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July/August 2019Vol. 20, No. 6Extraordinary Work Requires Extraordinary Evidence

Written by Lee Porter, chief program officer, Children's Trust of South Carolina

Using evidence-based programs (EBPs) and building evidence to support family strengthening isn't only for well-known or sophisticated organizations. This is a story of how a small organization utilized existing data resources and intentionally built its internal evaluation capacity so that it could demonstrate program impact and contribute meaningful evidence to the child welfare field.

In 2008, Children's Trust of South Carolina, which exists to strengthen families and lead communities in preventing child abuse and neglect, was a small office with a big vision: to significantly reduce child maltreatment in the state through evidence-based approaches. This journey into EBPs began with the utilization of federal Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grant funding to support EBPs in five counties for primary prevention efforts. Due to its success in this modest endeavor and its growing reputation as a trusted intermediary organization, the Children's Trust was designated as the state's federal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grantee, which allowed it to take a deeper dive into using EBPs and building evidence. During this timeframe, the organization also became the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT designee for the state, opening new doors for building capacity around data and its use. This convergence bolstered Children's Trust's reach, visibility, and credibility.

The small staff at Children's Trust began MIECHV implementation in 2011 with three evidence-based models and utilized a contracted university research team for the required evaluation elements. Organization leadership opted for a comprehensive, rigorous measurement plan from the beginning. For service delivery, a "hub-and-spoke" geographic approach was utilized to identify strong partners that could also facilitate service in contiguous counties. The South Carolina MIECHV profile has since grown to 17 community partners that are contracted to serve 42 of the state's 46 counties in 2019. From 2012 to 2018, there were 78,861 home visits. The continuous quality improvement model utilized by South Carolina MIECHV is now used as the model for national home visiting innovation and improvement, and Children's Trust provides support for the first Pay for Success initiative for home visiting in the country.

While acknowledging the growing success of home visiting efforts around place-based EBPs, Children's Trust also recognized the need to build capacity for population-level approaches to programming and for measuring population-level outcomes. Children's Trust then secured a capacity-building grant from a regional foundation, which enabled the hiring of its first research and evaluation staff. Concurrently, implementation of the evidence-based Strengthening Families Program (SFP) was launched at the request of the state's Department of Social Services. This was followed by the creation of the South Carolina ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Initiative. The implementation of SFP allowed Children's Trust to test a more intentional coaching model for supporting EBP effectiveness and fidelity, and the ACE work allowed the new research and evaluation staff to begin collecting and mining multiple years of South Carolina ACE data for meaning and application.

The confluence of the additional research staff capacity with the initiatives around SFP and ACEs allowed Children's Trust to grow its own expertise in EBP implementation and in data collection and evaluation, respectively. Like a domino effect, these new internal capacities then led to additional funding opportunities, which in turn allowed for the addition of more staff to support research and evaluation efforts. This department in Children's Trust now provides white papers, journal articles, briefs, and consultation at the state and national levels.

Following the growth of SFP into nearly 30 counties with its coaching support model, Children's Trust is now using its capacity in implementation and evaluation to pilot a population-level implementation of the evidence-based Positive Parenting Program. Children's Trust has the internal expertise to design and execute the evaluation and continuous quality improvement process for this project, as well as apply its knowledge of coaching EBPs for program fidelity. Small organizations that are intentional and determined can find ways to use and grow evidence that builds resilient families and healthy communities. You might even say, the evidence is in.

For more information on the Children's Trust of South Carolina, visit