Implementing and Sustaining Systems Change

Once a well-functioning continuous quality improvement (CQI) system is in place, it will provide information and data that can be used to identify the State child welfare system’s strengths and weaknesses. This information is the foundation for a strong strategic planning process. Child and Family Services Plans are developed through the State’s strategic planning process, and the elements of the Plan should be informed by data from the CQI system and  feedback from staff, consumers and external stakeholders.

The process for effective systems change has been the subject of much research and scholarly writing in recent years. During Rounds 1 and 2 of the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), many States adopted ambitious Program Improvement Plans, yet in spite of commendable efforts, the intended improvements were not always realized. The research on effective systems change is instructive as we look to more effective systemic improvement in child welfare.

Achieving positive change requires a thorough assessment of the agency’s strengths and weaknesses based on comprehensive data. From this analysis, goals are identified and appropriate interventions selected. The interventions must then be fully implemented. A strong intervention that is inadequately implemented will not have the intended result.

A relatively new field of research, implementation science, has evolved around the study of the process of implementing new or improved practice innovations or programs. A specific knowledge base has emerged, articulated in various models, that applies broadly to many industries and settings. The models identify and describe proven, research-based steps for properly implementing new programs and systemic changes. Agencies can implement new initiatives in more sound ways by drawing on this rich body of implementation research in order to develop an Implementation Framework. A well-developed framework, in turn, can be a critical element in sustaining system change.