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Research and Reports 

DHS has a national reputation as an innovator in the delivery of human services. It is important to acknowledge, however, that innovation in and of itself does not ensure quality service delivery. Only through ongoing feedback, assessment and evaluation – and a demonstrated willingness to make program and policy changes indicated as a result – can we maintain our commitment to excellence in service delivery. This feedback loop depends upon information generated from a number of sources, including consumer feedback, professional input, data collection, research and analysis. While dedicated to continuous quality improvement through internal evaluation of our programs and services, we are also interested in research conducted by those outside of DHS who have an interest in evaluating the work that we do.

External Research
DHS is committed to contributing to the national conversation about system change. Because of this commitment, and our belief that transparency leads to better outcomes for all stakeholders, we make our data and research widely available to anyone who might benefit from our experience or challenge our assumptions. Frequently, this information is used by those independent of DHS to prepare reports or evaluate our process. These reports, using our data and/or examining our service delivery methodologies, structure or policy, are extremely valuable for their honest, unbiased appraisal of our work. They are an important part of our feedback loop.
Click here for a sampling of external reports.

Research Conducted by and for DHS
The Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation (DARE) both conducts internal research and contracts with external researchers and experts to evaluate our programs and services. Research products range from documentation of program design and implementation to analysis of the effectiveness of programs and their impact on individual consumers and the system as a whole. The results of this research inform policy decisions and program/system improvements at DHS. All research reports are reviewed by at least two independent (one external) peer reviewers to assess the appropriateness of the methodology used, the interpretation and discussion of results, the strength of the conclusions and the accessibility of the report to multiple audiences (consumers, providers, policy makers and the general public) prior to publishing.

The most recent research products in each topic area are posted below. Click on the appropriate link in the box above to go to the archive of internally produced research products.

For more information about a specific publication, or for questions related to DHS's research agenda, email DHS-research@alleghenycounty.us.

 


Aging

pdf.gif Retooling with Rigor: Upgrading the Area Agency on Aging's Options Care Management Program
Published October 2013

In 2011, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Area Agency on Aging (AAA) embarked upon a process designed to upgrade the quality of the Options Care Management Program, which provides services to more than 5,000 Allegheny County residents, ages 60 and above, to enable them to continue to live independently at home.

The upgrade involved: (1) development and issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) to existing and potential providers; (2) a rigorous and objective provider selection procedure; (3) extensive training of staff at the three selected care management providers (one of whom was a prior contractor); (4) transition of all participants to the new management organizations; and (5) establishment of a new, performance-based evaluation system to monitor achievement of quality standards.

This narrative report discusses the impetus for the change and describes the RFP process, outcomes and lessons learned.

More Reports 


Basic Needs

pdf.gif Immigrants and Refugees in Allegheny County: Scan and Needs Assessment
Abigail Horn, Andrew Smith and Evelyn Whitehill
December 2013
DHS conducted a review of available data on local immigrant and refugee populations to identify current and emerging service needs, gaps and barriers. A number of common themes were identified and recommendations made to address these themes. Recommendations include: the need to provide service coordination and navigation to promote access to and accessibility of services; expanding translation and interpretation services; supporting collaboration among providers; improving knowledge of and sensitivity to cultural differences; and improving data collection.

More Reports 


Behavioral Health & Disabilities

pdf.gif Data Brief: Behavioral Health Services In The Allegheny County Jail
Published, March 2014
The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative strives to improve public safety and reduce recidivism through a variety of programs and services offered to inmates while incarcerated and during re-entry into the community.  One of the primary challenges to successful re-entry is the high rate of behavioral health issues (substance abuse and mental health disorders) among the jail population. Left untreated, these issues make it far more difficult for an individual to find and hold a job, maintain a home and create the supportive community relationships that help to prevent recidivism. As a first step toward improving outcomes for this population, the Collaborative convened a workgroup to review the behavioral health services available, to identify gaps and challenges within the system, and to recommend possible improvements. This brief summarizes the workgroup's findings.

pdf.gif Psychotropic Medication Use by Allegheny County Youth in Out-of-Home-Placement
Community Care Behavioral Health and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, October 2013 

The use of psychotropic medication to treat youth in out-of-home placement has received a great deal of attention, both locally and nationally.  In this report, prepared jointly by Community Care Behavioral Health (CCBH) and the Department of Human Services, information is provided about two separate but complementary activities designed to analyze local trends and inform next steps: 1) a series of focus groups held with youth and caregivers to discuss the issues related to psychotropic medication use and 2) quantitative research conducted by CCBH, comparing psychotropic medication use by Medicaid-enrolled youth residing in out-of-home placements (in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems) with that of their peers living at home. 

 More Reports 


Child Development & Education 

pdf.gifData Brief: ACHIEVE After-school Program Final Report 
Published March 2014  

For two years, middle school students from the Pittsburgh Public School district, whose high scores on standardized tests were not reflected in their grades, participated in the ACHIEVE after-school program. These students, who had also been involved in human services, received a multi-faceted program experience in an effort to bring their school performance more in line with what the standardized tests indicated they were capable of achieving.

ACHIEVE was the first initiative to result from the 2009 data sharing agreement between the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and was looked at as a way to explore how integrating school and human services data could inform strategies to address the needs of students in both systems. While the outcomes did not warrant continuation of the program, the effort demonstrated the potential of utilizing data to identify students in need of intervention. As the report describes, it also provided valuable lessons for future program design.

pdf.gifData Brief: Truancy Prevention Programs in Allegheny County
Published March 2014  

Research validates the negative correlation between chronic absenteeism and school success. The Department of Human Services (DHS) is working closely with local school systems and youth serving organizations to define the local scope of the problem and to identify ways to increase school attendance. Recently, DHS analyzed data about the services provided and outcomes achieved by two Allegheny County truancy prevention programs and conducted a series of interviews with school counselors and social workers, Magisterial District Judges, child welfare caseworkers and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Truancy Prevention Program to gather information about ways in which truancy prevention and intervention efforts could be improved.

More Reports 


Children, Youth and Families

pdf.gif I'll Never Get Used to It: Young People Living on the Street
Published, May 2014  

Despite Allegheny County's rich array of services to prevent and address homelessness, approximately 240 young people, ages 18 through 24, are living on the street, in abandoned buildings, and in shelters. Designed to inform local leaders, this report places the local issue within a national context and provides information about local services available to these youth and ways in which our region might improve its systems to prevent chronic homelessness and better support youth while they are experiencing a housing crisis.

pdf.gif DataBrief: Fathers in Child Welfare Cases
Published, October 2013 

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services conducted an analysis of the frequency with which fathers are identified in child welfare cases in order to inform ongoing efforts to improve the engagement of fathers. This brief provides a summary of the first look at the data.

pdf.gif DataBrief: Drug-Exposed Newborns
Published, October 2013 

Prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol can have serious health and developmental consequences for newborns. An analysis of data from 2009 through 2011 found that such cases accounted for less than two percent of the children referred to the child welfare system in Allegheny County. This brief provides information about these cases.

 More Reports 


Crime and Justice

pdf.gif Pretrial Decision-Making: How a Model Pretrial Services Program Changed Allegheny County’s Criminal Justice System 
Published, July 2014
The Allegheny County Pretrial Services Department, created by combining the county bail agency with three other programs that work with defendants who are awaiting a court hearing (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, the Alcohol Highway Safety Program and the Behavioral Assessment Unit), has reformed the way in which pre-trial release decisions are made.  Utilizing background research and a standardized risk assessment, Pretrial Services staff prepare balanced and fact-based recommendations that provide the basis for many of the case disposition decisions made by Fifth Judicial District President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who runs Motions Court.  Supervision of released defendants awaiting trial, staff training and information management were also restructured in accordance with national best practices.

This innovative collaboration between Pretrial Services and Judge Manning has been cited as a national model in pretrial release decision-making. The accompanying report describes the modernization and current structure of the pretrial system, as well as the improved outcomes that have resulted from the reforms (e.g., quicker arraignment, reduced dependency on monetary bail, and reduced jail overcrowding).

 pdf.gif Reducing Street Violence in Allegheny County: Research & Recommendations
Published, June 2014
Executive Summary
Although most Allegheny County residents say that they feel safe in their neighborhoods, Pittsburgh's homicide rate is higher than the average of U.S. cities of similar size. The majority of these homicides are the result of street violence. There are strategies that have been shown to reduce this street violence, but, to be effective, they must focus on those at highest risk and be implemented in a collaborative way that involves community members as well as agencies in the criminal justice and human service systems.

This report is the result of interviews with more than 50 practitioners; reviews of local, state and national programs; research on the roots of violence and evidence-based practices that have been effective in combatting street violence; and discussions with noted experts in the field of criminal and juvenile justice. It presents recommendations of specific, proven strategies that can reduce street violence in Allegheny County within one to five years.

More Reports  


Innovation, Reform and Policy

pdf.gif Case Competition 2013
February 2014
Video
Forty-seven graduate students from three local universities and nine programs of study participated in the seventh annual local government case competition sponsored by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and supported by the Human Services Integration Fund. Designed to engage graduate students from local universities in identifying creative solutions to difficult social problems, this year's competition addressed the challenges of staffing a human services system that is increasingly data driven, integrated and community-based. Participants were instructed to design a three-year recruitment and retention plan, identifying one strategy to measurably improve on one of three key workforce characteristics (talent, diversity, commitment) for one of three target workforce segments (front line, support, leadership). Four winning teams were selected on the basis of presentation, content and scope. This report provides information about the competition, its history, and the key ideas generated by the participants.

Accompanying the report is a video that provides an overview of this year's competition, the participating teams and the outcomes.

More Reports  

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