Measures & Metrics

Improving Father Engagement Through Data

By: Jessica Lozada and Cabrini Merclean

At Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination (the Center), we take pride in the work we do and the innovative ways we support the children and families we serve. One of our latest projects involved collecting and analyzing new data to identify gaps related to our engagement of fathers, as well as identifying solutions to address such gaps.

Embracing Protective Factors

In the summer of 2016, the Center adopted the Strengthening Families Framework in an effort to enhance protective factors in families. The Framework, developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, supports families by identifying their strengths, increasing their social connections and reducing the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. The Framework focuses on five areas: strengthening parental resilience, building families’ social connections, increasing knowledge of parenting and child development, ensuring families have access to concrete supports in times of need, and expanding the social and emotional competence of children. As part of our efforts to embrace this strength-based approach, the Center completed a lengthy assessment to identify the areas in which we could increase our capacity for strength building and highlight opportunities for growth.

As we incorporated the protective factors in our daily work, we knew that opportunities existed to improve our model to better align with the Framework, specifically regarding our engagement with fathers. We realized that most of our interactions with families occurred with the child’s mother or female guardian. In an effort to address the importance of engaging, supporting and bringing awareness to the significance of the impact fathers have on the development of their children, we formed a parental resilience work group to focus on fatherhood engagement.

Parental Resilience Work Group

The work group decided it would be beneficial to learn more about fatherhood involvement in our population. For our first step, we conducted an assessment to determine how many fathers were actually involved with the children and families we work with. As a group, most of us assumed that there were not many fathers present or involved. We hoped to discover whether that was true and identify opportunities to engage fathers moving forward.

The work group created a Fatherhood Involvement Tracker that consisted of six questions. In the fall of 2018, we began surveying new families referred to the Center. After a three-month period, we compiled the results and the final numbers were astounding. Our review showed that 66 percent of the families we served had biological fathers in the home. The work group was now aware that more opportunities exist to engage fathers than originally anticipated.

The Importance of Data in Measuring Results

The above-mentioned project serves as a good example as to why it is so important for organizations to collect data. Many non-profits and community-based programs struggle with designing project tracking metrics and mechanisms to collect relevant data, especially if the organization is small and under resourced. The word “data” evokes images of complex mathematical equations and statistical analysis, but this is a misconception. Even simple demographic data allows organizations to better understand the communities they serve. Quantifiable evidence that a program and its activities achieve intended outcomes is powerful. It is impossible for projects to run effectively without basic metrics to track progress.

Consider the following two statements:

  • I helped grow my organization by implementing protective factors programs in community-based organizations.
  • In one year, I wrote four grant proposals, which brought $485,000 to my organization. With that funding, I was able to implement protective factors initiatives with three community-based organizations and reached more than 400 families in the greater Hartford area.

One is clearly more compelling. The second, more detailed statement demonstrates the scope of the achievement; it is specific, and it is time bound. The first statement speaks to an action taken, but the second one shows specific steps and results. Adding quantifiable evidence to the initial statement completely changes its impact.

The Importance of Data in Measuring Impact

Adding quantitative metrics to illustrate a program’s impact has a similar affect as the example detailed above. No matter how small the success, the result is persuasive and demonstrates how seriously an organization takes its responsibility to prove its influence in the community.

It is not only important to understand the success of a program’s activities, but it is also valuable to funders who are able to communicate the impact of their donation to their stakeholders. Most donor-funded programs are obligated to provide evidence that organizations spent grant dollars as intended, and that those dollars resulted in a positive return on investment.  Having creative metrics to track whether or not a program has a positive impact brings more donors to the table. Collecting just enough information to satisfy funders is not enough; programs must also actively engage them with data.

Collecting the Right Data

It is easy to get lost in collecting as much information as possible. Program leaders need to build in time to sufficiently develop appropriate program metrics and continuously analyze those metrics throughout the life cycle of each activity. Without developing the appropriate metrics, it is impossible to know if a project or program is achieving the intended outcome. It is just as important to track failure as it is to track success and knowing what’s working and not working in a program allows a team to adapt activities accordingly. If the activities change but the metrics do not, there is no way to know if the course corrections are succeeding. A program can only improve what it measures.

Communities are also constantly growing and changing. Without regularly observing these changes through basic demographic data, projects will inadvertently exclude portions of the community that a program is not in regular contact with. A basic understanding of community level data allows a program to evolve with the community it serves. In addition, all team members bring biases to their work, their organizations, their projects and their programs. Using data driven approaches and being agile enough to respond to that data helps to keep those biases in check.

Data is truly an integral piece of successful community based programming. Integrating the right data into a program will unequivocally make projects and activities more efficient, productive, and valuable to a community.

Using New Data to Improve Father Engagement

At the Center, the results of the fatherhood engagement assessment provided the evidence necessary to drive the change needed to better engage and support fathers of children served by the Center. For example, we are now changing the way we address envelopes to be inclusive of fathers. So far, we have changed more than 600 labels to read “To the Parents of” instead of naming one parent. In another example, we documented father/father-figure contact information in a child’s demographics in 43 percent of newly referred cases to the Center. We plan to continue to increase documentation and identification of fatherhood involvement in future referrals. Also, we are now consulting with outside agencies regarding how they engage fathers.

The resulting data collection and changes in our approach have strengthened our work with families, as well as the Center’s view on fatherhood engagement. Collectively, we developed ways to make small but significant changes in our daily work to bring more awareness to the important role fathers play in supporting their children’s healthy development. As a result, we are more effectively serving children and their families.

Jessica Lozada, LMSW is a clinical social worker with Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination.

Cabrini Merclean is program manager for Connecticut Children’s Practice Quality Improvement Program.

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