DCF to give out report cards to service providers

Does a juvenile delinquency prevention program lead to lower recidivism rates?

Does a parent improvement program lead to more children being able to stay at home because of improved living environments?

Nearly one-quarter of the services the state’s abused and neglected children and their families are referred to by the Department of Children and Families are not graded for the progress they make.


DCF Deputy Commissioner Janice Gruendel: ‘We’re going to buy what we want’


As DCF Deputy Commissioner Janice Gruendel says, too often contracts with providers are based on “how much is done, not how well they did it.”

Her agency — which provides services to more than 10,000 children on any given day — is working now to revamp contracts with residential- and community-based providers to include performance measures.

“It will mean for the first time we will really know what we are getting, and we’re going to buy what we want,” she told a roomful of child advocates and policy leaders at the Legislative Office Building last week. She noted that many of those providing services now may be unhappy with this change.

“It will be turbulence,” she warned.

But this shift is well under way, according to a Sept. 30 letter from DCF Commissioner Joette Katz to legislative leaders.

Katz wrote that 77 percent of the services being provided now have “appropriate” outcomes tied to their contracts, a drastic increase from the previous year.

“It’s going to allow us to measure in the aggregate how that particular program is doing and then more specifically how an individual child has benefited from that service,” said Elizabeth Graham, a deputy commissioner in charge of this initiative for the agency.

But finding the right measurements for programs is going to be a challenge — hence the turbulence Gruendel warned of.

“It’s hard to measure success, but it’s incumbent on us that we figure it out,” said Terry Edelstein, head of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, whose members will be the ones being graded.

Patrick Johnson, who runs Oak Hill, the state’s largest group of facilities for those with disabilities, said finding reliable data to measure success will the key to making sure that better outcomes are realized.

“There is a growing body of information for what works best, much of it is not definitive at this point, though. There is clearly no one model that fits all situations,” he said.

Graham said the agency intends to work with the providers to give them the flexibility they need, but having some accountability is key.

The letter from Katz offers some examples of what measurement tools and outcomes the department may include when rewriting contracts. They include standardized testing, stability in living situations and reductions in truancy. A report card also has already been developed by DCF staff for some community-based services.

“We can actually see how they are doing,” Graham said, noting that when less-than-desired outcomes are being achieved, DCF will first work with the program to try to make improvements.

And if that doesn’t help?

“If they just can’t deliver, then we are just not going to contract with them,” Gruendel said.

Graham and Gruendel said that while many programs aren’t currently being graded, it doesn’t mean that they are doing a poor job.

But Merva Jackson, the leader of an advocate group representing children in the system from mostly Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, said she sees too often programs that are not performing.

“There are a number of programs we are spending money on that we aren’t getting the outcomes we want,” she said. “I’m glad we are finally sitting down and asking ourselves, ‘Did this work?'”