NRCA: Readiness Assessment Tool for Community-Based System of Care

NRCA: Readiness Assessment Tool for Community-Based System of Care


This assessment is designed to guide States, Territories and Tribes (STTs) in building a coordinated and integrated system of care to assist families and children and youth before and after they obtain permanency. The assessment highlights components needed for the development of an adaptive and coordinated system of resources, communication, civic engagement, and advocacy for the development of a meaningful permanency support and preservation program.  STTs can use the assessment to assess their current system and determine where they can enhance their continuum of care through increased community engagement/partnership.  The assessment consists of six components:  Vision and Governance, Theory of Change and Ecosystem, The Importance of a Backbone Organization, Leveraging Community Assets, Parents as Civic Entrepreneurs, and Evaluation. A description of each of these components can be found by clicking on the linked headings in blue.

Click here to download the entire document: NRCA Readiness Assessment Tool

Click on here to bring up an electronic copy of the NRCA Assessment to Determine Form.

Need for a Systems Approach
The NRCA Readiness Assessment Tool’s emphasis on systems development and change is what sets the tool apart from scaling conventional post-permanency, service-delivery programs built on government dollars. Parsons (1997) identified three types of systems—bureaucratic, professional, and community—that are all intertwined in the social systems of a community. “Currently, the balance tilts toward a combination of the bureaucratic and professional, creating an institutional focus,” (Parsons, 1997, p. 9). Although government, as led by the authorized child welfare agency, must be a critical sponsor of such a system, the community’s stakeholders must have a systematic plan to best support adoptive families within a systems approach. Given the unique and ever-growing dynamics of post-permanency activities, the tool focusefirst-responder-community-his on shifting the balance toward a community-professional combination, grounded in the assets and desires of the community, and particularly by parents and youth themselves.

So why a new approach? Why not just scale services for post-permanency activities? Perhaps the biggest reason is due to the nature of current government funding structures. Unlike title IV-E foster care, title IV-E for adoption assistance does not have a corresponding program or administrative case management functions. According to the Congressional Research Service, nearly one-third of all title IV-E spending (state and federal) supports children in permanent adoption or guardianship placements. In FFY2011, more than 80% of the total spending for title IV-E adoption assistance ($4.0 billion) and title IV-E kinship guardianship assistance ($51 million) supported ongoing subsidies for eligible children (Stoltzfus, Child welfare: a detailed overview of program eligibility and funding for foster care, adoption assistance and kinship guardianship assistance under title IV-E of the social security act, 2012)). The subsidy amounts actually exceeded the maintenance portion of all foster care payments of over $2.4 million.

States do have federal dollars in the form of Title IV-B dollars, specifically Promoting Safe and Stable Families to support adoptive families. The statute includes four service categories that correspond to families at various levels of need (Stoltzfus, The promoting safe and stable families program: reauthorization in the 109th Congress, 2007):

  • Family Support Services are intended to help families provide safe and nurturing environments for their children.
  • Family Preservation Services are targeted to families in crisis and include placement prevention services, post-reunification services, respite care, parenting skills training and infant safe haven programs.
  • Time-Limited Family Reunification Services help families that are seeking to address the conditions that led to removal of a child.
  • Adoption Promotion and Support Services help families that are preparing to adopt or that have adopted a child from foster care.

Based upon the above authorization, states are required to comply with a 25% match and provide for no less than 20% of funds to be applied to each category. In the Adoption Promotion and Support Services category, there is no requirement as to the minimum or share that must be spent on post-adoption activities. In 2010, states were provided just over $341 million in PSSF funds compared to nearly $4.6 million in title IV-E payments for foster care.

In 2005, the share of funds available from PSSF for Adoption Promotion and Support Services was 19 percent, or $70 million (Casey Family Programs, 2011). Essentially, federal dollars available for post-adoption support has been, at the most anytime, 1.0% of the federal share of title IV-E foster care dollars and adoption subsidy support. Solely relying on federal dollars from title IV-E or IV-B for post-adoption supports will not suffice considering the current funding requirements.

Another contributing factor to a new approach is the extraordinary volume increase of children in subsidy arrangements. FFY2002 was a critical year as it was the first year that the nation’s title IV-E monthly number of children receiving adoption assistance surpassed the number of children receiving foster care payments. Since then, the gap between adoption assistance and foster care has only widened. Since 2008, the number of children in adoption assistance has been more than double than those in foster care. The following chart illustrates the growing gap:

Trends Title IV-E

A common theme among all states that participated in the focus groups was the small number of paid staff dedicated to providing specific post permanency services or supports, even in those states with dedicated contracts for post-adoption supports. One of the states that participated in the focus groups had a healthy subsidy amount and more children in adoption assistance than foster care; however, the state’s adoptions administrator was the only paid professional who provides any type of navigation or services support to parents. In this state, support groups for parents were mainly offered through the foster adoptive association, and resource development was principally provided at the time of placement.

In North Dakota, a Post Adoption Service Task Force was created that developed a mission statement and guiding principles for such services in the state. Focus group members agreed that a perception of a lack of post-adoption services is a threat to recruitment. The Task Force recommended the concept of a North Dakota Post Adoption Center; with the target population of families who have adopted children with special needs from the state’s foster care system. The primary goal of the program would be to provide triage for adoptive families in crisis and post adoption support services to families who have adopted children with special needs. Ideally the Center would be administered through a licensed child-placing agency with experience in special needs adoption to facilitate the following:

  • Information and referral through a toll-free phone number, web site and published materials
  • Publish materials (cooperatively with the Department) regarding adoption process, and adoption supports in North Dakota.
  • Facilitate support groups for adoptive parents and adopted youth (cooperatively with local foster adopt recruitment/ retention coalitions).
  • Advanced training on special needs adoption for families.
  • Training of mental health providers on special needs adoption.
  • Crisis intervention, primarily through phone contact with families.
  • Referral for on-going case management services, therapeutic services, mental health services (in-home and residential care) and respite care.
  • Facilitating a mentorship program for adoptive parents.

All the services noted above would be provided to families’ state wide, primarily through phone and other electronic means, for an estimated cost of less than $100,000 during the first year.

Stephen Goldsmith, a former chair of the Corporation for National Community Services (CNCS) notes in his book, The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Network for Good that we clearly need new methods to provide support for families and communities on social challenges. NRCA cautions against dedicated funding for post permanency services that is overly prescriptive unless it is integrated with mental health and educational systems and leverages other multiple levels of funding for children and youth. When funds are spent just to deliver services, their impact is limited to the people who receive those services. However, when funds are also devoted to systems change, their impact can extend beyond a single service, thereby impacting the well-being of youth and stability of adoptive families on a long-term basis. Significant benefits and supports can be created without government controlling both the decision-making, coordinating, and funding of supports. As the focus group participants clearly noted, there is not one size that fits all when developing post-permanency systems that support families.

The current dynamics of federal funding compounded with the growing numbers of children in subsidized assistance agreements, makes a new approach not only ideal but also a necessity. This system development must be based on “systems change”—a shift in the way that a community makes decisions about policies, programs, and the allocation of its resources—and, ultimately, in the way it delivers services to its citizens. To undertake systems change, a community must build collaborative bridges among multiple agencies, community members, and other stakeholders (Foster-Fishman, Van Egeren, & Yang, 2005).

Top-down service delivery models must be supported with bottom-up civic and parent engagement. Adoptive parents and guardians in particular have unique gifts to share, not just for their children, but also for the broader community. The best and most creative post-permanency programs are aware of these assets and provide opportunities for them to be leveraged. Making creative connections and building innovative relationships is the heart and soul for any community (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

As Goldsmith (2010) noted, “Transformative social progress today is held back more by precedent and existing structures and processes than by resource limitations or a lack of the public’s interest” (p. 3)

This system approach recognizes components that interact with one another to function as a whole (Foster-Fishman, Van Egeren, & Yang, 2005).

Systems change takes place in multiple dimensions that are inter-connected; change in one supports change in all the others. Supporting an evolving and organic ecosystem of post-permanency activities must move include more than simply advocating for more government-funded services. Systems change may involve the following:

  • Shifting system components and/or their sequence.
  • Shifting interactions between system components.
  • Altering the “whole A” through shifts in underlying choices.
  • Shifting the manner in which the system provides feedback to itself.

The development of this systems approach must be appropriately balanced among government, professional, and community components. As with most social services, greater emphasis on community development and parent engagement strategies is imperative in leveraging both formal and informal supports. These approaches must be resourced in a planned manner. Adoptive parents and guardians cannot be simply viewed as traditional consumers of services and supports. Rather, they should be seen as parents who must be engaged as leaders, identified as community connectors, and empowered to design creative solutions. Adoptive parents should be viewed as “civic entrepreneurs”—those who can shift the power dynamic and make real change possible on an individual and community level (Goldsmith, 2010). System development for post-permanency services must be seen through an asset-based community development approach—focusing first on the gifts of individual adoptive parents/guardians, followed by inclusion of informal associations, and finally coordination with formal institutions. Ultimately, such processes must be nurtured in a network approach that implements activities into impactful outcomes for children and families.

Post Adoption Community Assessment Diagram
The following post-adoption ecosystem has been adapted by the Asset Based Community Development Institute (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

Community Assesment Diagram

Directions for the Tool

STTs should review the six components on the tool to answer “yes” or “no” next to each factor.  After reviewing all of the factors under a component, the STT should assess whether they believe the overall component has been met.  If it has been met, mark “yes” for completed.  If not, then the STT should assess whether they believe the STT is currently working toward meeting this component and is on track. The tool should help a STT to assess their overall progress in effectively using the community to create a robust post adoption program

Click on here to bring up an electronic copy of the NRCA Assessment to Determine Form.

A. Vision and Governance

The public-private partnership has identified and appointed a diverse group of individuals who have agreed to be members of the steering committee that helps to lead, coordinate, develop, and integrate post permanency supports and activities in a designated community.

Individuals have been identified and appointed to serve on the “Steering Committee.”
The Committee includes, at a minimum, the following representatives:

  • Adoptive parents and guardians (including those who recently adopted)

  • Service providers, particularly mental health and children’s services

  • A representative of the public child welfare agency that oversees adoption

  • Current providers involved in foster care and pre-adoptive and placement support

  • A representative of the judiciary overseeing juvenile issues

  • A university-based researcher skilled in adoptions competencies

  • A representative of the public child welfare agency that oversees adoption

  • A faith-based representative

  • A business leader

  • Advocates who are media savvy

  • Tribal representative

The Steering Committee has developed a “charter” that describes core values, a vision, and a mission statement that are/will be incorporated throughout the community-based system of care design and network of services and supports.
The Steering Committee has clearly identified its geographic area for purposes of community-engagement for its post- permanency system.
The Steering Committee has established a set meeting schedule.
In Progress and on-track:

B. Theory of Change and Ecosystem

The state or county child welfare agency has been authorized to institutionalize a public-private partnership for purposes of building a broad ecosystem of post permanency policies, activities, services, and supports. The partnership will be supported by a “steering committee” as the venue for planning and developing the “theory of change” in a post permanency system.

The child welfare agency has evidence authorizing it to enter into a private-public partnership for post-permanency planning and activities. Evidence can be demonstrated by legislation, executive order, or proclamation.
The partnership’s governing venue will consist of a Steering Committee. At a minimum, the following roles will be established.

Steering Committee Roles:

  • Agrees to be identified as the community planning and advocacy group for the post-permanency system in partnership with the local child welfare agency.

  • Agrees to engage with willing providers, advocates, businesses, and philanthropists around post-permanency supports.

  • Provides oversight of developed sub-committees—including defined approval of changes and allocation of funding/resources.

Public Child welfare Roles:

  • Recognizes the Steering Committee as the community-based planning and advocacy body for planning and coordinating strategies for activities.

  • Agrees to communicate to adoptive parents/guardians on the activities and services that the Steering Committee is overseeing.

  • Assists in joint media awareness and advocacy activities on the promotion of pre- and post-permanency activities.

The Steering Committee will be co-chaired by a designated leader of the child welfare agency and a leader from the private or community sector. The State’s designee for post-permanency activities will be a key participant.
The public child welfare agency has assigned staff to stay current with state and federal requirements and to keep the Steering Committee and state updated on these policy initiatives.
In Progress and on-track:

C. The Importance of a Backbone Organization

The Steering Committee’s system of care work will be supported and implemented by a Backbone Organization that will lead efforts in coordinating, planning strategies, tracking tasks, funding/fiduciary and communicating activities and developments.

A Backbone Organization has been identified. It will either be the local child welfare agency or a private entity that acts a “backbone” through contract with the local child welfare agency.
The Steering Committee and Backbone Organization have delineated roles and responsibilities including:

  • Administrative tasks of the Steering Committee.

  • Maintenance of mission critical documents and information (e.g., minutes).

  • Coordinating role for purposes of activities and communication on post-adoption supports.

  • What are their specific products/outcomes?

The Backbone Organization will act as a fiscal agent on funding opportunities for both public and private dollars.
In Progress and on-track:

D. Leveraging Community Assets

The Steering Committee has developed and identified “community-led” activities and service arrays that are available at no cost or nominal fees to adoptive parents/guardians.

Community-sponsored activities for parents: Community organizations are recruited to sponsor and support activities for parents such as adoption parties, parent’s “night outs,” National Adoption day activities, space for meetings and groups, etc.) Various entities for outreach may include:

  • Service clubs (e.g. Kiwanis, Rotary, etc…)

  • Faith-based organizations, particularly those with strong social justice outreach activities and auxiliaries

  • Local libraries

  • Local universities and colleges

  • Hospitals and healthcare systems

Corporate partnerships: Partnerships are engaged with corporations, foundations, volunteer, and sponsorship opportunities that benefit the post-permanency support system. Various entities for corporate partnerships may include the following:

  • Chambers of Commerce

  • Small businesses

  • Corporations with community relations contacts

  • Local financial institutions

  • Community foundations/local family foundations

  • United Way

  • 211 systems/community referral systems

The Steering Committee develops an “asset map” that includes the community-led activities.
In Progress and on-track:

E. Parents as Civic Entrepreneurs

The Steering Committee ensures that adoptive parents/guardians are engaged as civic entrepreneurs for purposes of designing policy, generating solutions, providing peer and training support, and leveraging community relationships and assets. Parents have a legitimate voice in the child welfare system, being able to provide feedback and guidance on policies and programs that directly address adoption/guardianship issues.

Listening Tours and Focus Groups: Public and private leaders actively solicit opportunities to have unfiltered conversations and dialogue with adoptive parents/guardians.
Planning Venue: The Steering Committee has created a venue specifically for adoptive parents/guardians who have a legitimate voice in the child welfare system, being able to provide feedback and guidance on policies and programs that directly address adoption issues.
Parents as Connectors: Individuals who are willing to assist adoptive parents/guardians in navigating the system of supports.
Parents as Mavens: System utilizes parent mentors: Individuals who are assigned to guide designated families beginning at placement and provide support through and after the finalization process.
Resource Development: The committee has developed resources that would support the following:

  1. Paid staff for ongoing coordination, tracking, and development of professional and community-based supports

  2. Stipends/travel for leaders of parents groups

  3. Conference participations

In Progress and on-track:

F. Evaluation

The Steering Committee has developed a “logic model” that maps inputs, activities, outputs, and short-term and long-term outcomes that are measurable over time. The Committee ensures monitoring and evaluation of outputs and outcomes including assessing impact through Return on Investment analysis.

Short-term outcomes: The Committee develops a plan for short-term outcomes that looks to enhance the following within a 24 month period:

  • Referral and information coordination are increased

  • Improved parenting skills (e.g., coping skills)

  • Enhanced parent support and engagement (e.g., sense of belonging, forming connections, support groups are functional)

  • Improved parent education and knowledge (e.g., behaviors of youth, developmental stages)

  • Increase in professionalism in serving adoptive families

  • Enhanced communication among parents

  • Enhanced communication and information “brokerage” of professional services

  • Increase in corporate and civic organizations providing support to adoptive families and youth

  • Increased adoption competencies of professionals

Long-term outcomes: The Committee develops a plan for long-term outcomes that looks to impact the following over a five year period:

  • Increase in adoptions and/or guardianships

  • Prevention of adoption dissolutions/Increased family stability

  • Prevention of guardianship dissolutions/Increased family stability

  • Increase in school stability and educational attainment of children

  • Awareness events and support activities are “institutionalized” on a regular schedule

  • Improved quality of life for adoptive/guardianship families and youth (e.g., less behavioral problems, less familial stress, greater emotional security of youth

Outputs: The following are examples to be tracked:

  • # of parent support groups and attendance

  • # of parent liaisons and mentors matched with new adoptive parents/guardians

  • # and types of trainings available to adoptive parents/guardians

  • # of professionals and organizations by type as identified to be a post-permanency resources

  • #, type, and attendance of community activities

  • Call and referral volume to any referral line

  • SEO analysis of local website

  • Community relations contacts with businesses and civic organizations

In Progress and on-track:
Andrea A. Anderson, P. (n.d.). The community builder’s approach to theory of change: a practical guide to teory development. New York: The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.

Cabinet Office of the Third Sector. (2009). Social return on investment – for social investing: how investors can use SROI to achieve better results. Cabinet Office of the Third Sector .

Campos, M., Gowdy, H., Hildebrand, A., & LaPiana, D. (2009). Convergence: how five trends will reshape the social sector. San Francisco: The James Irvine Foundation.

Casey Family Programs. (2011, May). The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. Retrieved 11 26, 2013, from

Foster-Fishman, P., Van Egeren, L., & Yang, H. (2005). Using a systems change approach to evaluate comprehensive community change initaitves. Toronto, Canada: W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

FSG Social Impact Consultants. (2013, March). Leading in complexity. Retrieved November 28, 2013, from

Goldsmith, S. (2010). The power of social innovatoin: how civic entrepreneurs ignite community networks for good. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kretzmann, J., & McKnight, J. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: a path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Evanston: Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

Martin, E., Kania, J., Merchant, K., & Turner, S. (2012). Understanding the value of backbone organizations in collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Osborne, D., & Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing government: how the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector. New York City: Penguin Group.

Parsons, B. (1997). Using a systems change approach to building communities. Boulder: InSites.

Smith, S. (2010). Keeping the promise: the critical need for post-adoption services to enable children and families to succeed. Policy & Practice Perspective, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Stoltzfus, E. (2007). The promoting safe and stable families program: reauthorization in the 109th Congress. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

Stoltzfus, E. (2012). Child welfare: a detailed overview of program eligibility and funding for foster care, adoption assistance and kinship guardianship assistance under title IV-E of the social security act. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Services.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation. (2004). Logic model development guide. Battle Creek: W.K. Kellogg Foundation.