What do the words “outcomes” and “accountability” mean to you?
Your answer may depend a lot on your job. If you work as a director or program manager in a county department of social services, these words are probably all too familiar, since you are regularly asked by county commissioners, state and federal reviewers, and others to prove your agency is functioning as it should.
If you’re a supervisor or a frontline child welfare worker, however, the connection may be less clear. And yet, as the fictitious memo below illustrates, outcomes and accountability are concepts that drive the decisions that shape all of human services, including child welfare.
Could you respond to such a memo? Could you or your supervisor describe in a quantifiable way how your unit makes a positive difference for families and children?
This issue of Practice Notes will tell you about Cornerstone IV, a new MRS-focused course that teaches supervisors in all DSS programs how to analyze data and, using that data, to measure progress toward successful outcomes. We will also explore the language of outcomes and provide you with information about some outcome-focused federal and state review processes that impact child welfare agencies.
An Urgent Memo
You are the supervisor of a service unit within your county DSS. You and your unit just attended an agency-wide meeting called by the Director. This memo was handed out as you walked into the meeting.
To: All unit supervisors
From: K.C. Canum, DSS Director
Re: Organizational changes
Our agency is facing unprecedented challenges and changes due to the fiscal crisis in our county and state. I have met with our Board, our fiscal management team, and the county commissioners to develop a feasible plan that will enable our agency to exist within this unstable fiscal environment, meet our legal mandates, and serve our clients to the best of our ability. To this end, an organizational priority will be to undertake a results-based management style. We want to be able to quantify the benefits of our services and programs, improve where necessary, and clearly communicate the value of our work to our stakeholders.
Together, we need to approach these challenges head-on and with a commitment to our mission. We also need to be cost-effective and make decisions that are well informed. I ask that all supervisors provide me with a report 6 months from today that answers the question, “What kind of positive difference are you making for your clients, and to what extent are your program’s goals attained?” I will need to eliminate any unit that cannot demonstrate this and contract out their services and programs to another agency. This necessary action will be painful, but in the end it will enable our agency to survive.