeting or the
implementation team meeting to get feedback about
their theory of change, their logic model, and
their implementation process. And people would give
them feedback about it and then they might go change their theory of change or they might change
their implementation process. So that feedback was really
fueling that change process. That happened
throughout their process. And in addition to the
feedback that they got they had to develop
specific measurable goals that they were
going to accomplish through this
change project because we wanted them to be able to say this is my theory of change, this is what I want to change, and I need to be
able to measure it to see if it’s happening, and if it’s not happening, how do I go back
and correct the piece that is not leading
to that outcome I want. So that’s what we
were trying to achieve. One of the most
significant projects we did in San Francisco was done by a supervisor who
really wanted to determine if our data collection for Native American families in
San Francisco child welfare was accurate. Were we reporting
that data accurately? She also wanted to
know whether we were practicing inquiry and
notice and active efforts and were we referring families to appropriately
culturally relevant services. So the first
thing that she realized was that we needed
to clean up our data, that our data on
Native American families in our child welfare
system was horrible. And so she used Safe Measures, which is a tool that attaches to our structured
decision-making process, to extrapolate the data and to develop some reports for monitoring the data. What was important for her was to really balance for staff the compliance
issue and accountability of having data
reports to look at and to use to clean up your data but also with
trying to understand why we were doing this because it was better for
children and families. So one of the other
things we had to do after she got the data that we could manage
monthly and report was we had to provide
training to our staff. Our staff really
didn’t understand the history of Native
Americans in the Bay Area and the
historical context around some of the issues for
Native American people in the Bay Area. So we needed to provide
them with that training, something that
would get to their hearts to get them to understand
why it was important. And then we
provided the training around how to do
appropriate inquiry, notice, active
efforts, and referrals to community resources. So that was really
an important process of what we did. MADISON: Thank you, Sylvia. You provided two
really great examples of the frontline
staff spearheading a lot of these
opportunities and changes. What kind of impact did
it have on the workforce, having that type of ownership over the changes
that they believed needed to happen
to improve services to children,
families, and youth? SYLVIA: It was really
empowering for the staff. It really created ownership of the change in the organization because they were
able to decide on the change efforts themselves. They decided what
do I want to improve, what do I want to change, what isn’t working in my unit or in my scope of responsibility that I can change. So it built a lot of ownership. The goal was really
to distribute leadership across the organization. We really wanted
to send the message that leadership is not in
a position or in a title. Leadership happens at all
levels of an organization and that everybody
should have a voice in saying what should
happen in an organization. So we really wanted
to spread that message, and it really created
that ownership for the staff. The supervisors went through the leadership
academy in cohorts. And as they
developed their projects and implemented their projects and completed their training, they became coaches for the next cohort of supervisors. And each cohort
of supervisors would become the coaches
for the next cohort. So we were developing
their leadership skills as we went through
all of the supervisors. Our managers were also coaches for the first
group of supervisors but for any
group, and they actually received for their own
projects coaching from the National Child
Welfare Workforce Institute. So that was really a
valuable tool for us as well. One additional wonderful
component of this effort was that we had
this great collaboration that was created between the University of
California at Berkeley and the agency where
we were given access to a graduate
student who would help the supervisors and the managers develop their theories of change and their logic models and their
specific measurable goals because when
you’re a social worker, you don’t learn how to develop theories of
change and logic models and measurable goals.
You just don’t do that. And so it was really a new skill that they needed to develop. And so the graduate student really helped them
go through that process and develop those aspects
of their change initiative. And then what made it
great I think for them was that once
they had that help, they knew that
they had a project that they could really do that was really achievable. And so it was really wonderful. MADISON: Thank you, Sylvia. I think you highlighted
a number of great points. Number one, the importance of private/public partnership, especially when
you want to spearhead some sustainable change. And the other part of it is that change always happens
within child welfare. And for the
workforce there’s a difference between change happening to you versus change
that you’re involved or happening with you. It affects the
buy-in that the workforce might have as they’re the ones providing the services and the families
are the recipients of these services. I’m going to turn
it over to Louie. Louie, as a youth advocate, I’m sure you have
some thoughts around the role of the
workforce in obtaining feedback from youth
and families to improve their personal or
professional development. What are some of your thoughts about this particular question? LOUIE: Well, yeah.
I think that I have a lot of thoughts on it. To preface and to
expound a little bit more on Sylvia’s point and mine, we’re talking
about our experiences that we’ve had working in the child welfare
system in California. And you might be
hearing all of this and thinking well, I
don’t have state policies that support a lot of these ways to get feedback or
involve youth or families in evaluations
or really do this. And based off of my
experience having other peers who are in the
child welfare system, being able to
see other agencies, it’s not that
these social workers, caseworkers are from California and that’s why
they’re the best, you know. Not at all. It’s
because they are the most effective ones because they look at the
youth as a client versus looking at
them as a caseload, and that impact
is ultimately felt. They also broke
the stagnant culture to often adopt case
plans to adapt themselves with the youth’s case plans. And I have a
couple examples of this. So I am currently 20 years old, as you know, Madison. And I am currently aging out of extended foster care. It’s a really scary process, and there are a lot of
things that I need to do and not a lot of
time to do them. And one of the things that we all
experience in the system is the monthly
meetings that we have with our social
workers, which are supposed to help us in order to reach
our goals for our case plan. So these past few
months as I’ve been getting ready
for this transition, I’ve been having these meetings with my social
worker, but as I’ve been becoming
increasingly more independent, it seems almost
monotonous in a sense that I would have all
these meetings but there’s no
outcome or improvement that’s being supplied from them. So I basically called
my social worker one day, kind of like a
snarky tone too, like oh, instead of
spending all this time trying to like
fly over six hours, eight hours to meet
me, why don’t you help me do the things on my list. But she took that
back and even though it was like a
little bit of just me being angry at the time, she was able to
retain that as feedback for herself and her practices. One of the specific
things that I told her is that I wanted to
see an orthodontist and get a quote to see if I could get
reimbursed for braces. And basically when I gave her the advice to
spend the time that she was spending
flying over six hours, eight hours to meet
me from another state, to focus it to
myself, she realized that the laws still meant
that I needed to meet with some sort of social
worker once a month but hooked me up with
another social worker that was in near a nearby state. So now all the time
that she was spending to do that and to
reach out to see me, she could spend
that time looking at my case plan,
seeing how to do it. And she actually
just called me yesterday to let me know that
there was an organization that offers
grants for foster youth to be able to
give them free braces. And now she is even
going a step further to inform other
youth on her case plan of how they can
apply for these programs even earlier to be
able to have this. So she really
shifted her competencies and also her
knowledge to meet my needs, and I feel like that’s
a really important thing for anyone in the workforce. Also speaking to experience that I had with the
Department of Social Services working as one of the youth — initially when they decided that they wanted
youth at evaluations, there was going to be two
youth on a rotating basis that would go to
the Department of CDSS in order to
represent these meetings. And we were both from
the same exact county, had a lot of the
same experiences, and we realized
that our experiences weren’t the same as
all the experiences for different youth
in different counties. For example, we were
having conversations to see that youth in
a lot of rural counties felt like they
were more overmedicated because they were
isolated to their communities. And because of this, we sat down and had a
conversation with the agency and told them
okay, look, we know that you want to involve
youth voice at the table, but in order to do
that, you need to have a variety of youth voices from a variety of
places and not just one. So it’s important to
get the full youth voice and also make sure
that you’re assessing what you can bring to the table and what an
individual youth needs. MADISON: Your
feedback to your caseworker seemed to have a
profound effect, right. Number one, she’s
improving the quality of services she’s
providing to you to meet your needs that you have
right then in that moment but then also
made her maybe think about leveraging her resources. Instead of flying six hours, now she can tap
into a local resource. And then finally her impact with her other young
people is exponential now. Now she has
another resource to meet this maybe
underserved need within that community
where she’s located. So thank you for sharing
that very personal story. And I think a lot of folks will take away a lot from that. So let’s go to
our final question. Our final question is how can the child welfare system create opportunities
for children, youth, families, communities,
and frontline staff to inform evaluation and contribute to
transformative change? Let’s begin with Dakota. So, as I mentioned before, I’m a PhD student and
researcher in social policy, and I specifically focus on youth and families in
the foster care system. First and foremost, I’m
a qualitative researcher. I love that I’m a
qualitative researcher because I don’t
believe it’s our jobs to just parrot the
voices of the people that we’re
representing but actually to engage them on
all levels of research. I am gifted with the
common-lived experience of many of the
youth and the families that I interview
for my research, and I will tell
you that there is this intermingling
of souls that happens in these meetings with people who have
common-lived experience. And I promise you that you
won’t get that without it. So that really means
we need to empower youth and families to
conduct this research. They really just have
to be the guiding force behind designing,
researching, and implementing policies and processes because if they’re
not, we’re just shouting into the echo
chamber of the academy, leadership, regional office, and we’re not speaking
to the individuals actually being affected. It is not okay to just
hear from us once a year. You need to hear
from us all the time. You put the continuous in continuous
quality improvement with that last statement. Can you talk a
little bit more about a model or
framework in maybe empowering young people or even families to be
researchers or co-evaluators with professionals? DAKOTA: Absolutely. I am
kind of a research wonk. I’ve done a lot of research on figuring out what
is going to work fast with families in foster care. And what I found is participant action
research is really great. It’s also referred to as PAR. And in my
published work I actually didn’t use a PAR framework, but it could have been bettered in a couple
different ways by using it. So I first gathered a bunch of former foster youth
and interviewed them, and that was really
the end of the process. I informed them
later about what happened with the paper and that stuff, but in a PAR
framework I would have not just interviewed
them and stopped there. I would have trained them how to interview other youth, how to transcribe
and understand coding and understand how
to get information from qualitative interviews. Then I would have set
them out in the world and they would have interviewed other foster youth, come
back, coded that research, and then we code
together, collaboratively work and figure out
what’s really happening. And that is just the
best way to do it I think. It doesn’t have to
just be in research. We can use these techniques with writing
policies, creating surveys, and conducting
national impact studies. That’s just a few of the ways that we can use this. If you’re very
interested in this, there is a
resource for you guys. It’s called the Voices
of Youth in Foster Care, A Participant
Action Research Study. So please check it out if you’re interested
or a policy wonk like me. Thanks, Dakota. Louie? Yeah. I think Dakota really hit the nail on the head. That youth voice and
client voice in particular is so important to
informing data and evaluations. One of the ways that I
got to speak on earlier is the fact that
the youth were involved in youth-centered workshops, and this allowed
them to be able to share their information
and their experiences in a way that was
ultimately transcribed into being qualitative data taken back by the agencies. Also, having the role as facilitators and
curriculum developers and giving that
to youth but also giving them the
space in order to become co-creators in that process is another thing that’s so
vital in order to do that. In my opinion
based on my experience, youth editors are the
future of child welfare. They can fill a
gap, especially when it comes to
question relatability and a lot of the data
relatability coming back. And if they’re
involved in this end, it can often be
a low-pressure way to be able to engage them before dissemination
or before reaching out. Also, furthermore
with CYC and CDSS, the agency and then
the youth organization, the youth really feared that their voices wouldn’t
be fully implemented. They feared that
this would be a process like a lot of other ones where they go to the
meeting, everything happens, it seems fine, and
they’re not fully informed and ultimately
there isn’t a change that came out of it. So the ombudsman’s
office and the department made it a key in order to not change or edit
any of the questions that came up from youth, and because of this youth felt more validated in
their participation and also gave more
honest and authentic answers and engagement as far as what questions should be
asked for school of origin and as far as over-medication and as far as the
nutritional value that each of
these youth are getting in their foster
homes, and they were really able to break it
down once they knew that their experiences mattered. Having them involved beyond the questions in the design,
the dissemination level, getting to decide if it’s
anonymous or confidential based off of what
they felt was best. I just feel like
it’s so important to make a point that there’s no glass ceiling as far as how much youth and
families can be involved. But I think more than anything, it’s important to
look at the agency’s and the
workforce’s job to assess their capacities
of what they have and the projects
that they’re working on and give youth and
families the space but also balance
support based off of accurately gauging
what that could be. And really just to
hit Dakota’s points, an informed
process for improvement can’t be done
just being about youth and about families. It has to be done with them. MADISON: Thank you,
Louie. I think you hit on a really important part. You hit on many important parts, but one that
really struck me was really closing that
feedback loop, right, not just engaging
them and asking them what do you think about this but doing something about it and then coming back to
them and letting them know, this is what we did
with that information, and really
building that relationship with the youth
and family partners or even the workforce in all of the examples
that Sylvia presented. Dee, would you share some of
your thoughts on opportunities? Absolutely. I just
want to piggyback off of what everyone said on the panel. I see like one of the main through lines in this discussion was about seeing the value and the opportunities
of everyone involved, not just the
youth and the families but also the agency staff. In my work,
nothing that I have done has not been a
part of some type of collaboration with
agency staff, with youth, with community stakeholders. Even in the work
that I did on the pilot, we really worked as a team. And we wanted to make sure that not only did
families feel satisfied and so we worked on
a satisfaction survey, but we also did a
satisfaction survey for staff because it means
something for us to be able to work with staff, but it also
should mean something for them to work with us, and that’s
really, really important, making sure that everybody has
a voice at the table. And I really like
what you said, Sylvia, in terms of how
you all really had that buy-in from
your agency staff because that’s
really critically important in the work that we do. Even here at the
center everything that I do is really as a
family consultant, really is about a partnership and it’s about
building relationships. We here at the Center
of Family Consultants as well as Center staff have helped
design what we call a Family Empowerment
Leadership Academy, which we affectionately
call it the FELA, and it really is about helping jurisdictions
build an infrastructure to support families as leaders in a professional capacity. We also have the Parent
Partner Program Navigator, which is another labor of love from family consultants
as well as center staff, and it is also designed to work to build parent partner programs throughout the
country in child welfare similar to the one
that I did in Connecticut. So, all of this is
about collaboration and meaningful partnership
and authentic engagement. And once we do that
really, really well, I think we’re on our way to transforming the system
that we all will be proud of. MADISON: Thank you, Dee. The work that we’re
talking about is not very easy, and I’m glad that
you cited some resources that are
available to our audience that they may utilize and to recognize
that it is a process and it’s about a culture change. It’s about a change
of recognizing that we all have an ownership and responsibility and ability to foster these
changes within the system. Last but not least,
Sylvia, final thoughts? Well, I really
think Dakota and Louie have really raised the bar for what the
expectation is around youth and family engagement. I think one of the
things that I know is really valuable to
child welfare agencies and a requirement is the federal case
review process, right. It requires us to
conduct interviews of folks who are involved with
the child welfare system on cases to go through and interview youth and parents and service
providers, the court, and what was their
personal experience with the child welfare system
on that particular case. They collect this information and then they’re
supposed to analyze it and take a look at what’s working
well in this agency, what’s really going well and can we replicate
that across workers, across agencies,
across the state or what’s not working well and how do we go
about correcting that. I think internally right now agencies that are
doing case review processes are doing a lot of internal work where they’re
working with their staff, they’re going back
and getting the feedback, giving the feedback
back to their staff, and getting their input about how can we make
changes to really correct this area where
we’re not doing so well in. To do what Louie
and Dakota are saying is really to take
it one step farther, and I guess that
would be my challenge to child welfare
agencies out there. If I were still there, I would be challenging
myself to really start taking it past that, you know, engage parent
partners, engage youth, engage our service providers
and our community stakeholders in those case review processes. And not so much in the review but taking that data and then what are we going
to do to improve. To me that’s like the
collective collaboration that Dee was talking about, is, how do we as a
system improve our system with the voices
of everybody that’s either a part of it
or sharing with it, voices that are both
personal and professional within and with the
child welfare system, right. So our change improvement
project in San Francisco was really internally — I think that if
we were to really make a difference in
the work that we’re doing, we’d do what you
two were talking about and really take it
to the next level. MADISON: Thank you, Sylvia. So we are about to
wrap up our session. So I want to give the
opportunity to the speakers to provide some final thoughts
and some final takeaways. I know one of the
important takeaways I’ve had from this conversation is that not only is there a need to have many seats at the table but a process to
support and engage all folks, and not just a select few
individuals in this process, and that includes the workforce, families, youth, as
well as our communities, and that includes universities and private
partnerships as well. With that being said,
I’m going to ask in order Louie, Dee, Dakota, and Sylvia to share their final thoughts. Well, thank you, and
thank you, everyone, for sharing such
thoughtful answers. I think that the culmination of all of our
voices being able to talk about our
experiences but also how the child
welfare system can improve really came
together even better than I could have imagined. The one takeaway and hope that I would hope that
people gain from what I said is that engaging youth
and families and clients in child welfare
research and evaluations, it may seem idealistic, it’s very much an investment, but it’s one well worth taking. In the youth satisfaction survey a plethora of
questions were developed around the Foster
Youth Bill of Rights that would have never been made, never been
disseminated out to youth if they hadn’t played that role. As far as the
Youth Research Academy with the
McCreary Centre Society, these youth got to
participate in research and present their findings to 44 statutory and
non-statutory agencies, which then implemented
educational policies based off of it. So it may seem idealistic or it may seem like
it’s hard to do, and there are extra
steps you might need to take such as making a longer process or drawing
feedback out from a youth if you’re a caseworker, but it’s an
investment well worth taking. MADISON: Thank you, Louie. Dee? Thanks for having me be
part of this great panel. I think we all share
in the enthusiasm of where the direction of
child welfare is going, and we just want to be
able to be intentional about how we work with
families and with youth. It’s something that
we have to think about every single day. We have to think about how we work with
them differently and be more creative about it. We have to be intentional until it becomes habitual in our work. The process is just as
important as any outcome. So how we work with one another, how we see one
another, how we see our skills, our unique skills
in areas of expertise really is going to
draw that out for us in order to see
some of the changes that we want to make. And the
partnership can only be better as we bring more people in. Like you were saying, Madison, it’s just not a few of us; all of us have a
contribution to the work. And so it’s all up to us to really capitalize
off of those strengths and really look at the data and not only just
have families and youth be a part of
designing and implementing but also how do they
come up with survey questions and how do they
evaluate for effectiveness and how do they
also become researchers and also reassess the data. It just has to be
a continuous basis for us to provide those spaces for families and youth to be — their voices to be heard. Thank you, Dee. Dakota? So I completely agree with everything that’s
been said so far, and I am also just so
overwhelmed and honored to be here with
all of you today. You guys have a tough job, and we’re just trying to make it a little easier hopefully. If you were to
take away one thing from this today,
which I really hope you take away
more than one thing, but if you don’t,
just remember that as practitioners we
don’t always know better or know more than our clients. We need to work
collaboratively with them because the whole goal is
to help families and youth. And it’s not
okay to just talk to a few youth who
we find as all-stars like Louis and I
here, but every youth here that you work with, you
should be talking with. Every family that you work with you should be talking with and asking them what
can make things better because we have tough jobs. We have very difficult jobs. And wouldn’t it be
a little bit easier if we were walking hand
in hand with our clients instead of in an antagonistic
relationship with them? Not saying it’s
going to be easy, and some may say
it’s idealistic, but I think that
they just haven’t had the vision yet. So thank you so much and I hope you have a
lovely rest of the expo. Thank you. And then Sylvia. I think as a child
welfare professional for over 28 years I’ve
seen the field really evolve, and it really evolved from one in which the social worker made all the decisions on a
case without a lot of input to one in which agencies are beginning to
understand that they need to engage their
stakeholders, their partners, the community, parents, youth. They need their
voice at the table in order to really
implement the changes that we need to put in place. I think an understanding
is just simply not enough. I think agencies must do better. Child welfare agencies
must step up to the plate and really take an
opportunity to reach out and reach out to those
less than traditional voices, bring people to the table, and really have our
youth and our parents and our community providers
and our core personnel, all of the folks that
really shape this work, be at the table and really be a part of the
implementation, the design, exactly as Dee
said it, the design, the implementation,
the feedback, the testing of whatever change
happens in child welfare. We know that child welfare
will continue to change. That’s a given, so let’s do
it the best way that we can. And that’s my
challenge to agencies is to engage
everybody in that process. Thank you, Sylvia. And I’d like to just
say thank you all of you for spending time with us today and sharing all
of your expertise, knowledge,
insights, and even giving me some information that
I can take away as well. Please note that the handouts for today’s sessions as well as the resources mentioned are available to download
in the handouts window. Thank you for
participating in the session.




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