Chicago Department of Family and Support Services

Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services is the largest social services funder in the city, overseeing roughly $349 million of spending each year aiming to improve the lives of vulnerable Chicagoans through homelessness, workforce, youth, children’s, domestic violence, and senior services. The GPL has provided technical assistance to Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services in four areas:

  1. Results-driven contracting: Implementing outcomes-focused contracting and management practices Department-wide

  2. Homelessness and housing stability: Improving rehousing outcomes for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, establishing emergency shelters in response to COVID-19, and distributing rental assistance COVID-19 expansion funds

  3. Youth violence prevention: Establishing an innovative service coordination and navigation model for youth at a high risk of involvement in violence

  4. Coordinated care: Strengthening coordination across multiple service needs 

Results-driven contracting


In order to shift contracting from a back-office, compliance function towards a strategic tool to advance agency goals and improve client outcomes, the GPL supported DFSS in overhauling the agency’s approach to contracting and improving performance, embedding a focus on outcomes across all seven program divisions, encompassing over 60 program models.

  • Released $294 million of results-driven RFPs and embedded the tools, resources, and processes necessary for contracting to be treated as a key strategic tool for program staff moving forward. Changes to support this transition included revising RFP development tools, training 50+ staff in results-driven contracting strategies, centralizing the RFP process, and initiating regular leadership meetings to shepherd priority RFPs and address systemic barriers to strategic contracting efforts.
  • DFSS is receiving more and higher quality responses to RFPs. When DFSS surveyed service providers, almost 90% indicated that newly-released results-driven RFPs allowed them to submit better proposals. In addition, the number of responses to RFPs released in spring 2018 increased by 7% over the previous round.

Read more about our department-wide RDC work

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Workforce services

DFSS’s Workforce Services Division programs complement the larger Chicago workforce ecosystem by providing services for particularly vulnerable populations (priority populations are returning citizens, persons who are homeless, and persons with limited English proficiency). Despite an existing payment structure tied to performance, past performance was lower and less clear (due to poor data quality) than desired.

  • Executed $5 million in results-driven RFPs in April 2018 for the Division’s three largest programs: Employment Preparation and Placement; Industry Specific Training; and Transitional Jobs.
  • Developed a revised performance payment structure for 2019 contracts to align payment incentives with key outcomes and stronger data collection. Changes prioritize increasing priority population engagement, achieving sustained employment, and providing sufficient resources early in engagement.

Homelessness and housing stability

Improving rehousing outcomes through shelter services
The DFSS Homeless Services Division is the largest funder of shelter in Chicago, with this safety net making up the majority of their homeless services funding portfolio. The GPL supported DFSS in its efforts to improve rehousing outcomes for clients experiencing homelessness by strengthening key shelter rehousing activities, while avoiding incentives for shelters to become long-term service delivery hubs.

  • Executed a $19 million procurement for 3,300+ shelter beds in April 2018, creating a unified spectrum of shelter program models explicitly focused on quickly and stably rehousing clients.
  • Identified and improved core shelter rehousing activities. Through bimonthly Active Contract Management meetings, DFSS and shelter providers now collaboratively develop and test strategies to improve rehousing outcomes. Early results include increasing the share of chronically homeless or veteran clients in emergency shelters with a complete Coordinated Entry System assessment (a prerequisite to access most housing resources); and increasing data quality around exit destinations from emergency shelters, a priority outcome metric to determine whether individuals have been connected to stable housing.

Read more about our work on rehousing outcomes

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Rental assistance program
When they received ~$16 million in additional Rental Assistance Program funds in response to COVID-19, DFSS wanted to ensure that funds were distributed to reflect the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on specific community areas, where the majority of the population is individuals of color.

  • Identified challenges to achieving equity goals early through weekly data-driven meetings reviewing progress through applications and funding by community area, by race / ethnicity, and by income. Priority opportunity uncovered was a dramatic under-representation of Hispanic applicants submitting applications.
  • Tested strategies to increase the share of applications from Latinx applicants developed with input from Latinx-serving community partners, including translating communications into Spanish; generating easy-to-access video tutorials; clarifying and elevating messaging that undocumented individuals are eligible for support; and leveraging trusted community partners to do outreach in priority community areas.

Read more about our work on emergency rental assistance.

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Homelessness COVID-19 emergency response
DFSS asked the GPL to support its homelessness COVID-19 emergency response in the spring of 2020, as this became a top priority for the Department in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Homeless populations are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19—clients often have multiple risk factors and congregate living settings such as homeless shelters are known to be high-risk exposure sites. During the height of the first COVID-19 wave, DFSS and partners opened five alternate shelters that allowed for the decompression of existing homeless shelters, facilitating physical distancing.

The GPL supported the DFSS Homeless Services Division in ensuring effective daily communication and clear prioritization across the fast-moving work streams that included outreach efforts, reconfiguring referral pathways to existing and new shelters, establishing the alternate shelters, tracking and monitoring COVID-19 cases, adjusting contracts to accommodate new needs, responding to COVID-19 funding opportunities, and coordinating across other stakeholders (e.g. Continuum of Care, Department of Public Health, Mayor’s Office). To date, these alternate shelters have served more than 1,700 clients. 

Youth Violence Prevention

The GPL is supporting DFSS in efforts to reduce youth violence in Chicago through a new model of service coordination and navigation for youth 14-24 at the highest risk of violence—such as youth engaged with high-risk gang or street activity, or a history of arrest or incarceration. The new service will target 6 of the 15 community areas that account for 24% of the city’s population but over 50% of all shootings in the city. The new model will deliver ~$10M of services to 1,100+ youth over two years, intended to stabilize youth, improve their sense of agency and safety, and ultimately reduce the likelihood of involvement with violence.

The GPL team has supported the DFSS Youth Services Division in issuing an outcomes-based Request for Proposals, resolving critical design questions about program structure, and establishing an Active Contract Management approach that will allow for real-time performance management. Services are scheduled to begin delivery January 1, 2021. In preparation, the GPL is supporting DFSS in creating a new case management system that will allow tracking of which services youth are referred to, whether they are successfully engaged in those services, and the outcomes of the services (for example, increased participation in school, increased employment, and decreased contact with the criminal justice system).

Coordinated Care

DFSS funds and manages many service areas under one roof, yet traditionally each Program Division has operated largely as its own silo and discrete set of services. However, many of the families DFSS serves experience needs that cross these service delivery silos. GPL supported a small-scale pilot in DFSS’ Community Service Centers, working with social workers and clients in an existing case management program to test strategies specifically focused on coordinating across multiple service needs. DFSS and the GPL identified strategies across several key coordination steps, which DFSS is working to integrate in high-priority programs across the department:  

  • Systematically defining a priority population in need of coordination support, and implementing processes to identify that population from within a larger client pool. 
  • Supporting clients to initiate engagement with services they are referred to, for example by formally dedicating staff time to execute warm handoffs and follow up, or by adjusting referral forms to better capture and communicate critical referral information.
  • Supporting clients to sustain engagement with those services, for example by dedicating staff time to troubleshoot new barriers to continued engagement, or extending service timelines to offer coordination support until all needs are resolved.