It is uncommon to find success in momentous undertakings without support. In the world of social services, collaboration is key to achieving long-lasting results. This is especially true when seeking new solutions to age-old challenges related to the welfare of children and families. In recognition of this fact, Lutheran Services in America brings together its 300 member organizations and national partners, stakeholders and thought leaders through its Results Innovation Lab to find creative and innovative ways to create better outcomes for children, youth and families nationwide.
Strength in Numbers
Part of the work examined within the Results Innovation Lab are the racial disparities in outcomes in the child welfare system and the paralyzing effects they have on children and families. Within the Lab, Lutheran Services in America members disaggregate data by race to capture a clearer understanding of where inequities lie and how to transform programs and systems to address those inequities—all in efforts to strengthen families and reunite children with their families whenever possible.
Beverly Jones of the Chicago-based Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS) knows all too well the importance of this task. The vice president and chief program officer’s team serves about 2,500 children each year in a state that is among the last with respect to permanency rates. “We wanted to really look at the reasoning behind that. We also knew that children of color are overrepresented in the foster care system,” she said in an interview with Lutheran Services in America. “Our team had been talking about wanting to do more work on this front specifically.”
Transforming Lives with an Eye on Equity
The Lutheran Services in America Results Innovation Lab was a natural fit for an LCFS team hungry for new insights on how to connect the dots. The Results Innovation Lab, which has improved the lives of over 7,000 youth thus far, is a visible product of the network’s firm commitment to equity and justice. By working to eliminate systemic racism in the United States, Lutheran Services in America and its member organizations are helping reverse the sizable toll its effects have on the health and well-being of people of color, their communities, and their children. “Being a part of Results Innovation Lab has been an opportunity to not only think and talk about answers to these questions when it came to our work with families and children, but really apply teachings from the Lab to some real work we’re doing for children and families in Illinois,” said Beverly.
LCFS has been at the forefront of addressing racial equity within the Illinois child welfare system. When it comes to equity and child welfare, Beverly insists that the two cannot be treated as two separate issues. “I say this often: racial equity considerations need to not be ‘in addition’ to our work; it should be woven into our efforts as a pervasive component,” she said. “And so the big questions are: What services and supports do families need so that children do not have to come into care? What are we learning? . . . I think being in the Results Innovation Lab not only exposes these factors and important questions, but helps us come up with strategies to address them.”
Beverly’s time as a participant of the Results Innovation Lab helped her realize areas where her team had not provided enough focus in their efforts to decrease the length of children’s stays in foster care. “I realized once we were immersed in the Results Innovation Lab that our initial goal of increasing permanency for youth of color by five percent was modest,” she said. “For each of our original five percent goals we were closer to 40 percent. So in hindsight, our original five percent goals were very conservative – but this is exactly the sort of valuable learning we’ve all been able to take away from the Lab. Lessons like this will inform our future work, as well.”
An Exercise in Leadership
These lessons have not only informed the work of her team at LCFS but also her own approach in supporting her fellow Lab mates in the search for solutions to common challenges. “I feel like I have a supportive community now,” she said. “You learn through the Lab helpful things like ‘Ah! I can use this practical data or tool,’ and apply lessons learned. In other words, it’s not just academic.”
In recognition of her leadership within the Results Innovation Lab and her insight into forging a successful road ahead at LCFS, Lutheran Services in America honored Beverly with one of three inaugural Beacon Awards. The Beacon Award recognizes Results Innovation Lab participants for advancing transformative change for children, youth and families through exceptional leadership across the Lutheran Services in America network.
For Beverly, the Results Innovation Lab is just a start. She is proud of the outcomes that have resulted from the Lab’s work, but the mission goes beyond any one person or even team of people. “In order to do this work, it takes more than just us,” she said. “It’s like throwing a stone in a pond—a ripple effect.”
By the Lutheran Services in America team