By Naomi Goldstein, Director, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation
The Administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposes a historic investment in research and evaluation across ACF programs. ACF’s mission is to foster health and well-being by providing federal leadership, partnership and resources for the compassionate and effective delivery of human services.
Our vision is children, youth, families, individuals and communities who are resilient, safe, healthy and economically secure. The importance of these goals demands that we continually innovate and improve, and that we evaluate our activities and those of our partners. Through evaluation, ACF and our partners can learn systematically so that we can make our services as effective as possible.
ACF has a strong record of conducting rigorous evaluations to learn systematically so that we can make our services as effective as possible. ACF’s evaluation policy reflects this strong commitment to learning, addressing the principles of rigor, relevance, transparency, independence, and ethics.
However, many ACF programs have little or no evaluation or research resources and, as a result, have only limited evidence about effective approaches for the services they fund. In addition, few resources are available for research on cross-cutting topics, although the individuals and families ACF serves have complex needs that do not map neatly onto ACF’s programmatic structure. In fiscal year 2014, ACF’s investment in research and evaluation was about $88 million – less than one fifth of one percent of ACF’s overall budget.
ACF’s fiscal year 2016 request therefore reflects a targeted approach to strengthening our capacity to build and use evidence to improve programs. The fiscal year 2016 budget request, taken together with existing authorities and funding supporting ongoing research and evaluation activities, aims to advance toward a vision in which every ACF program will continually create and use evidence to innovate, learn and improve. Examples of research and evaluation proposals for fiscal year 2016 include:
1. Assess which features of early care and education programs most influence child outcomes.
2. Increase funds for child care research and evaluation.
3. Dedicate a percentage of the additional funds requested to increase the duration of Head Start services for research and evaluation.
Child Welfare and Youth:
4. Restore dedicated funding for a national survey of the child welfare population.
5. Study the prevalence, needs and characteristics of homeless youth.
6. Evaluate the proposed initiative reduce the over-prescription of psychotropic medications for children in foster care.
7. Dedicate a portion of Title IV-E Foster Care funding to evaluation.
8. Invest in research and evaluation related to the Promoting Safe and Stable Families in Tribal and rural communities.
Self-Sufficiency, Child Support, Community Services and Other Programs:
9. For the first time, dedicate funds for research and evaluation related to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Community Services Block Grant, and the Social Services Block Grant.
10. Increase funding for research and evaluation on the Assets for Independence program.
11. Maintain and build evaluation capacity for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant program as part of repurposing the TANF Contingency Fund.
12. Create a new Child Support Research Fund to support demonstrations and evaluations.
13. Improve efficiency through a pilot to streamline procurement for research and evaluation.