Monitoring Child Welfare Programs
Performance Improvement in a CQI Context
This paper describes the continuous quality improvement process (CQI) as it might be applied to child welfare systems. The process begins with a set of core or mission-critical outcomes, which in child welfare involve child safety, permanency, and well-being. The second element of the continuous quality improvement process involves a statement of performance or a baseline, which refers to systematically gathered data that describes in current and historical terms how well the organization achieves the core outcomes. The baseline is related directly to the third element of the CQI process: setting goals and deciding on a theory of change. To the extent that an organization understands how well it accomplishes its goals, the CQI process implies continuous work to improve performance. Goals usually relate to a gap between current performance (the baseline) and future performance (where the agency would like to be). The theory of change describes the organizational (fiscal, policy, etc.) or the practice-based (i.e., effective service models) steps the organization plans to take in order to close the gap. The last step in the CQI process involves monitoring and feedback. In the parlance of systems change, the theory of change represents hypotheses that describe the relationship between inputs (changes in the organization of services) and outcomes. The hypotheses behind the CQI plan reflect the simple belief that changing the inputs will produce the intended impact on the outcomes. Monitoring provides a way to discern whether the intended changes are taking place, and feedback refers to the distribution of information back through the system to key actors as part of a systematic effort to keep the stakeholders informed of progress.