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April 2002Vol. 3, No. 3Two California Counties Use Results-Based Accountability to Keep Children Safe

Santa Cruz County and San Mateo County in California are using a relatively new approach to measure and direct their efforts in keeping children safe, and posting their processes and results online. Their efforts are based on the "results-based accountability" model of Mark Friedman, director of the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute (

Friedman's Results-Based Accountability Model

The progression of thought in Friedman's model starts by asking "What do we want?" followed by "How will we recognize it?" and ending with "What will it take to get there?"

The model states that what we want—the results—are desired conditions of well-being for the population (children, adults, families or communities), stated in plain language.

Next, experience and data (indicators) are used to recognize the results. Data quantifies the results, indicating to what extent the results exist, and provides baselines, which are used to measure progress and provide a simple management tool that incorporates data-based decision making throughout the process. Finally, the story becomes clear and the question "What will it take to get there?" can be answered.

Santa Cruz

In Santa Cruz County one over-arching community goal, or desired result, was identified: Keeping children safe in their families and communities. The resulting program, Investing in Children and Families—What Works! ( -- Editor's note: this link is no longer available) is a multi-year effort that builds on existing public/private partnerships.

There are 12 key indicators for children's safety identified in Santa Cruz County:

  • Rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect
  • Rate of out-of-home placement due to child abuse or neglect
  • Rate of supervised in-home placement due to child abuse or neglect
  • Rate of hospitalization due to unintentional injury
  • Rate of hospitalization due to intentional injury
  • Rate of child deaths by cause (injury/homicide/suicide)
  • Rate of child victims of crime
  • Rate of domestic violence with child witnesses
  • Percentage of children in supervised after school activities
  • Suspensions/expulsions for violent behavior in school
  • Rate of juvenile felony arrests
  • Percent of teens using drug or alcohol at least once a week.

Publications and projects available on the website provide the story behind the trends for several indicators, risk and protective factors, partners, as well as strategies, services, and activities that are effective. The project action plan links programs with community goals.

San Mateo

San Mateo County took a slightly different approach, identifying six goals in their Children in Our Community: A Report on Their Health and Well-Being( The six goals are intended to ensure that children are:

  • Safe
  • Healthy
  • Nurtured in a stable, caring environment
  • Succeeding in school
  • Out of trouble
  • Supported by systems.

For each of these goals, San Mateo County identified a set of indicators to quantify their progress and they identified areas where better/additional data was needed to understand how the community was supporting the children.

The indicators compared the most recent data with historical county data, State data, and, in some cases, national data. Data will be updated regularly as a means of measuring improvement.

The experience of Santa Cruz and San Mateo illustrate how the results-based accountability approach simplifies performance measurement and ensures that the measure of success includes results, not just the amount of effort.