Magazine article Policy & Practice

Pathway to Reform: Using Authentic Engagement to Revamp Michigan's Child Welfare System Financing

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Pathway to Reform: Using Authentic Engagement to Revamp Michigan's Child Welfare System Financing

Article excerpt

It wasn't for lack of trying that led the Michigan Department of Human Services in 2013 to attempt overhauling how the state of Michigan financed its child welfare system.

In fact, in the last 50 years, there were numerous unsuccessful efforts at reform.

"You can look back in records over many years and see cycle after cycle where attempts were made," says Steve Yager, director of the Children's Services Administration at the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS).

Rather, it was the enduring goal to do right by the children and families the system serves daily.

In 2013 the Michigan Legislature once again requested DHS to assess the feasibility of overhauling the financing model. This time, there were conditions that the funding plan be based on performance, that a wide range of stakeholders be involved, and that the planning and feasibility testing period be completed in a six-month timeframe. DHS determined that one of the keys to success would be to engage a third-party facilitator that could lead impartially while engaging each of the integral stakeholder groups and understanding the viewpoints of each.

"It was fundamentally critical to have whoever was going to facilitate and lead this work be neutral," says Yager. "Folks would have trust and confidence in this neutral party so it could lead the group forward objectively without preconceived conclusions.

So we were looking for a group that could come to the table without state interests, without political interests, and truly drive the facilitation process from an objective standpoint."

To ensure the voices of stakeholders were truly represented, DHS established the Child Welfare Performance-Based Funding Task Force that encompassed representation of public and private providers, the courts, the counties, and the legislature. Then, DHS turned to the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, an organization with a national network of nearly 500 private nonprofit human-serving organizations, to facilitate such an effort with the taskforce.

Specifically, DHS Director Maura Corrigan contacted Alliance President and CEO Susan Dreyfus--who was previously the secretary for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the administrator of the Division of Children and Family Services for Wisconsin. Dreyfus's background in the public and private sectors allowed her to assemble the Alliance Engagement Team to support the Child Welfare Performance-Based Funding Task Force in planning the new funding system in order to meet the shared goal of better outcomes for children and families, while also satisfying stakeholders' individual concerns and unique issues. In addition to Dreyfus, the team of industry-specific experts included:

* Bill Fiss, former deputy administrator, Wisconsin Division of Children and Family Services

* Beth Skidmore, president and CEO, Skidmore and Company

* Jennifer Haight, senior researcher, Chapin Hall

The guidance and experience of the Alliance Engagement Team allowed the Child Welfare Performance-Based Funding Task Force to deliver its assessment and phased implementation timeline to the Michigan legislature by the March 1, 2014 deadline.

"Going beyond transactional partnerships to achieve transformational partnerships was absolutely crucial," says Dreyfus. "In this time of epochal change, process matters, and what we accomplished in Michigan is a perfect example of that."

ENGAGING THE STAKEHOLDERS

A main objective of the Alliance Engagement Team was to ensure all stakeholder voices involved were heard. Individual workgroups within the task force, each with distinct agendas, were co-created and staffed by stakeholders and members of the Alliance Engagement Team to involve more individuals and leverage their many skills in assessing and developing the pathway to reform.

The Alliance Engagement Team also contributed insight on topics ranging from the development of program metrics and data to the nuances of federal funding. …

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