FRCA has partnered with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University’s “Frontiers of Innovation” (FOI) program, and is conducting research on how to grow and sustain a model Family Development program, with a long-term goal of determining how to best serve families on the path to self-reliance by uncovering how families’ needs, community services, and evaluation all align. FRCA is the only statewide Association in the nation working with Harvard’s researchers on how to grow and sustain a model Family Development program, with a long-term goal of improving the lives of children and families.
Frontiers of Innovation is the research and development platform at The Center on Developing Child at Harvard and aims to accelerate the development and adoption of science-based innovations that directly address community-identified unmet challenges of children and families in order to achieve breakthrough impact at scale. Launched in 2011, FOI employs a structured but flexible model that facilitates idea generation, development, implementation, testing and rapid-cycle iteration. This process is grounded in science and supported within a growing community of change agents who are committed to shared learning, cumulative knowledge, and transformative child outcomes at the population level.
“180,000 kids in Colorado are growing up at or below the federal poverty line,” said FRCA Executive Director Mark Kling. “FRCA is honored to work with the experts at Harvard on studying what engages families to utilize support services and how we can create lasting change in our communities by helping at-risk families become self-sufficient. The data we collect through the study will provide us with research on how to make the most impact for the most people.”
The first phase of this partnership focused on reviewing and understanding our data to learn more about what is working and why, as well as what is not working and why not. 13 FRCA Members participated in an orientation meeting that reviewed preliminary findings and invited them to submit applications to be a Cohort Site in the research study.
The second phase is focusing on developing, adopting and testing new, scalable strategies that can achieve significantly better outcomes for young children and families facing adversity, using three primary FOI components: (1) a continuous, bi-directional pipeline of scientific discoveries and hypotheses that will be translated for application in policy and practice: (2) intervention strategies that are designed, tested and refined through the IDEAS framework); and (3) engaging our learning community in shared learning, promoting early adoption of promising strategies, and testing pathways to impact at scale.
The FRCA FOI Rapid-Cycle Learning Cohort (#1) was established through a fair and extensive process in the Spring of 2017 and included three family resource centers across Colorado: Community Partnership Family Resource in Teller, Park, and El Paso counties; La Plata Family Centers Coalition (LPFCC) in rural La Plata and Archuleta counties, and The Pinon Project Family Resource Center in Montezuma and Dolores County. This cohort came to consensus on and then tested a standardized process for recruitment and motivational interviewing-informed goal setting for families newly enrolled in the Family Development Pathway. The cohort also tested the feasibility of adding some of FOI’s recommended measures to deepen our understanding of the Family Development Pathway. In January 2018, Mark Kling and FRCA Program Director, Teri Haymond, introduced FRCA’s Cohort 1 data collection and evaluation process at the Frontiers of Innovation Convening in Boston and discussed the hallmarks of supporting a statewide network of Family Resource Centers.
Lessons learned from FRCA’s FOI Cohort #1 included:
- Perceptions that help is not needed, time commitment to engage in services, and lack of correct service matching to family needs were common reasons identified for why families opt out of deeper engagement in service delivery
- A quarter of those families that opted into the study dropped out prior to completing, common reasons cited included moving out of the service area and not needing the help;
- Motivational Interviewing strategies, a core component of FRCA’s model of family development service delivery, facilitated the development of trusted relationships with families; and
- Family progress in self-sufficiency appeared unrelated to parent/caregivers’ level of executive functioning and past adverse childhood experiences, suggesting that services similarly help those with high and low levels of executive functioning and those who have and have not experienced multiple traumas during childhood.
The second cohort of sites, Delta Family Center (Delta) in rural western Colorado serving Delta County and Focus Points Family Resource Center, in metro Denver, will begin recruitment and initial data collection in September 2018. This cohort will test the impact of training additional staff in motivational interviewing (MI) in order to test the impact on family goal achievement of MI being deployed by a broader group of staff. The final conclusions of second cohort are expected in early 2019.
Families are at the center of this work, as articulated in this quote by Teri Haymond: “Families know their situation best and it’s our responsibility to make sure FRCs are equipped to respond to the needs of the people who walk through their doors. One of the most rewarding parts of our partnership with FOI is knowing that our research will help advance the field of family development and help resource centers build relationships with families that will keep them engaged and working toward their goals.”
FRCA has recognized that a broader Colorado FOI Learning Community will be beneficial to supporting this project’s overall goal. To that end, quarterly meetings of both the first and second cohort members will provide a chance to offer input into the project’s design, testing, and reflection phases as well as championing the project outcomes to broader membership.
“Working with Harvard and FOI has pushed FRCA to hold ourselves to the highest standard and ask hard questions about whether or not our work is impactful enough,” said Mark Kling. “This level of research encourages honesty, collaboration and taking risks to achieve great things for families in Colorado and beyond.”
By Teri Haymond, Program Director at Family Resource Center Association