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Improving Outcomes Initiative as of October 2008

The following text was written in October 2008 as a summary of the progress made pertaining to the Improving Outcomes Initiative.  Details and specifics should be understood to be point-in-time.

After a year of planning and discussion, in 2008 DHS launched an initiative called Improving Outcomes for Children and Families in partnership with Casey Family Programs, local foundations, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), providers, consumers, stakeholders, and community organizations. It is based on maintaining a strength-based and child- and family-centered system that partners with families and delivers the supports and care that are needed across mental health, child welfare, mental retardation, early intervention, juvenile justice, drug and alcohol programs, education, and other child- and family-serving processes and entities.

Our goal is to enhance the current and future quality of life for children and families at risk for out-of-home placement by creating a well-trained, sustainable workforce skilled at building on the strengths of families and their natural supports. We will provide services and evidence-based practices that empower individuals and families. A primary measurement of our efforts to improve outcomes for children and families will be based on further success in:

  • Reducing placements (especially high-end placements);
  • Reducing length of stay (when placement is necessary); and
  • Reducing reentry into care (assisting children, youth and families in succeeding at home).
    Goals related to success at home, which may include outcomes related to stability of housing, quality of life, educational and/or vocational achievement, etc., are being identified by those who are in the best position to identify them – the children, youth, and families of Allegheny County.

Building Capacity

To improve outcomes for children and families, DHS is building service capacity. This requires information, community and professional support, and expansion of knowledge and skills throughout our county.
Casey Family Programs, whose priority is to reduce foster-care placements by 50 percent nationwide by 2020, has generously committed to providing three-year funding for technical assistance through several partnerships to assist us in achieving these goals. They support the work of the consultants who include:

VROON VanDenBerg - Dr. John VanDenBerg has been assisting with:

  • Expansion into a unified, system-wide integrated service delivery model; including  use of the High Fidelity Wraparound (HFW) model of family engagement and planning;
  • Identification of strengths and resources available, areas of need, regulatory issues, and development of a process and timeline for implementation;
  • Development of a change management strategy to build capacity and “buy-in” of staff, service providers, and recipients of services; and
  • Building necessary skill sets to provide training and education that enables front-line workers to attain competency skills.

Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago - Dr. Fred Wulczyn has been providing consultation to:

  • Link DHS to The Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data;
    - Analyzing child welfare data
  • Conduct baseline analysis;
  • Establish outcome measures;
  • Conduct outcome evaluation;
  • Assist in designing performance-based contracts; and
  • Merge data from all child-serving systems into one system for analysis.

DHS has received two grants from the Department of Public Welfare to hire and train individuals to implement High Fidelity Wraparound. The Time Limited Family Reunification Grant targets youth involved with juvenile justice and child welfare. The Integrated Children’s Service Plan targets youth with complex needs who are not Medical Assistance eligible.

The Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has funded The Youth and Family Training Institute (YFTI) to prepare counties in the provision of High Fidelity Wraparound to youth with mental health diagnoses. The YFTI provides training, technical support, and credentialing at no cost to Allegheny County as an early implementer of HFW. Through a pilot with the YFTI, Allegheny County is working to provide HFW to 150 multi-system involved youth. Community Care Behavioral Health is funding this effort for Medical Assistance eligible youth.

Enhancing Partnerships

Local foundations have come forward to enhance and support the work of the Improving Outcomes for Children and Families Initiative.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has provided a three-year grant enabling us to automate the common intake, common assessment, and common service plan for youth and families being served by DHS into the KIDS (Key Information and Demographics System). This will result in establishing one single repository of information for all child-serving systems. Parties involved in this data system development include:

Deloitte Consulting LLP, the developers of KIDS, is developing a new application that supports the programmatic and financial needs of the Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). This application will replace the antiquated current Mainframe system (DPW is paying for these development costs).

Dr. John Lyons, Northwestern University, the author of the Child and Adolescents Needs and Strengths (CANS-Comprehensive) assessment tool, is working with DHS to both provide hands-on training and develop an automated web-based training module for the CANS-Comprehensive to be used across DHS service areas (the DPW Integrated Children’s Services Plan is paying for these costs).

Community Partnerships

The Children’s Cabinet
The Grable Foundation has provided funding for reestablishment of the Children’s Cabinet as we move to full system integration. The Cabinet’s singular focus is to serve as a community advisory group of key stakeholders, family members, and youth advocates. This funding is for a staff position to support and facilitate the work of the Children’s Cabinet. The feedback we received from members at the first three meetings has been very valuable.

Youth Development Project
The Youth Development Project funded by the Heinz Endowment is establishing an Allegheny County DHS Youth Advisory Council as a vehicle for youth to provide valuable contributions to the Improving Outcomes for Children and Families Initiative as well as to other service providers – county, state and national¬¬¬¬ – ultimately strengthening the overall system of supports and services for youth in the wider community. This will enable youth to develop leadership skills as advocates and system advisors, provide them with positive experiences of social service careers and policymaking, and encourage their professional development. It will also establish a support system among youth to promote wellness, recovery, resilience, and normalcy.

Transition-aged Youth

Programs for transition-aged youth include the Independent Living Initiative and Independent Living Programs. At this time, 839 youth receive services through one or both programs. All programs emphasize youth involvement and engaging youth in services.

The Independent Living Initiative began two years ago to assist youth ages 16 to 24 years to transition to adulthood. Four DHS caseworker IIIs  and  two master’s level Educational Liaisons  assist each youth with the following: post-secondary education; employment and vocational training; housing; financial aid and scholarship searches; and programs and services to enhance post-secondary success. The four caseworkers are currently serving 696 youth.

In 2007, 40 youth entered post-secondary education or training. Of those individuals, 14 attended school or training from paid placement (foster home or group home) and 26 received financial assistance, including a daily stipend, clothing allowance, and reimbursement for books and supplies. In 2008, 70 youth have begun post-secondary education or training programs.
Independent Living Programs provide traditional independent living services to 16- to 18-year-olds in foster care, and enhanced aftercare services to 18- to 21-year-olds who have exited the placement system. Services are provided by five contracted neighborhood agencies selected through a competitive process by a panel that include youth who were recipients of services. Services include: life skills assessments; individualized goal plans; job and career development; personal safety and health issues; career development and job skills; financial assistance; employment assistance, housing; and household and dormitory items. They are funded through a combination of federal Chafee monies and State funds.

A series of partnerships and collaborations provide youth with experiences and enhanced opportunities and include:

  • Casey Family Programs
    Howard Knoll, Senior Director, is providing technical assistance to enhance job-readiness training for transition-aged youth. This will expand and enhance existing Workforce Development Programs with other service offerings now available to transition-aged youth. This initiative focuses on systems-level coordination of services offered by Workforce Development Programs and CYF service providers (group home, residential, and independent living services).
    With Mr. Knoll’s assistance, we are coordinating services across DHS program offices, expanding current programming to include all transition-aged youth, and offering new initiatives aimed at engaging youth and providing them with a more complete array of services.
    In May, 2008, DHS sponsored the first Workforce Development Symposium at the Hill House. Representatives of Workforce Programs, CYF providers, and current and former foster youth met for a day of strategic planning and networking. The event generated fresh ideas for programs to engage youth: a “Street Team” comprised of youth who would provide outreach, information and referrals to other youth; new experiences for youth that could open up new avenues of interest and opportunity (e.g. establishing relationships with business for job shadowing, peer mentoring, team-building activities, and social networking opportunities); youth as advocates and mentors to younger, still-placed youth. The youth agreed that repairing past relationships and reestablishing lost relationships is crucial to their well-being.
    We are currently establishing benchmarks and will measure success by the number of jobs attained and retained.
  • The Heinz Endowments
    A grant supports two Educational Liaisons to assist youth with academic achievement and post-secondary education or training. Youth participants receive an Educational Passport containing transcripts, immunizations, financial aid information, and identification (birth certificate, social security card). The two liaisons are currently serving 429 youth.
  • The Bridge of Pittsburgh
    The Bridge is a “one-stop-shop” for transition-aged youth that was established through the DHS Office of Community Services and Arbor, Inc. with grant from the PA Dept of Labor and Industry. The Bridge maintains nontraditional hours (11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. weekdays, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays), and offers services like remediation/GED prep, career planning, and programs that support health and wellness. The Bridge opened in February, 2007 and has been visited by 474 youth. 274 youth have elected to become “members,” although membership is not a pre-requisite for service. Members are eligible to serve on advisory boards and receive incentives for completion of skill-related goals, such as securing employment or passing to the next grade. 
  • Leadership Development Initiative of Pittsburgh
    An LDI “team” developed the Embark! Mentoring Program for transition-aged youth who attend college or university. The team also developed a marketing plan and all materials, including a pamphlet and flyer. To date, 20 youth have been matched with young professionals.
  • Investing NOW
    Investing NOW is a program of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering that assists disadvantaged youth through tutoring and remediation in math and the sciences, with the goal of a career in the field of engineering or the sciences. The program also includes hands-on experiential learning, tours and team projects. Investing NOW has committed to accepting 20 foster youth for the 2008 fall session.
  • Keys Service Corps / AmeriCorps
    This program provides summer employment opportunities and educational stipends to youth attending college. Four foster care alumni were employed through the AmeriCorps program including two who worked in the Executive Office.
    In partnership with a local foundation, Braddock Redux, AmeriCorps has committed three members to renovate a triplex for homeless foster care alumni. Foster care alumni work side-by-side with AmeriCorps volunteers to clean and paint the homes. When completed, two AmeriCorps Urban Farmers will live in one section of the triplex and will act as mentors and teachers to the youth residing there. The youth will be offered paid positions with AmeriCorps.
  • The Barista Program
    This partnership between the Pittsburgh-based Social Innovation Accelerator, the Union Project, and Starbucks Foundation provides training and job-readiness skills to transition-aged youth in one of our group homes. Starbucks provides all equipment and paper goods, while the Union Project staff provides life-skills training, job readiness skills, and coffee-making skills that transfer to any coffee-making establishment. To date, eight youth have enrolled in the training. 
  • YouthWorks
    Funded through a grant from the PA Department of Labor and Industry, YouthWorks provides job-readiness training to youth in residential- or group-home placements. 190 youth have been served.
  • Bethlehem Haven’s Project Employ
    Funded through a grant from Pittsburgh Social Venture Partners, this program focused on out-of-school, unemployed foster care alumni. The program has served 15 youth.
  • Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and Bidwell Corporation 
    A series of meetings has led to a formal collaboration through which transition-aged youth will attend these programs. An informational meeting held in May, 2008 was attended by 60 youth. Youth have been doing site visits and registering for programs.
  • KidsVoice
    In December 2006, DHS and KidsVoice began a new conciliation process that looked at each youth individually in order to craft a disposition best suited to his or her needs and individual situation. The team consists of a representative from KidsVoice, an attorney from the Allegheny County Law Department, and a DHS representative. These meetings result in a joint determination of individual need for youth who are attending post-secondary education or training programs, and result in the youth receiving an “offer” of continued support by Allegheny County that is based on individual need. Some youth receive a daily stipend (i.e. “pocket money”) to be used for essentials and clothing, as well as reimbursement for books and school supplies. Other youth remain in CYF paid placements while they attend local colleges or training programs. DHS also provides housing in various forms (paid foster placements/apartments) for youth who live in dormitory settings during the academic year but require alternative living arrangements during breaks and summer vacations.
    To date, 133 youth have participated in the conciliation process.
    Once conciliated, youth are subject to progress reviews by the conciliation team at the conclusion of each semester. Grades for every youth are requested and reviewed by the team. Youth who are in danger of academic discipline are contacted and counseled. Youth who exhibit exemplary academic performance (3.0 GPA or higher) at the conclusion of the academic year are subject to an increase in the amount of their stipend.
    DHS currently provides support to youth who attend the following colleges and universities: Alabama State University; California University of Pennsylvania; Carlow University; Cheney University of Pennsylvania; Clarion University of Pennsylvania; Community College of Allegheny County; Duquesne University; Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; The Hiram G. Andrews Center; Florida A&M University; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; LaRoche College; The Pennsylvania State University; Pittsburgh Technical Institute; St. Vincent College; Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania; and Washington and Jefferson College.
  • Trade Unions
    DHS is attempting to forge a partnership with local trade unions in order to train transition-aged youth for careers as carpenters, steamfitters, steelworkers, and building engineers. A special focus of this effort is the training of youth for jobs in the growing “green economy.”
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