Building a systems approach for post-permanency supports must recognize the complexity of interactions and dynamics of families. Government no longer has direct oversight for children in post-permanency placements and dedicated funding for services and programs is limited. Family and child rearing obligations challenge parents in creating and nurturing social supports. Even in child welfare county-based systems, many post-permanency activities must be coordinated on a statewide basis, thereby presenting the challenge of communication, engagement, and delivery across broad geography. All of these dynamics are compounded by the growing number of children in subsidized arrangements.
FSG, a social impact consulting firm, described the following characteristics of a complex system:
- Are not predictable in detail
- Achieve order without central control
- Evolve naturally through emergence
- Have embedded systems
- Operate through co-evolution (FSG Social Impact Consultants, 2013)
The development of a theory of change can be a helpful in sorting out the plethora of activities in a multi-sector post-permanency system. At its most basic, a theory of change explains how a group of activities and interactions set the stage for producing long-range results (Andrea A. Anderson). A theory of change helps jump start the planning around strategies for interventions, partnerships, and resource allocation into a new ecosystem. At its core, it must also be aspirational.
APAC in Alabama has developed the following Theory of Change:
Providing support, information, and resources can empower adoptive families to successfully
respond to adoption-related challenges and build stronger bonds within adoptive families.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of a theory of change statement is its perspective in generating important questions. As Margaret Wheatley, the famous anthropologist said, “We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what is going, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time now knowing…Curiosity is what we need” as cited by FSG (2013).
A theory of change component should be augmented by a logic model process to guide the new ecosystem. The ambiguity of a post-permanency complex system can be mitigated with the linear and predictive nature of a logic model. Developing a logic model results in effective delivery of supports and offers greater learning opportunities, better documentation of outcomes, and shared knowledge about what works and why. The logic model is a beneficial evaluation tool that facilitates effective program planning, implementation, and evaluation (W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2004).
The development of a logic model ultimately gives stakeholders a road map describing the activities connecting the need for the planned program with the program’s desired results. Mapping a proposed program helps to visualize and understand how resources and activities can contribute to assisting adoptive/guardianship families. Essentially, a “logic model brings program concepts and dreams to life” (W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2004).
Logic models and theory of change have their limitations. As is the case in social services, we cannot regularly assume predictability based on certain inputs. Similarly to the fact that children and youth respond differently to varying approaches, a logic model for post permanency services must be flexible and evolve over time. Inputs and activities will clearly change, thereby influencing outcomes and ultimately the impact over time. As such, the logic model cannot be viewed as a program by itself but rather a guide for evolving the community-based system of post-permanency supports.