• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 28th May, 2010

Casey Foundation hopes three heads are better than one

There are many reasons why evidence based programs do not realize their full potential and, as they say in the not-for-profit community, ‘go to scale.’ In some cases, it’s competition—a ‘my program is better than your program’ mentality. In other cases, the programs never get buy-in from the governmental entities, which actually provide most of the children’s services. Project Bluesky, initiated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, addresses both weaknesses. It unites three separate evidence-based programs and has the originators of each program working together. Set up in the New York area, it is being nurtured by the New York City Administration of Children’s Services, a leading provider for children in the region. Bluesky has a veritable dream team working on it starting with The Casey Foundation. Casey brings to the world of prevention science years of experience in system reform. They know how to make unmanageable systems manageable. Their Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative—the subject of future coverage in Prevention Action—has reduced the chances of young offenders being locked up unnecessarily. Casey also had a major role in helping New York City’s Administration of Children’s Services reform their ailing child welfare service. Bluesky is the product of an extended conversation between Casey President Patrick McCarthy, Casey’s Director of the Evidence Based Practice Group Abel Ortiz, along with Scott Henggeler, the originator of multi-systemic therapy (MST) and his colleague, Sonja Schoenwald. Henggeler told Prevention Action, “We were trying to figure out a way of reducing adolescent placements in the juvenile justice system. Patrick said to us “If you could do anything you wanted to reduce those numbers, what would that be?” The conversation turned to some of the programs vetted under Blueprints for Violence Prevention at the University of Colorado Boulder. Blueprints has assessed and rated more than 800 different programs for youth in the United States, including Henggeler’s MST program.“Well that’s where we got the name from,” Henggeler says. “‘Blue’ from Blueprints for Violence Prevention and ‘sky’ because Patrick was asking us to think of anything under the sky.”They decided that a combination of three programs from the Blueprints’ list gave them their best chance of success: Henggeler’s MST, as well as Functional Family Therapy, and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care. These three programs are designed for three different age groups. The hope was that Bluesky would become a one-stop shop where judges could send youth offenders of any age who might appear before them. One of the creators, Abel Ortiz, says, “If we could get the three gold standard evidence-based programs out there and put them together … under one agency, we could demonstrate to the courts that there were serious alternatives to detention.”Launched in January 2007, Project Bluesky is still in development. So far, it has served 307 families and young people, 148 of whom have successfully completed the program.Its promising start means there may be enthusiasm to take the next steps and expand it beyond the Bronx and Manhattan, where it is currently operating. Ortiz says the Casey Foundation is willing to be patient. “We know New York would like to replicate it elsewhere in the City because they like it so much but we have to find out first if it works.”Discussions are now underway to have a full evaluation and, if that succeeds, a broader roll-out of the program. To that end, Bluesky has assembled a coalition of experts—prevention scientists, systems leaders and philanthropists with technical know-how—which bodes well for the future. In addition to the four people who started the Bluesky conversation, luminaries like James Alexander and Patricia Chamberlain, the respective founders of Functional Family Therapy and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, have joined the collaboration.Many challenges still remain. Prevention Action will follow Bluesky’s attempts to go to scale, along with other experiments in combining evidence based programs like Project Re-direction in Florida. See: Building better performance with Dan and Clay.Links:http://www.aecf.org/

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