2009 Jordan Institute
15, No. 1
Practice Update: Using Data to Engage New Partners
In May 2009, we told you about beginning efforts by Pitt County Department of Social Services to use its data to engage community partners in its foster care program. Since that time, Program Manager Margaret Dixon and her team have created a Community Action Team that is taking their program into exciting new territory.
Here’s how it’s happened. After a preliminary meeting with community partners last February, the Pitt County DSS team reviewed their own data in detail and considered their own experiences with children in care and foster families. In the process, they recognized the progress they’ve made in recent years in two key areas: reducing the number of children coming into care and decreasing the amount of time children spend in care. They also pinpointed three indicators they hoped to target for improvement:
The DSS team realized that their community outreach effort needed to focus not only on recruiting more foster families, but also on supporting, training, and retaining those families already in the system.
“The Data Hooked Our Community”
“It really occurred to me that it was the presentation about the data that really hooked our community,” Dixon said. “These are the true facts. We’re all in this together. These kids are going to age out into our community, and we’ll be using another pot of money to provide services for them if we don’t meet their needs now.”
The day also included a panel of three young women currently or previously in care. These women shared their stories and insights, in particular about the impact of placement with relatives, placement instability, and the myths and misconceptions about fostering teens. By providing a sense of the real lives behind the numbers, these young women galvanized the people in the room to take action.
Working in small groups, participants brainstormed a list of specific strategies they and their respective organizations could take to make improvements in the three selected indicators. At the end of the day, approximately 20 people signed up to be a part of the ongoing Action Team to implement the recommended strategies.
Since then, the Action Team has continued to meet, both as a large group and in smaller work groups focused on recruitment and retention. The team also sent surveys to former and current foster families to seek their input.
But that’s not all! Pastor Rodney Cole of the Church’s Outreach Network has led an effort in partnership with DSS to establish a One Church, One Child program in Pitt County. One local church already sent in an unsolicited $1,000 donation after reading about the team’s efforts in the newspaper. The owner of a local day care center not only agreed to donate space for MAPP classes, but also offered to pay his staff to provide child care for the evening meetings.
“I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the support we’ve received,” Dixon says. “I’ve just been amazed.” To other agencies who might feel alone in meeting families’ needs, Dixon says, “You won’t know until you ask. Tell your community partners what you need. We all have an investment in the success of these children. These are the community’s children, not just DSS’s.”