Child & Family Wellbeing Accelerator

Technical Assistance to Strengthen Children & Families

State and local governments across the country are reimagining the way they support vulnerable children and families, redirecting resources towards prevention investments that help shrink punitive government responses such as child protection investigations and removals. To help accelerate implementation efforts, the GPL is launching the Child & Family Wellbeing Accelerator, a new technical assistance offering designed to support a select number of state and local jurisdictions that are actively advancing reforms in any of the following topic areas:

Strengthening community resource hubs for families to access supports outside the child welfare system

Communities are reimagining how to better support families before crises emerge and without the coercive child protection response that many families fear and offers help to few that need it. Many are newly establishing or expanding investments in community-based, prevention-oriented supports such as Family Resource Centers, to strengthen family resiliency and promote healthy child development without child welfare system involvement. As they do so, many are looking to strengthen practices within these community resource hubs in order to better support families and develop more robust evidence of success to strengthen the case for sustained investment. GPL support would help establish data-driven performance management practices for these family resource hubs for jurisdictions tackling key questions such as:

  • How do we effectively find and engage vulnerable families beyond those who proactively seek out support? How do we successfully engage families after reports to the child protection hotline?
  • How do we make sure our model and supports offered meet the needs of families? How do we center family voice in monitoring and improving the value of the supports offered?

The GPL would provide participating jurisdictions with technical assistance to enhance the implementation of family-focused community resource hubs. This could include tracking key performance data in real time, identifying potential referral pathways to connect vulnerable families to these resources, developing new tools to shift staff practice around family outreach and engagement, strengthening structures to engage families in feedback and co-design, and training in data-driven performance management tools and practices.

Building referral pathways to supportive services for substance-using pregnant people

Parental substance use is a significant driver of interactions with child protection systems, especially for families with very young children, who are particularly vulnerable to the physical consequences for infants born substance-exposed and unsafe living conditions at home. However, substance-using pregnant people often go without support until the child protection agency intervenes after the child’s birth, too often resulting in punitive consequences instead of timely, effective treatment services. Many jurisdictions are reimagining how to support these families during pregnancy, building bridges to substance use treatment and other supports such as home visiting programs from hospitals, prenatal clinics, child protection hotlines, and other community stakeholders. GPL support would help establish or strengthen these referral pathways for jurisdictions tackling key questions such as:

  • Who should we be working with in the community to build these referral pathways (e.g. healthcare providers)? How do we get them on board?
  • What supports are available for these families (e.g. home visiting, substance use treatment)? Are these supports sufficient to meet the scale of need? Are they tailored to effectively serve this population?
  • How do we find and engage these families? What does it take to successfully engage them in supports? How do we tailor supports to meet the specific needs of parents?

The GPL would provide participating jurisdictions with technical assistance around one of the core steps in the process of building or strengthening these referral pathways for substance-using pregnant people. This could include identifying potential referral pathways for engaging this population (e.g. hospitals, prenatal clinics, child protection hotline), assessing the relevant service array (e.g. SUD treatment, home visiting), building outreach materials to engage referral sources (e.g. healthcare providers), developing protocols for identifying and referring families, strengthening provider outreach and engagement practices, improving the accessibility of supports for parents, engaging families in feedback and co-design, and training in data-driven performance management tools and practices.

Placing more children entering out-of-home care with relative caregivers

Relative caregivers play a critical role in stabilizing families and reducing the harm of family separation when children do enter out-of-home care. Children who are able to live with kin (relatives or “fictive kin”) while in out-of-home care experience more placement stability, stronger ties to family, community, and culture, and better outcomes for reunifying with their families. Many jurisdictions are committing to “kin-first” policies and priorities, yet it often remains easier for staff to place a child in a pre-approved licensed foster home than to conduct a thorough kin search and secure the required approvals for a new kin placement. GPL support would help strengthen these practices for jurisdictions tackling key questions such as:

  • How do we communicate and reinforce a commitment to “kin-first” policies with our field staff and other stakeholders, including the benefits of kin placements for children?
  • How can we implement management practices that reinforce this commitment in practice (e.g. data and case review processes to encourage effective practices such as empowering youth and family voice in the placement process)
  • How do we address common concrete financial and other barriers to placement (e.g. simple and clear processes for approving placement exceptions for kin when there is past child welfare or criminal justice history)?
  • How can we set up placements with kin to be stable and well-supported?

The GPL would provide participating jurisdictions with technical assistance to accelerate and enhance the implementation of “kin-first” placement and support strategies. This could include analyzing and tracking placement data, developing materials to communicate the positive impact of kinship care with staff, developing tools to shift staff practices around finding and supporting relative caregivers, establishing or improving specific supports such as onboarding trainings for kin caregivers, training in data-driven performance management practices, and engaging families in feedback and co-design.

What to expect:

Selected jurisdictions will receive 12-18 months of support that includes the following:

  • Tailored support for agency staff responsible for implementation on key decisions, tools, and processes

  • Access to implementation template materials and support adapting them to local context

  • Exposure to relevant models from other jurisdictions and facilitated opportunities to workshop implementation efforts with jurisdictions tackling similar initiatives

  • Training modules to build agency staff capacity on core GPL tools around data-driven performance management, designing service arrays and referral pathways, and/or procurement.

Who should apply:

Any state or local government entity may apply on behalf of their jurisdiction, including any combination of executive, child welfare, public health, or social or human services offices. Preference will be given to applicants who will be actively implementing initiatives on these topics by summer 2022 and who demonstrate a strong commitment to advancing equitable outcomes for communities of color and others disproportionately impacted by child protection systems.

 

How to apply:

The application closed on December 14, 2021, but is available for reference here.

 

Following submission of the first round application, the GPL may invite applicants to participate in a one-hour phone interview in January to better understand current work around identified initiatives and needs for support. As part of the final selection process in early 2022, we may also request letters of support from leadership or other relevant stakeholders, an agreement to sign a memorandum of understanding, or other materials related to the relevant initiative(s).


Cost:

Jurisdictions that have previously received GPL technical assisance will be expected to cover participation costs. There may be a limited number of philanthropically funded slots available for new jurisdictions.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS)

What is the Government Performance Lab?

The mission of the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab (GPL) is to speed up our nation’s progress on difficult social problems by improving how state and local government human service agencies function and how their dollars are spent. We hire and train full-time employees, pairing them with government agencies to lead 12-36 months intensive reform projects. The GPL conducts research on how governments can improve the results they achieve for their citizens. An important part of our research model involves providing technical assistance to state and local governments. Through this hands-on involvement, we gain insights into the barriers that governments face and the solutions that can overcome these barriers. The GPL has worked on Children & Families projects in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York City, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Washington D.C. Click here to learn more about the GPL’s technical assistance to better support children and families.

What is the Child & Family Wellbeing Accelerator?

The Child & Family Wellbeing Accelerator is an initiative through the GPL’s Children & Families policy area seeking to help jurisdictions design and execute successful initiatives that strengthen child and family wellbeing. As part of participation, select jurisdictions receive 12-18 months of support that includes the following:

  • Tailored support for agency staff responsible for implementation on key decisions, tools, and processes
  • Access to implementation template materials and support adapting them to local context
  • Exposure to relevant models from other jurisdictions and facilitated opportunities to workshop implementation efforts with jurisdictions tackling similar initiatives
  • Training modules to build agency staff capacity on core GPL tools around data-driven performance management, designing service arrays and referral pathways, and/or procurement.

When is this Round 1 application due?

Completed applications are due on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 11:59pm ET.

What is required to submit an application?

You will be asked to provide information on the agencies submitting the application, identify a point of contact for the application, and indicate your level of interest in implementation support on a range of topics. The remainder of this application asks for more detailed information on three specific topics:

  • Topic #1: Strengthening community resource hubs for families to access supports outside the child welfare system (e.g. family resource centers)
  • Topic #2: Building referral pathways to supportive services for substance-using pregnant people
  • Topic #3: Placing more children entering out-of-home care with relative caregivers

For each topic applicants indicate interest in (may choose some, all, or none), you will be asked to provide:

  • A summary of existing dedicated resources (e.g. funding, staff)
  • A ranking of most pressing challenges
  • Contact information for the person primarily responsible for implementation
  • A brief description of the current status of efforts related to the initiative

How long does my application need to be?

The application consists of multiple choice and short answer questions. The longest open-ended response box allows only up to 1,000 characters for a description of the current status of efforts related to any of these initiatives.

What will the Round 2 interview process be like?

Round 2 interviews will be held via phone or video call and will be scheduled for one hour. They are designed to help us learn more about the specific initiatives your jurisdiction is undertaking, including the most pressing challenges you are facing. Jurisdictions will be asked to bring key representatives from relevant government and community agencies to participate in the phone interview. During this round, jurisdictions will be asked to verbally confirm their ability to sign a Harvard memorandum of understanding (MoU) and provide letters of support from jurisdiction leadership as part of consideration for final selection.

If selected, what is required of my jurisdiction to participate in the Child & Family Wellbeing Accelerator?

To receive implementation technical assistance, selected jurisdictions will be required to designate a project point of contact to meet with GPL staff regularly. In addition to 1-2 hours of direct 1:1 meetings with GPL staff weekly, jurisdictions should plan for GPL staff to join and participate in relevant internal meetings as a real-time support for jurisdiction staff leading the initiative. Jurisdictions will also be offered the opportunity to participate in periodic meetings (~monthly) with jurisdictions implementing similar initiatives. Specific implementation support plans will be tailored to meet the needs of jurisdictions awarded technical assistance.

If applicable, jurisdictions will be asked to contribute to a portion of the costs of technical assistance.

What should I do if I have questions about the application?

Reach out to govlab@hks.harvard.edu with any questions about this application.