Putting Families in the Center: Better Outcomes by Planning Up

August 28, 2018
Graphic of children playing with balloons; banner across photo says Aim for Independence

Have you heard the old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail? The advice is sound, but it does you no good if you think that's all there is to it. Often, it takes far more work to properly plan ahead than you might guess. It pays to think carefully about not only how you're planning, but also why you've chosen that approach and whether it solves the original problem or just works like a bandage, providing a temporary or partial solution. If you make sure you're keeping your end goal in mind at each step, you'll have a much better chance of succeeding. So from time to time, it's smart to stop, verify that you're still on track, and, if necessary, update your plan.

Under the ReImagine HHS initiative, the department's multi-year transformation effort, there's a lot of planning work going on right now. One part of this larger initiative focuses on what it takes to put families in the center of programs, and build and sustain families' economic independence. This initiative, which is called Aim for Independence (AFI), challenges us to rethink how we go about our work and how that work translates into long-lasting, positive outcomes for parents and children. We're still in the discovery and design stages, but to give you an idea of what the next steps and deliverables will look like, I caught up recently with Mishaela Duran, the AFI Initiative Lead. We discussed the research that the AFI team already conducted in field surveys with parents and states, as well as the design sessions in which she and I, along with several other HHS leaders and staff, are developing a prototype for a new HHS Center of Excellence.

One highlight from AFI's initial phase that Mishaela had shared at the HHS Town Hall meeting Visit disclaimer page in early July was the parent personas resource Visit disclaimer page. Developed from a composite of the parents interviewed, each of the seven personas depicts a common crossroads scenario where a parent wants to or is preparing to take the next step toward greater economic independence, but has challenges or needs. By looking at the distilled narratives and empathizing with your customer/end user's lived experiences, you can then work backwards to design a human-centered service that results in more economically empowered parents.

The AFI team also spoke with end users at the state and county levels. These stakeholders gave us important feedback, identifying areas where we, at the federal level, could drive efficiency in ways that would directly improve their day-to-day reform efforts and work. Overall, their requests centered around standardizing program and eligibility requirements across programs, streamlining systems, and using the time saved to better serve families. If we could make these improvements, Mishaela noted, we could also make reporting easier for us and measure real outcomes, not just isolated processes and outputs. The data alone can't tell us how we're doing across the programs. We need outcomes, where you can follow a parent's path to self-sufficiency. And one of the ways we can get to that is by breaking down silos, understanding pain points, and building better operational systems for us to work in.

Next up for the AFI Initiative team is designing a Center of Excellence (COE), where all work will focus on promoting employment activities and better outcomes for families. I'm excited to help out with this project, especially with cross-federal coordination. We're looking at successful COEs in other federal agencies and the private sector, and we've got a bit more planning to do before bringing it to life. I'll keep you posted as we go along.

Photo of Commissioner Scott Lekan

Scott Lekan, Commissioner

This blog gives the commissioner a forum to communicate directly with child support professionals and other stakeholders about relevant topics. The Commissioner’s Voice is reprinted from the monthly Child Support Report newsletter.

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