Erin Cornell, MPH, Von Jessee, MA, and Paul Dworkin, MD
Since the initial introduction of Help Me Grow (HMG) in Hartford, Connecticut, we have continued to encourage and promote local evaluation, recognizing that local variation in how HMG is designed and delivered in different communities can yield unique lessons learned about how best to implement the model.
Currently, with more than 25 state affiliates implementing HMG across the country, we harness incredible opportunity to learn from each of these implementations about how HMG has the capacity to meet the needs of children and families. Part of our recent Making Change webinar series focused on how we, as a collective, can engage in shared measurement strategies to enhance our awareness of the approaches that optimally strengthen families through HMG. The release of our revised HMG Data Collection and Reporting Guidelines formalize our recommendations for measurement of those indicators essential to supporting evaluation of HMG at the local and national levels.
All affiliates are encouraged to track identical local (“Common”) indicators across the core components of the HMG model in an effort to support a single language around relevant measures and associated evaluation strategies. For example, by tracking the demographics of HMG callers, affiliates can assess the degree to which they are serving their intended target population and/or whether the HMG population is representative of the broader community. We also encourage our HMG affiliates to report certain high-level (“Impact”) indicators to the National Center. At the National level, we aggregate these data to craft a powerful narrative about the scope of HMG impact across the country. An example of such an Indicator is the newly proposed “Needs Met” measure, developed to assess the degree to which HMG meets a particular family’s needs, and which is asked of every family at the conclusion of their initial HMG interaction. The focus on this measure was driven by recognition of a number of factors that, to both HMG National and our HMG Evaluation Advisory Group, suggested the need for a novel measure across the network:
- Broadening our focus on outcomes. Until recently, our single shared HMG outcome measure has been the proportion of children and families linked to services. Linkage is important in informing the degree to which HMG successfully links families to needed services and supports. However, connection rates do not fully capture the impact of HMG in supporting children and families – not all families are prepared to access a service at a particular point in time, yet many still report HMG as being a helpful service that they would again use in the future.
- Assessing outcomes for all families. Not every family that contacts HMG will ultimately receive a referral; some families are seeking information only, or anticipatory guidance. Until now, these families have not been reflected in the outcome measure specific to linkage with its specific focus on subsequent programmatic or service interactions.
- Adopting a family-driven measure. Whether a family was successfully connected to a service is, in many ways, grounded in process: What care coordinator strategies can be used to facilitate improved linkage rates? What programs or services have the highest linkage rates, and why? While this is important, it tells us little about the family experience with HMG. Asking families to report whether their needs were met ensures that our metrics assess HMG from the standpoint of the family, regardless of successful connection. Did HMG care coordinators understand family concerns? Were families provided with helpful information?
- A “Needs Met” question promotes an understanding of the needs HMG is intended to meet. Families that come in contact with HMG may find that HMG is difficult to distinguish from either the agency or provider who recommended they contact HMG, or the services or programs to which they may be referred. The HMG centralized access point is providing a unique support to families by assessing needs and linking to appropriate information, resources, or services. Family awareness of the role that HMG fills is likely to increase with adoption of the “Needs Met” measure, and ensures that families are informed about the types of needs HMG is capable of meeting.
- Supporting quality assurance. If a family asked whether their needs were met today responds ‘no,’ it opens the door to a discussion between the care coordinator and the family and allows the care coordinator to address remaining family concerns or questions. While retrospective satisfaction surveys provide helpful feedback about the family experience with HMG, they don’t allow for HMG to seek to ensure a positive outcome for every family, in real time.
- Responding to family needs strengthens the protective factors. A prior study documented the positive impact of HMG on strengthening family protective factors. While a more comprehensive survey of every family that comes in contact with HMG is not feasible, a brief question at the end of every interaction can assess to what extent HMG is responding to family concerns and strengthening families’ capacity to secure concrete support in times of need.
We are enthusiastic about what the new Indicators will bring to HMG affiliates and the National Center. We will continue to partner to better understand the ways that HMG has a positive impact on children, families, and the broader early childhood system.