Project Updates: Iowa Parent Partner Project

Iowa Parent Partner Project
Iowa Parent Partner Project

What's going on?! This week, we will learn about the Iowa Parent Partner Project. Thank you, Jeff Chambers and Mark Cooper, for answering the following questions about your project.

What is the Iowa Parent Partner Project?
The Iowa Parent Partner project is multi-year evaluation of the Iowa Department of Human Services Parent Partner mentoring program and the Iowa Parent Partner Approach. The Iowa Parent Partner Approach and mentoring program celebrates parents who have been in the child welfare system and achieved reunification or resolved issues around termination of parental rights as individuals that have overcome obstacles through change, recovery, and accountability. This approach utilizes their skills, once they are trained as Parent Partners, to mentor families whose children are in foster or kinship care as they navigate through the Department of Human Services (DHS) system. Parent Partners, who are independent contractors of Children & Families of Iowa, receive training on a variety of topics including Domestic Violence, Mandatory Reporting, Boundaries and Safety Issues, Building a Better Future, Ethics, Substance Abuse, DHS 101, and Mental Health Overview. Once trained, they provide one-on-one mentoring by providing advice, support, and encouragement to families whose children are currently involved with DHS in efforts to enhance their capacity to provide for and guide their children’s healthy development. Parent Partners meet with families face-to-face as well as by phone. Parent Partners offer to be present as a support at Family Team Decision Making Meetings, staffing’s, and court appearances. All activities and contacts the Parent Partner has with the family are documented on a monthly activity form.

The work done with Iowa for the Parent Partner project includes continued development, implementation and maintenance of the Iowa Parent Partner database and an ongoing process and outcome evaluation of the Parent Partner Approach and Parent Partner program.

The evaluation component of this project is focused on three specific hypotheses: As compared to children in families not served by a Parent Partner, children in families with a Parent Partner will have shorter period of time in foster care; will be more likely to return home from foster care; and will be less likely to have subsequent out of home placements in 12 and 24 months after return home.

The outcome evaluation is utilizing a matching technique, propensity-score matching (PSM), to match treated (children with Parent Partner participants) with untreated participants (children without Parent Partner Participants) on the probability of being treated in order to approximate an experimental design (with random assignment). The evaluation analyzes children in foster care by foster care entry cohort year beginning with 2011; the most recent analyses of the data are through the 2014 foster care entry cohort.

Preliminary findings across the 4 year cohort data set are that length of time in foster care is not reduced by Parent Partner participation; the trend suggests Parent Partner children remain in foster care somewhat longer. Returning to home (reunification with the removal home) from foster care does not reach statistical significance but data in each 4 year cohort trends toward higher reunification rates for children with family Parent Partner Participants. Children whose parent participates in Parent Partners are less likely to have a subsequent removal from home within 12 months or 24 months of returning home compared with matched children whose parents are not participating in the Parent Partner program.

Who are the members of the Iowa Parent Partner Project? (Please provide a job title and brief description of what they do.)
Current members of the Iowa effort are Jeff M. Chambers, project director, Mark Cooper, program evaluator, and Allison Jones, database developer. Past and current CCFL staff that have contributed to the Iowa effort are Hannah Dietrich, Lori Hoetger, Michelle Graef, Josh Rice, and Joe Pastuszak.

When did the Iowa Parent Partner Project begin, and how long is it for?
The Iowa Parent Partner Program was assisted through the Midwest Child Welfare Implementation Center (MCWIC) and was evaluated as part of the implementation center’s project. Upon completion of MCWIC, Iowa DHS chose to continue their relationship with CCFL on this project through a 5 year grant.

Any challenges in the project?
The database development portion of this project was and continues to be a challenge but a rewarding effort. The creation and development of the Iowa Parent Partner database was identified as one of the two most critical elements in the success of the Iowa Parent Partner Approach in becoming a statewide initiative and acquiring funding through the Iowa legislature.

The evaluation of the Iowa Parent Partner Approach and Program has also presented some unique and some common challenges when evaluating social service programs and in particular child welfare programs. The Parent Partner program was and is a “community based” effort that encourages unique community perspectives to further refine and develop the “program”. As a result, the identification and ability to measure fidelity to the Parent Partner Approach has been a bit of a hill to climb but the emergence of a program from the field is a wonder to view, if you have the patience and budget! Another significant challenge common to child protection research and evaluation is the use of data from state administrative child welfare information systems (SACWIS). SACWIS data is not primarily collected for the purpose of external evaluation and research and, as in the case with Iowa, entered into and extracted from, to be kind, monster and archaic data systems. For instance the original data we needed from Iowa had to be extracted from 4 separate systems. Data from the programmatic side has also been an adventure. The data is collected and entered by the Parent Partners themselves. These valiant and crusading folk are passionate about their work and their families but conveying the importance of data collection and accurate entry has been a challenging but rewarding experience.

What’s the most exciting or best part of getting to work on or being part of this project?
The best parts of this particular project are the people we work with both here and in Iowa; getting to work with massive data sets; working with other dedicated professionals in solving complex systems issues of program definition, fidelity and purpose; technical problems associated with grass roots data collection, workflow, and computer flow; and the ubiquitous vagaries of state bureaucracies.