By Sheila Weber, Director of Strategic Initiatives
Faced with the reality that millions of children in this country do not receive the support they need early on, the Lutheran Services in America network aims to address the equity-related challenges that exist in the juvenile justice and foster care systems in new, innovative ways. The network is finding success through the Results Innovation Lab, a collaborative tied to our Children, Youth and Families initiative that empowers providers to partner with their communities in search of real solutions for the youngest — and often must vulnerable — segment of society.
This collaborative effort is already showing results. Lutheran Services in America led a diverse group of Lutheran social ministry leaders in a yearlong active learning cohort to implement innovative approaches to improve equitable outcomes for 3,000 children and youth in or at risk of entry into the foster care system. The most recent cohort to participate in Lutheran Services in America’s Results Innovation Lab just wrapped up the first year of their efforts by sharing successes and challenges and planning for the year ahead. The Results Innovation Lab cohort was supported, in part, through a grant from the Lutheran Services for Children Endowment at the ELCA Foundation.
Specifically, the Results Innovation Lab served 22 leaders from 13 participating Lutheran social ministry organizations providing a variety of services ranging from foster care, early childhood education, refugee resettlement, birth-to-three medical care and school-centered mental health, to homeless teen shelters, juvenile detention alternatives, and residential treatment. The participating organizations delivered programs and services that achieved equitable outcomes for 3,000 children in 13 states who were in or at risk of entry into the foster care system. However, for me, the powerful aspect of the Results Innovation Lab is how it transforms leaders, organizations and communities in a way that provides them with the vision, framework, and urgency to continue their focus on achieving equitable outcomes for children, youth and families in their programs and their broader communities for years to come.
You may be wondering what we mean when we say “equitable outcomes” and why that is such a critical focus. The data clearly shows that children and families of color often lack the opportunities and support they need to flourish, largely because of policies, practices and systems that exist on the local, state and national level. As a result, children with the same potential experience vastly different outcomes. While 14 percent of the children in the U.S. are black, 23 percent of the children in foster care system are black, and children who are black are five times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention or residential settings than their white peers. This is a direct result of the lack of opportunity and support for children and families of color that would prevent and minimize foster care and juvenile justice system involvement. So, to achieve equitable outcomes, it means that children and youth with the same potential have the same level of successful outcomes as their peers, regardless of the color of their skin, gender, or ZIP code.
The grant from the Lutheran Services for Children Endowment, through Lutheran Services in America’s Results Innovation Lab cohort, helped the Lutheran social ministry organization leaders to leverage their long-standing role in their communities to make a more significant impact. The Lab served to empower Lutheran social ministry organizations to lead collaborative efforts with a wide array of community partners, eliminate silos in service systems, and activate stakeholders toward a common goal.
Highlights of the results achieved upon the completion of the learning cohort in October 2019:
- Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois achieved a 15 percent increase in African American children moving to permanency (reunification, guardianship or adoption) and a 12 percent increase in Hispanic children moving to permanency. They also achieved a 34 percent decrease in median days to reach permanency for African American children (a difference of nine months less time spent in the foster care system).
- Family Health Centers at NYU Langone serving low-income families in the predominantly Hispanic Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn achieved a 30 percent increase in the number of infants and parents screened for developmental needs, trauma and risk factors, which more than doubled the previous rate. They also achieved a 9 percent increase in the percent of two year olds with up-to-date vaccinations and a 17 percent increase in the percent of 15 month olds with the appropriate number of well-child visits.
- Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin achieved bringing 40 stakeholders from multiple organizations together to promote two state legislative policy measures, one that would fund five additional pilot sites for School Centered Mental Health and one that would fund mental health consultation time to support parents and teachers. Expanded pilot sites would support and serve both the student and the family and would serve an additional 120–250 individuals/site or an additional 600–1,250 individuals total. In addition, LSS of WI exceeded their goal to increase third grade reading levels in their targeted schools serving predominantly Hispanic students by 3 percent for the 2018–2019 school year.
- Ascentria Care Alliance’s efforts contributed to a 2.2 percent reduction in the number of homeless pregnant and parenting teens in Massachusetts.
- Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri achieved 85.7 percent of children from their Hilltop Child and Family Development Center in inner city St. Louis entering kindergarten prepared for academic success.
Through the work of our participating Lutheran social ministry organizations, Lutheran Services in America’s Results Innovation Lab has improved outcomes for 7,000 children and youth over the course of the past three years. Going forward, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our moonshot goal of dramatically improving the lives of 20,000 children and youth by 2024 so that they can grow up to be healthy, productive adults.