This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of the Erikson on Children newsletter, under the headline “Better than chance: Increasing the odds of funding good work.” More from this issue

How do you know which programs are doing a good job working with children and families? Programs often try to document their results. The problem comes when programs that address the same problem use different tools to measure their progress.

Game spinner

That was the situation facing Children’s Hospital and Health System’s Child Abuse Prevention Fund in Milwaukee. Of eight home visitation agencies providing parent education and support to at-risk families who are expecting babies or have preschoolers at home, all were using different tools to measure the results of their work. And none could accurately compare their results to any common benchmarks.

To solve the problem, the fund has launched a research project in collaboration with Erikson associate professor Jon Korfmacher, who will lead a team that will develop a practical and reliable tool for measuring program quality across different models of home visiting.

The goal is to make a tool that is user-friendly, grounded in research, and relevant to all the different groups who are interested in ensuring good programs. Such a tool can not only help home visiting providers improve the effectiveness of their programming but help policy makers and early childhood funders determine if they are making investments in quality programs.

The research is made possible by a two-year commitment of financial support from the Pew Home Visiting Campaign, a project of the Pew Center on the States. Performance Works of Wisconsin is providing project management support.