Funder’s Forum: Annie E. Casey Foundation A conversation with Patrick McCarthy

The mission of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO, serves on the Foundation Center's board of trustees and has long championed the collection and dissemination of data as an essential tool for policymakers and nonprofits working for positive change. The Center asked him:

[Question] In what way has the availability of good data had a direct positive impact on an issue of particular importance to your foundation?

[Answer] From our earliest beginnings, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's strategies and initiatives have been driven by data and evidence. We routinely begin our work by analyzing existing data and engaging stakeholders, bringing together experts to ensure our work is informed by the best available knowledge and research. We invest in the development and spread of evidence-based programs and practices with the best odds of helping children and families to be successful. Working collaboratively with various networks of partners, our strategy is to bring the best solutions to a large enough scale to improve opportunity and outcomes for entire populations of children and families. For nearly two decades, we have supported leadership development efforts that ensure individuals have the competencies, tools, and resources they need to produce results — backed by data — within public agencies and other nonprofit organizations.

Last year, we released the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book with a special focus on the recession's economic impact on the well-being of children and families at the lower half of the income spectrum. The report received unprecedented media coverage and, more importantly, opened a national dialogue on how we can rebuild pathways to opportunity.

Together with our grantees and other partners, we've used data to drive significant reforms in juvenile justice systems, such as a 45 percent average reduction in the number of children in locked detention facilities in the jurisdictions participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Our Leadership in Action program pulls together multi-disciplinary, multi-system partnerships around a common results target, using agreed-upon indicators to hold the partnership accountable for reaching the target. Our Child Welfare Strategy Group provides intensive consulting to large public systems, beginning with a comprehensive review of available data to focus reform efforts, such as reducing reliance on institutional care. Typical results include a 20 to 50 percent reduction in the number of children in group settings as children are transitioned to family-based care. And in our community change and economic opportunity work, we commission analyses of trends in the labor market, take-up of federal and state benefit programs for low-income families, and opportunities to build pathways to economic success.

In all of our work, we track progress using Results-Based Accountability, a process developed by Mark Friedman. We require grantees and our own initiatives to provide measures of "how much" we do, "how well" we do it, and, most important, "what difference has it made?" In other words, how many children and families are better off, and in what ways? Our ambition is broad and far-reaching: We seek to change the life course of large populations of children and their families, across entire neighborhoods, cities and states, and for the nation as a whole.

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