Strengthening Child Advocacy Through Data-Driven Solutions

Emerging Leader Fellow: Megan Stephens, 2013-2014

Since its founding in 1977, the Support Center for Child Advocates has provided legal assistance and social service advocacy for abused and neglected children in Philadelphia. Child Advocates trains volunteer lawyers, social workers and staff attorneys to represent children in child welfare and custody court proceedings. However, quality representation does not in and of itself overcome the challenges faced by a vast majority of their clients who often lack a permanent and nurturing home environment, face unstable foster care situations that result in multiple transitions, or live in restrictive residential placements. These uncertainties affect school enrollment, educational achievement and inconsistent access to physical and mental health supports and services necessary for their well-being. Effective case management requires accurate tracking of clients and their legal history, attorney assignments and court dates and, ideally, outcomes.

Though the study of child outcomes in lawyering is an emerging and important topic for the child advocacy field, Child Advocates has been collecting data on client outcomes for over 20 years. While Child Advocates has been at the forefront of using outcome data to understand its effectiveness, until recently this has been hampered by the need to provide much of the qualitative data manually. In 2012, working with a private software firm, Child Advocates created the first case management system that digitizes all activities on behalf of clients—even the qualitative staff assessments.

Child Advocates now seeks to build its organizational capacity through this Emerging Leader Fellowship. Megan will analyze case outcomes data and the challenges staff have in using the new case management system, and educate leadership and staff on how to maximize the utility of the data and develop regular reports on client outcomes and the effectiveness of specific advocacy services. This work will improve the organization’s capacity to effectively measure its performance, refine its service delivery, and to ensure safety, permanence and well-being for clients.