2009 Jordan Institute
14, No. 2
A Child Welfare Agency Reviews Its Data and Engages New Partners
North Carolina’s Pitt County Department of Social Services is serious about using data. Program Manager Margaret Dixon and Social Work Supervisor Mildred M. Daniels have led an effort over the last several months to assess the agency’s foster parent recruitment and retention program and to engage community partners in achieving desired outcomes.
A Need to Understand
“No time is going to be the best time, that’s how I look at it,” she says. “I really want to understand our numbers and what they tell us. I want to know the narrative for our agency.”
Dixon realizes that understanding, sharing, and monitoring the agency’s data plays a key role in making sustainable improvements. “We have to have a sense of where we are, and we have to keep the community on board. If we don’t ever talk to our partners about how they can be involved, how can we make changes?”
Engaging the Community
A high turnout proved to Dixon’s team that they do not have to work in isolation. Over 20 people came to learn how they can help with foster parent recruitment and retention. Participants included leadership from local law enforcement, juvenile justice, the faith community, mental health, the schools, and others. DSS also invited a young woman in foster care and four foster parents to share their stories with the community leaders.
Pitt County DSS will also share data that shows where they need the community’s help. Community participants will work in small groups to develop specific, concrete strategies to achieve their desired outcomes. DSS will then invite a small group of community partners to continue working with their agency on carrying out the recommended strategies and sharing results with the larger community.
Much of the data the Pitt County team is studying comes from North Carolina’s Child Welfare website (http://ssw.unc.edu/cw). Faculty from the UNC-CH School of Social Work, which maintains the website, are providing technical assistance to Pitt County to help it navigate and understand all of the data available.
Rather than devising a complicated system for this, Pitt County staff are simply asking for more specific feedback from families and youth as they do their routine visits and case management.
This type of qualitative data is essential. Agency and community partners have to understand the human side of what works well in an agency, and where gaps exist.
Pitt County DSS feels so strongly about sharing the human side of their work that they will feature a panel of youth in care at their community event. “Nothing can take the place of hearing directly from young people,” Dixon says. “They can say things with so much more power than we ever can.”
As Dixon and her team create an agency culture that actively uses data, they gain new opportunities for sharing responsibility with their community—and improving outcomes.