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March 2019Vol. 20, No. 2Come Together: Partnering With Stakeholders for Better Strategic Planning

Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States

Integrating federally mandated strategic planning and program improvement processes (e.g., Child and Family Services Plans [CFSPs], Annual Progress and Services Reports, Child and Family Services Review [CFSR] Program Improvement Plans) with continuous quality improvement (CQI) efforts and change initiatives can help a state do the following:

  • Align priorities
  • Establish and implement a shared vision
  • Make connections between processes
  • Share information among teams
  • Realize efficiencies

By engaging stakeholders in these activities, an agency can access the information necessary for planning and decision-making and ensure agency services meet community needs.

The Capacity Building Center for States' (the Center's) new series, Strategic Planning in Child Welfare, presents practical information and tools for coordinating strategic planning, program improvement, and reporting activities and ways to engage stakeholders in these processes. Some ideas from the series are highlighted below.

Periodic and Ongoing Stakeholder Engagement

Engaging stakeholders in strategic planning and program improvement should be both an ongoing and targeted, episodic activity.

Agencies need to engage stakeholders year round in ongoing processes, such as CQI, while also asking them to participate in specific processes with defined start and end dates, such as the CFSP, the CFSR, and agency change initiatives. Regular stakeholder engagement builds familiarity with agency work and relationships with agency staff, which can then be used to facilitate work on specific, time-limited processes.

Team Building and Stakeholder Engagement

The most productive teams engaged in strategic planning, program improvement, and reporting bring together agency personnel and stakeholders with different roles, perspectives, and skill sets. When feasible, teams should involve individuals representing the diverse characteristics of the communities served by the agency.

Team membership will vary depending on the needs of a particular initiative but may include the following:

  • Child welfare agency staff
  • Legal and judicial representatives
  • Tribal representatives
  • Youth, family, and resource family representatives
  • Representatives from state and local governments and professional and advocacy organizations
  • Representatives from racial, ethnic, and cultural community groups
  • Formal and informal community leaders and representatives

Agencies can also reach out to federal and nonprofit organizations and universities to help provide current research and technical expertise in child welfare topics, as needed.

Culture and Climate for Stakeholder Engagement

To effectively engage stakeholders in agency work, agency leadership and staff need to work at building an agency culture that supports meaningful stakeholder participation. The following are qualities of an agency culture that supports stakeholder engagement:

  • Responsive and reciprocal
  • Inclusive
  • Impartial and objective
  • Transparent
  • Respectful

To work with diverse stakeholders, agencies need to "level the playing field"—that is, develop partnerships based on equal participation and shared responsibilities. Agencies should not only ask stakeholders to provide feedback or comment on data or documents; they should also offer real responsibilities and leadership roles, as appropriate. Giving stakeholders ownership of specific parts of a project not only creates shared responsibility for success but also confirms the value of an agency's stakeholders and the belief that serving children and families is the work of a holistic support system.

Child welfare systems are more likely to achieve their goals and improve outcomes when stakeholders have a seat at the table and help inform system improvement efforts. The strategies, considerations, and tools presented in the Strategic Planning in Child Welfare series encourage agencies to consider new ways of implementing ongoing, regular stakeholder participation in federally mandated and other processes.

More information is available on the Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare webpage, as well as in an upcoming Children's Bureau Express article on family and youth engagement.

Additional Resources