'Pay for Success' could benefit homeless families and Cuyahoga taxpayers (Cleveland.com)

By David Crampton.

In early December, at a Pay for Success Summit in Chicago hosted by the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Cuyahoga County, along with FrontLine Service and other partners, announced the launch of the nation's first county-level Pay for Success project

The program, called Partnering for Family Success, aims to reduce the time children with homeless caregivers spend in foster care and, in the process, save county tax dollars and demonstrate a more effective way to help vulnerable families.

On Dec. 19, the partners announced that the program will start Jan. 1. The same day, the Cleveland Foundation announced it had approved a $750,000 Program-Related Investment loan to support it, joining the other local and national investors, which are the Reinvestment Fund, the George Gund Foundation, Nonprofit Finance Fund and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

Historically, Cuyahoga County voters have generously supported property tax levies to supplement state and federal health and human service funding. However, given the current landscape of our economy and shrinking budgets, we need to find new ways to maintain and even strengthen our community's safety net. 

Pay for Success is an innovative funding model that drives government resources toward social programs that prove effective at providing results to the people who need them most. PFS enables governments to draw greater resources to tackle social problems by tapping private investments for the upfront cost of programs. If the program is successful in delivering services that improve the lives of people it is meant to serve, then government repays those who made the original investment. This model ensures that taxpayer dollars are being spent only on programs that actually work. 

Cuyahoga County agencies and their community partners have made national strides and successfully reduced both the number of children in foster care and the number of chronically homeless single adults, but now these effective strategies need to target homeless families who also receive child welfare services -- a small group that is difficult to identify.

The Integrated Data System, at the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University, is a powerful tool that integrates individual-level data from multiple administrative agencies on an on-going basis, highlighting the overlap between the homeless and child welfare systems.

IDS analysis found that less than ten percent of the families who receive homeless services have children in foster care.

While small in numbers, this group merits special attention because children in these dually involved families spend at least 30 percent more time in foster care compared with children from families who are not receiving homeless services. These extensive foster care experiences are not only related to the families' homelessness, but also to high rates of mental illness, substance abuse and trauma among both parents and children. 

Through the Partnering for Family Success Program, FrontLine Service, a local nonprofit agency with extensive experience delivering housing, trauma and child welfare services, has developed a program that first locates stable housing for the targeted families, supplementing access to housing with an evidenced-based service called 'Critical Time Intervention,' and then addresses the families' multiple trauma and parenting concerns. This comprehensive approach seeks to reduce foster care days for the children, increase rates of parent reunification and/or accelerate the path to an adoptive family for the child.

The county can use the savings from those outcomes to fund this innovative intervention and to allow us at Case Western Reserve University to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the impact achieved by FrontLine.

Even before the White House Summit, this innovative program had already attracted national attention. A $780,000 grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation supported the program development and evaluation to allow FrontLine to pilot the program with 33 families. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation will not be paid back for its grant; it is making this funding available as part of a broader investment in government accountability.

Pay for Success has the potential to benefit families by meeting their unique, complicated needs in a more comprehensive way and to benefit taxpayers by ensuring that government pays for programs that are successful. Through a rigorous evaluation, we plan to demonstrate that we can do more with less and respond to the dual challenges of growing social problems and shrinking government resources.
 
David Crampton, Ph.D., is as an associate professor of social work and associate director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University.