• May 2010
  • Vol. 11, No. 4

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Using Qualitative Interviews to Evaluate Youth Permanency

In 2005, the Children's Bureau funded nine demonstration projects through an Adoption Opportunities grant, "Improving Permanency Outcomes by Developing Services and Supports for Youth Who Wish to Retain Contact With Family Members." The following article describes the mixed-method evaluation process used with the Family Builders by Adoption Dumisha Jamaa Project.

The Dumisha Jamaa Project, based in Alameda County, California, uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative data collection strategies to evaluate the success of the project and to create a fuller picture of the experiences of the youth, families, and workers involved in the project. Project partners include Family Builders' permanency workers—who are co-located in the county agency offices—and supervisors, the county caseworkers and administrators, and the evaluator. The partners meet on a monthly basis, and this regular communication contributes to the effectiveness of the project.

While county staff focus on casework management, the Dumisha permanency workers can devote their time to finding families and establishing permanent connections for youth. They use a variety of techniques to locate family members and other potential connections, including file mining, Internet searches, genograms, and family group conferences. In addition, permanency workers conduct both youth-specific and general recruitment to find families. Some of their methods have included the Heart Gallery photography exhibit, short television spots, Internet photolistings, and matching events.

Early in the project, the evaluator worked with project staff to develop several quantitative measures. Youth complete the Youth Self-Efficacy Measure, the Social Support Scale, and the Youth Permanency Measure when they enter the program and annually thereafter. Permanency workers and permanent adults identified by youth complete slightly different versions of the Permanency Measure. Responses to all these instruments are analyzed to measure any changes in attitudes and connections over time, as youth participate in the project.

In order to provide a more complete picture of the project and of the youths' journey to permanency, the evaluation process also includes a qualitative component. The evaluator conducts qualitative interviews with youth, permanent parent(s), permanency workers and other project partner staff. To date, all seven Family Builders' Dumisha permanency workers and four project partner staff have completed face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. The evaluator has also conducted 13 youth interviews and 8 permanent parent interviews. While the interview process is ongoing, a number of interesting themes have emerged from the interviews.

For instance, permanency workers shared some common thoughts about best practices and lessons learned in achieving permanency for older youth:

  • The successful public/private partnership has been crucial to the process, and the co-location of Dumisha permanency workers at the county agency has contributed to that success.
  • File mining, genograms, and family trees have been immensely helpful in identifying family connections, especially those that had been lost for many years.
  • The process of finding family connections and establishing relationships takes longer than originally anticipated—usually, 9 to 12 months—for older youth who have been in foster care for several years.
  • Wraparound services provide significant postplacement support for families.
  • Peer support groups are important for youth, because they provide a chance to meet other foster youth in similar situations.

Many youth who have been interviewed expressed their appreciation for the chance to be heard and for the work of their permanency workers. The interviews shed light on their feelings about family and permanency, for instance:

  • The level of commitment an adult brings to the relationship with a youth is what constitutes family—not blood.
  • Permanency is a process of building trust, and finding a family is almost always worth the risk.
  • Permanency work is not just about finding a home but includes restoring family connections that have been lost. Sibling relationships have been significant to older youth in the project.
  • Youth are proud of their self-reliance and their ability to overcome adversity.

Interviews with adults who have become permanent connections to youth revealed some lessons they had learned in the process:

  • The preparation process before a placement is critical in terms of having realistic expectations and needed resources for older youth.
  • Wraparound postplacement services (referrals for services, financial support) are crucial.
  • Families should expect to deal with challenging behaviors.
  • It's important to help youth maintain connections with their siblings and other family (including fictive kin).

The evaluator will continue conducting interviews with youth, parents, and project partners in order to provide the most complete picture of the project's achievements and lessons learned. Using a mixed-methods approach to evaluation, with both quantitative and qualitative data, of this project has been important to learning best practices for older youth in search of permanency.

For more information about the Dumisha Jamaa Project, visit the National Resource Center for Adoption website:

www.nrcadoption.org/youthpermanencycluster/fbba.html

Many thanks to Michelle Rosenthal of the Edgewood Institute for the Study of Community-Based Services, Evaluator of the Dumisha Project, for providing the information for this article.
 

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