Understanding progress in systems reform through the lens of the baseline data

Mid-initiative assessment of the Washington Youth & Families Fund Systems Initiative
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Understanding Progress in Systems Reform Through the Lens of the Baseline Data

The Washington Youth and Families Fund Homeless Families Systems Initiative, developed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) over the course of several years, officially launched in 2009 in response to the persistent number of families experiencing homeless in the Puget Sound Area and the difficulty in helping families successfully exit homelessness. The overall goal of the Initiative is to reduce family homelessness in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties by reducing: the number of families who ever become homeless, the time families who do become homeless remain in that state, and returns to homelessness. Restated, the overall goal is to ensure that family homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.

The Initiative’s Theory of Change, crafted based on the best thinking and available research on what works for families, outlines five strategy initiatives believed to be important to provide a sustainable systemic response to reducing family homelessness. The first strategy initiative, Tools and Practices, outlines key pillars of practice to prevent families from entering the homeless system when possible, help families experiencing homelessness access assistance, provide for rapid exits into housing in the community, and provide access to needed services and economic opportunities. The four additional strategy initiatives highlight support activity believed to be important for systems to change, including Organization Capacity and Collaboration, Data Quality and Utility, Advocacy, and Evaluation.

This document provides a mid-initiative assessment of the Tools and Practices area based on Westat’s longitudinal evaluation of the Theory of Change and the hypotheses that underlie its structure. With 18 months of data now available on the baseline cohort of 467 families served in the three homeless systems, we have an opportunity to reflect on the conditions of the systems before the Initiative was underway and how they affected families’ experiences and outcomes. Moreover, these data provide a backdrop for examining the counties’ progress in implementing the Tools and Practices and the extent to which shifts being made in the systems respond to the needs and challenges experienced by families. We end the document with a list of lessons being learned through the Initiative and challenges to the work.

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