What Works Toolkit

State and Local Government Leading Practices

What Works Toolkit in Action

Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families Use Outcomes-focused Contracts to Expand Family-based Services

The Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School began providing pro bono technical assistance to Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) as part of a system-wide turnaround in March 2015 (Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab, 2017c). To identify areas of budget overrun, DCYF compiled prior year invoices and service provider contracts into a single database and analyzed them to project future cost and service trends. Some 5,000 pieces of unique input were collected from DCYF frontline caseworkers, department supervisors, and direct care providers on service needs and historical gaps, referral and matching strategies, and potential contract structures for a new array of services.

Next, DCYF structured its services around fifteen outcome categories and linked those to specific performance objectives. The department completed a results-driven contract process that resulted in 116 new contracts collectively representing approximately $90 million in services per year.

Unlike conventional solicitations, which request that vendors deliver a predetermined service model, the new procurement process asked providers to propose the services, supports, and resources that would best enable children and families to achieve the outcome categories prioritized by the department.

The flexible nature of the solicitation allowed DCYF to leverage the expertise of local experts and community providers and offer programs they had not previously considered. New and innovative programs have proliferated, with results that include a 50% expansion of foster care resources for children with the highest need since 2015, a two-fold increase in the capacity of high-quality family visitation and reunification services, and start-up investments of $1.2 million in nonprofit community organizations to support new and expanded programming.

To institutionalize performance feedback loops, DCYF integrated small performance-based payment opportunities into all new contracts for family-based and residential services. Linking payment to the measurement of administrative data ensures that throughout the duration of the multiyear contract, providers will receive data from DCYF that will enable them to learn what happens with clients exiting the program. This data will also help inform DCYF’s future referral and contracting decisions.

DCYF piloted an active contract management system with four providers and has since expanded the process agency-wide. Active contract management allows the DCYF program staff and service providers to track outcomes and quickly intervene if performance starts to drop. As a result, DCYF has reduced the number of children in group care by nearly 20% since 2015, dramatically expanded its portfolio of family-based services and supports, strengthened the department’s financial controls and contract management practices, and reduced the number of children entering state custody due to the improved performance of preventative services.


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