Collaborating for Success: REACH

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Courtland Consulting is proud to work on projects that strive to improve our community and focus on serving families and children. Due to our proven history of successfully evaluating projects that focus on families, we were selected, in September 2010, by the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) of the Michigan Supreme Court to conduct an impact evaluation of Kent County’s REACH (Referral for Employment, Asset Development, Cooperation, and Hope) Grant Project. Our Courtland team could not have been more excited to begin this project and offer our evaluation talents to assist in the development of a program intended to build stronger futures for families.

The REACH project was implemented in Kent County, with the cooperation of the Friend of the Court (FOC), the Inner City Christian Federation, and the Hope Network. The goal of the project was to assist low-income noncustodial parents in developing financial stability to enable them to pay child support and participate more fully in their children’s lives.

With Courtland’s experience in project evaluation, our responsibility was to evaluate the implementation, outcomes and impact of this demonstration project. We designed the evaluation into two groups: pilot and non-pilot. Once all applicants completed the consent form, they were randomly assigned to one of these two groups. The pilot group had immediate access to the REACH program, while the non-pilot group was placed on a one-year waiting list and only able to enter the program if they met the eligibility criteria one year later.

Courtland conducted surveys (mail and web-based), and focus groups of the parents in the pilot group approximately 12 months after enrollment . The survey included questions about the parents’ employment, financial stability and time spent with their children as well as feedback about services received from the REACH program, while the focus groups solicited additional feedback about the program. Interviews were conducted with key project staff to assess the implementation and overall project management. Courtland also identified, accessed and analyzed additional electronic data from multiple relevant databases.

Some of Courtland’s key findings after the first 12 months:

Financial Education Services

59 respondents reported they had taken financial education classes at the AFI grantee partner Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) and provided a helpfulness rating. Two-thirds (66%) found them helpful and 15% did not. Among the 34 participants who rated the financial counseling, 72% said it was helpful and 16% reported that it was not helpful.

Employment Services

Helpful         Not Helpful

Employment Counseling                             71%                    9%

Job training                                                   49%                 14%

Employment Referrals                                57%                 10%

The REACH records indicate that after enrollment, 143 of the 223 pilot group members (64%) obtained employment either through the Employment Services Partner, Hope Network or by other means. These individuals found a total of 201 jobs (some had more than one job) of which 113 (56%) were placements through the Hope Network.

Child Support Services

Helpful             Not Helpful

Child support guidance                             81%                   10%

Parenting time guidance                           62%                   15%

Parenting class                                             63%                  13%

Parenting time plan mediation                 40%                  50%

Two-thirds (66%) of the 158 respondents to the one-year follow-up survey rated the REACH program positively, with nearly half (46%) saying that it was very helpful. There were 23% who gave a mixed or neutral rating, and only 11% of the REACH participants were unsatisfied with the program (1 or 2).

Finalization of Project

In 2013, after the project demonstration was complete, the late Dr. Teresa Campbell PhD and I were fortunate enough to present the details of Courtland’s evaluation efforts along with Dr. Rachel Holbert from the Ohio BAFF project at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. We were asked to jointly contribute and prepare a 1- page overview, power point presentation and a summary paper.

Some excerpts from the AEA presentation:

Evaluation Process

    • Utilized existing data collection from National Evaluator
    • Collected same data and more data over time
    • Timing is critical for evaluator to start prior to implementation
    • IRB – Hiring a State Agency to provide the Institutional Review Board
    • Forms that collect real and consistent data over time
    • Data Collection from multiple sources
    • Data Analysis using SPSS and other tools

Lessons Learned

    • Response Rates Increase with Incentives
    • Determine Early the Intended Interview Audience
    • Communication Amongst Partners is Key
    • Community Awareness Impacts Program and Participation
    • Data Collection Improves With Team Effort

This was an amazing opportunity for Courtland Consulting and I could not have received better feedback after we completed the 3-year project:

“Sharon, you work hard, and produce such thorough products and I am always eager to work and speak with you.  While my time with the REACH project was very limited, you demonstrated your thorough knowledge not only of child support, but also of your excellent skills in research and consultation. Thanks again, and congrats to you and all of Courtland. You are a team of professionals that I enjoy and trust!”

Jan Merkle, MDHHS/OCS/PDD Re-engineering Specialist

“I want to express my most sincere appreciation for the work that Courtland and especially you and Steve have done for us here in Kent County.  I have always been impressed with the Courtland product and the dedication of its employees.  Sharon, I was very pleased when it was announced that Courtland would be assisting the state Office of Child Support on the Referral for Employment Asset Development Cooperation and Hope (REACH) project here in Kent County and that you would be leading the evaluation component of the project.”

– Terry Novakoski, Chief Friend of the Court

As the Executive Director for Courtland Consulting, my responsibilities are to evaluate, research and manage state, court and federal contracts. With over 25 years of experience, this project is a memory that I will always remember and could not have been made possible without the help of our entire team at Courtland Consulting.

Author: Sharon Pizzuti, Executive Director at Courtland Consulting