There are a number of markers, both positive and negative, that tell an agency whether and to what extent its policy framework is well thought out, consistently followed and having the intended consequences. Some markers are more evident in the policy formulation and others in policy implementation.
Lack of Involvement
Child welfare agencies that keep getting “surprised” by last minute opposition need to consider whether and to what extent they are involving the right players at the right time during deliberations. Vetting proposed policies/procedures must be an integral and deliberate part of formulation.
After the fact complaints or end-runs can occur when a representative of a group (e.g., residential care providers) does not, in fact, represent the position of the group, but rather their own personal interest. Agencies would do well to spend the time to ensure that “representatives” know how to build and convey group consensus.
All child welfare agencies can list policies that were promulgated with every good intention, but with implementation, found they did not work as expected. Generally this occurs when the policy has not been “played out” through enough scenarios, vetted by enough parties with different perspectives or backed up by sufficient data. In some instances, the difficulty of taking a pilot project to scale has been underestimated
When an agency finds itself having to discuss, issue guidance, and explain a policy repeatedly over an extended period of time, then there is reason to suggest that what was thought to be a well-written rule probably needs a second look.
This marker is a critical one since it points to where policies need to be reconsidered, rewritten or eliminated. Assuming staff are otherwise performing well, directors need to trust that staff are trying to make a policy work in a more efficient way and not just being non-compliant.
Staff members throughout the organization can easily and readily reference appropriate policy (or directives or guidance) and explain their purpose and use. The inability of staff in large numbers to locate relevant and major policies should automatically trigger investigation into the causes; (e.g., inadequate training or supervision) and remedial action.
Relevant, Timely and Appropriate Feedback
Feedback, in some form, generally precedes “work arounds” and is too often dismissed as “they just need to get on with it.” Effective agencies will put in place a formal process for gathering feedback after requiring staff to work with the policy for a sufficient period of time to distinguish between discomfort due to change and legitimate issues with the policy.
The most positive marker is that performance improves across the board. Staff members actively invest in implementing new policies and see the immediate benefit to them and their client.