Rand Institute Studies Support Services for South Jersey Children and Families

By Tom McLaughlin

Support services for children and families in Burlington and Salem counties soon may receive a boost from an analysis being conducted by the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden.

The Rutgers–Camden research center has received a $22,500 grant from Burlington County and a $6,500 grant from Salem County to assess local strengths and needs.

Darren Spielman, executive director of the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs, notes that Burlington County selected the research center for its successful partnership and data assessment expertise demonstrated on the county’s juvenile delinquency prevention efforts.

“The success of the county’s juvenile delinquency prevention project relies heavily on the robustness and quality of the county’s health and human services,” says Spielman. “We are honored to be a part of the process that helps to determine the county’s priority human-service needs and service areas, as well as to identify strategies to remove any barriers families and children face in accessing these services.”

Tracy Swan, senior project administrator at the Rand Institute, explains that the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) has charged each county to undertake a human services needs assessment every two years. The primary purposes of these studies, as set forth by the DCF, are to “partner with communities throughout New Jersey to strengthen families and collaborate with human service advisory councils (HSACs) to gain county-specific qualitative information on assets, needs, and barriers; and the context and considerations for action.”

Darren Spielman

The DCF will use information gleaned from the needs assessments to improve the quality of the services offered, as well as inform policy, strategic planning, and New Jersey’s Federal Child and Family Service Plan.

The Rand Institute facilitated a half-day retreat with the Burlington County needs assessment team to review a profile of the county and determine, based on data, the county’s top human service needs. This information will be compared to the results of surveys, focus groups, and key informant interviews to see how the community’s input on needs and services compares with the quantitative data on needs and service usage.

The Rand Institute also took the DCF-designed community needs and services survey and made it available electronically for both counties in order to increase the number of voices heard.

“Instead of the required 100 survey responses, we have already tripled that number in Burlington County and it keeps growing every day,” says Swan.

Furthermore, the Rutgers–Camden policy specialist explains, the state prescribes that each county’s assessment include 10 focus groups, which include community members currently or previously served by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Children’s System of Care, or community-based providers, such as HSAC-funded programs.

Focus groups will also include youth and young adults; groups with community members at large; community-based organizations, such as health and human services providers; community leaders and influential people, such as judges, clergy, and activists; public service organizations, such as schools, police, and medical professionals; and local business owners, such as landlords, corporations, salons, and barbershops.

Swan notes that the Rand Institute is currently working with Burlington County to schedule the focus groups virtually and hopes to have them completed no later than mid-July. Each group will focus on two basic-need priority areas and two service-need priority areas.

“We would determine these in consultation with Burlington County, as well as look at the content area of attendees in the focus group, results from the survey, and the interest areas of the attendees,” says Swan.

In late July, the key informant interviews will be conducted with leaders identified by Burlington County. Specific basic-need priority areas and service-need priority areas – based on survey results and established in consultation with Burlington County, as well as interest and expertise areas of interviewees – will be discussed with each interviewee.

The Rand Institute is also providing analytical support for Salem County, with the county conducting the focus groups and key informant Interviews, and drafting much of the report.

The respective reports will be completed by the end of August and presented to the HSACs in the early fall.

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