About two decades ago, Spaulding’s then CEO Addie Williams wanted to improve how the Agency measures and records the success of its programs and the effectiveness of its services.So, Ms. Williams turned to Dr. Sharonlyn Harrison, who then helped Spaulding combine the arts, practices and concerns of child welfare with the principles of evaluation and information science.
In the process, Spaulding became a national leader in data-driven child welfare. The agency also applied the scientific approach to the demanding and highly specialized fields of adoption and foster-care.Dr. Harrison is the CEO of Public Research and Evaluation Services, Inc. The firm has provided strategic evaluation and support services to Spaulding and other non-profit organizations for more than 21 years. Dr. Harrison calls Ms. Williams a “visionary leader” for knowing that programs at the child welfare agency must have a robust accountability and evaluation component. Dr. Harrison was brought in to design that for Spaulding. She became part of the team creating the first Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project (IAATP) grant and was responsible for the design and structure of the evaluation process. Funders are looking for strong reports on how their efforts made an impact in improving the lives of children and families. Data are key to providing that accountability. Evaluation sections that Dr. Harrison submitted received top scores and Spaulding was lauded for their evidence-based programs and the structure and design of their programs and processes. “I appreciate the wonderful opportunities Spaulding for Children has offered me,” Dr. Harrison said. “I am proud to have helped make complex data understandable by applying the principles of statistics and information science to the vital and transformational programs Spaulding offers. Spaulding is a leader in child welfare and I’m proud to have played a role in that.” For the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project, Spaulding collected data from more than 30,000 health care workers around the country. Dr. Harrison developed the study questionnaires, before and after surveys, and the data collection and analysis protocol. Following their training, health care workers in the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project, reported being more aware of the adoption process and how to present it to individuals experiencing an unintended pregnancy– which was the ultimate goal of the program. They developed the attitudes, knowledge and skill set to introduce adoption as an option to individuals interested in that information. In addition to that project, Dr. Harrison became integral to Spaulding’s program design and grant process on a number of initiatives. “Many can do the work,” Dr. Harrison said. “However, without asking the right questions and collecting and analyzing the data, one can only guess at the results.” Dr. Harrison has a doctorate in education evaluation and research. She is a former member of the adjunct faculty of the School of Social Work at Wayne State University, where she has received an Excellence in Teaching award. Currently, she is also adjunct faculty at both American and Georgetown Universities. Dr. Harrison has extensive experience in conducting stakeholder-driven evaluation projects and engaging diverse communities in the process. She has received special recognition for her research in minority communities from the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University. Dr. Harrison also helped develop the Minority Professional Leadership Development Program (MPLD). As a continuation of the Minority Adoption Leadership Development Institute (MALDI), which was launched in 2005, MPLD helps train and develop promising individuals for future roles in transformational leadership. In addition to developing research and policy skills, she designed an “On-the-Job Experience” and the study of disparities in child welfare as essential parts of the MPLD program. As one who started her professional career as an educator, Dr. Harrison enjoys developing curriculum, teaching in the classroom and coaching participants, as well. Her goal is to share her expertise and experiences so that we are continually growing and supporting future leaders prepared to transform the child welfare system.