Are the Kids Alright? Casey Backs New Assessment of Foster Assessment

It’s part albatross, part snipe hunt. Managing kids in the foster care system, with all its intricacies and bureaucracies, can be fraught with struggle for caseworkers, clinicians, and families alike, not to mention the poor kids themselves. And making matters worse, there is no widely accepted tool for assessing how kids are doing within the system. Fortunately, a spunky new organization founded in September, 2012, is stepping into this murky void. And their first challenge is pioneering a universal, science-based assessment tool that can be administered by caseworkers. No clinicians needed.

And just who is this mystery organization? Well, it’s called the Institute for Child Outcomes (ICO), and it’s a collaboration between Outcome Referrals, Inc., a scientific health referrals company, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Casey has also been joined in this effort by the Duke Endowment, which in 2013, awarded a $750,000 grant for work by ICO in two North Carolina counties. 

Casey bankrolled the beginnings of the ICO with a $1.4 million grant in 2012. The following year, ICO went on to implement the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP), the assessment tool they’d developed. They launched a pilot program in the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Department of Children and Family Services to test and improve how TOP is working. And so far, things seem to be going well. One significant plus to TOP: teens can rate themselves, boosting self-awareness and understanding.

Now, ICO seems to be gearing up to go national, thanks to another significant boost from AECF and now Duke Endowment that’s putting the wind in their sails. Earlier this year, over $3.4 million of Casey money found its way to the ICO coffers. TOP has gone from pilot program to implementation in communities around Massachusetts—ICO is based in Framingham, MA, after all—and Lisa Paine-Wells, the ICO Project Manager, is busy providing support to all those working with the TOP program, according to her LinkedIn profile.  “We’ve never been able to match children’s needs with provider strengths before,” says ICO CEO and Chief Science Officer David Kraus, the child psychologist who developed TOP. “TOP can benefit kids whether or not they have a clinical or Medicaid diagnosis.”

While we're writing here about all this as part of our mental health coverage, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has come at this work through the prism of its broad and longstanding concern for children in the child welfare system. It saw the value of borrowing a tool originally developed for use in the mental health field to help families and agencies get a better handle on how kids in the child welfare system are doing.