Building Better Children’s Programs with Public Trust

Building better children’s programs requires cooperation between many different professional elements. It requires dedication and sound empirical evidence to back that “feeling” prevention works to eliminate a number of long-term risk factors.


On May 19th, the Urban Institute hosted a Thursday’s Child panel titled, “Building Better Children’s Programs… and Public Confidence.” This panel included David Hansell, Acting Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Jamie Shuster, Division of Budget and Policy for the Office of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Tom Kingsley, Director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, Linda Spears, Vice President of Policy and Programs for the Child Welfare League of America. These experts were brought together to dialogue about why voters who say they care about future generations are reluctant to fund children’s programs. This reluctance is important for those working in the juvenile justice field as they too face lower public confidence and fewer dollars.

During the discussion, two panelists in particular reflected on elements affecting voter confidence and ways to address this reluctance and get funding for important programs that, from a criminal justice perspective, will lower the chance of children ending up as guests of the system. Hansell outlined four elements program developers need to focus on. An understanding of these elements will help programs increase their effectiveness in the public confidence realm, as well as, create and maintain programs more likely to be funded by public and private dollars.

A Base of Empirical Evidence

New programs must be built on a solid base of evidence. Although many in social and behavior sciences, including criminology, understand some programs just work. It’s hard to quantify things, especially in reference to prevention. Unfortunately, to gain support from the public and often internal support, programs must be empirically-based. Shuster collaborated this stating the need for outcome studies showing quantity elements such as number of children served and number of children affected by the program.

Expansion of knowledge, evidence and understanding of effectiveness

We must continuously expand our knowledge, evidence and understanding about what it is that makes programs effective. An important aspect of this is working closely across multi-disciplinary and jurisdictional lines. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) hosts a number of forums and symposiums aimed at getting experts in a number of arenas such as health, mental health, educational, faith-based and criminal justice professionals to share best practices and dialogue about what is and what is not working. Bringing a variety of prospectives together increases confidence internally and expands externally to the community. The public’s trust and commitment increases when partnerships form and many arenas support programs that work together. Funders are also looking for multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Translation and Improvement

We need to translate this evidence as we develop it into constant improvement of existing programs. Shuster reflected public trust decreases when programs are not tracked and monitored. Through this tracking, programs can stay true to best practices. Programs, especially those in pilot stages, are meant to evolve as research continues and evidence shows what is working or not. Continuing with programs that have veered from best practices or ones that have not been shown to be effective lowers confidence and these programs need to be changed or disbanded. By doing this, and in addition having Sunset Clauses to funding, programs will stay on track and ensure continued public trust.

Communication and Positive Public Influence

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