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CFS Staff Ask: What Makes Children's Mental Health Services Successful?

Mario Hernandez and Lodi Lipien in the process of conducting a site visit, face the hazards of research in the field.

Under the direction of Drs. Mario Hernandez and Sharon Hodges at the Department of Child and Family Studies, the Community-Based Theories of Change Study has recently completed Phase I, which involved conducting case studies at program-and system-level sites, gathering information on how organizations conceptualize, operationalize and implement community-based service policies, and how those organizations transfer policy agendas across stakeholders in local organizations.

Drs Hodges and Hernandez’ framework for theories of change appeared in the recent publication, Developing Outcome Strategies in Children’s Mental Health. “A theory of change can be defined as the beliefs that funding agencies, planners, and implementers have about what children and their families need and what strategies enable them to meet those needs. Using a theory-based approach, stakeholders are drawn to focus on why they assume that certain services or policies will lead to positive changes in the population of children and families served. The potential benefit of this process is that individuals at all levels of a system or program become more consistent in the delivery of services and supports.”

Lessons learned from Phase 1 of the study show that using a theory-based approach targets efforts of an organization, allows that organization to link their ideas to action, and provides stability in times of crises or change. In order for community-based theories of change to be successful, they must:

Phase II of our study investigates how agencies who operate from the same theory of change implement their theory and sustain it over time,” said Sharon Hodges. “We are working with the Teaching Family Association, a national organization that certifies agencies in the Teaching-Family Model, a program used to change the behavior of troubled youths. We will be collecting data at six of the TFA member agencies.”

The participating sites are:

Additional information on the study can be found from the Cross-Site Findings for Phase I Report. Data collection for Phase II will include document review, individual interviews and concept mapping, a process through which agencies identify the theories of change at work in their service efforts. Participating agencies will provide background information on their agency and will take part in individual interviews designed to establish the theory of change that is in place. As part of the concept mapping process, staff will participate in a group brainstorming, grouping and rating activities, which will provide insight into what staff think is most important and most effective in the Teaching-Family mission and goals.

“In October we initiated data collection with Utah Youth Village in Salt Lake City. Analysis of the interview and concept mapping data is currently underway.”

In addition to Drs. Hernandez and Hodges, research assistant Lodi Lipien will attend site visits and participate in the concept mapping part of the project. The team will be conducting site visits through April 2003. Findings will be shared with participating agencies and the Teaching Family Association as site-specific work is complete. Cross-site findings will be shared with participating agencies and the Teaching Family Association when analyses of all site data are complete.

For additional information, contact Sharon Hodges at 814-974-6460.

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