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.
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 DHSemail@example.com.
Never Let a Good Crisis go to Waste: Building a Better Home-Delivered Meals System
In April 2013, after losing its largest provider of Home-Delivered Meals (HDM), the Department of Human Services’ Area Agency on Aging (AAA) embarked upon a process to completely redesign the HDM system in only 10 weeks. In partnership with six provider agencies, AAA implemented a system that, in addition to providing nutritious meals, includes a mechanism for monitoring and responding to the physical and behavioral health status of the 2600 individuals served by the program.
This report describes how AAA and its partner agencies used the opportunity of a crisis situation to strategically design and implement an HDM system that is better positioned to achieve its mission of helping consumers remain safe, healthy and independent in their own homes.
Immigrants and Refugees in Allegheny County: Scan and Needs Assessment
Abigail Horn, Andrew Smith and Evelyn Whitehill
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.
Behavioral Health & Disabilities
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.
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.
Child Development & Education
Data 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.
Data 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.
Children, Youth and Families
Inua Ubuntu: An Assessment of Implementation, Program Process and Child Welfare Involvement
Sarah Thurston, Ervin Dyer and Evelyn Whitehill, Published August 2014
The Inua Ubuntu program was implemented in 2010, to address disproportionate child welfare involvement and out-of-home placement of African American boys and young men. The program, which was based on an African-centric concept of family and community, was implemented in three Pittsburgh communities. This report describes the program and its implementation, service outcomes and practice implications.
Permanency Roundtables: Challenging Barriers to Permanency for Children in Out-of-Home Care
Christine H. O’Toole, Published July 2014 (data current as of March 31, 2014)
Permanency Roundtables are a key component of DHS’s larger strategy to ensure safety, permanency and well-being for every child in out-of-home placement in the child welfare system. Implemented in 2012 with support and technical assistance from Casey Family Program, roundtables have thus far focused on 132 children and youth whose permanency goals were stalled due to a variety of difficult-to-resolve challenges. The roundtable process engages child welfare professionals and permanency experts in a brainstorming session designed to identify creative solutions to these barriers to permanency. An action plan is then developed that includes concrete steps, responsible parties and target dates; specific strategies are in place for following-up on the recommendations included in the action plan.
This report provides a description of the Permanency Roundtables as well as the child-specific and systemwide outcomes of the process.
Crime and Justice
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).
Reducing Street Violence in Allegheny County: Research & Recommendations
Published, June 2014
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.
Innovation, Reform and Policy
Common Assessment Tools: Implementation and Implications for Service Integration
As the first introduction to a service system that might be confusing and frightening, the initial client assessment can play an important dual role: gathering information as well as engaging the client as a full participant in identifying appropriate supports and services. Creating a more effective communication and planning tool was the focus of the Department of Human Services when developing the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths Assessment (CANS). It was also the focus of subsequent assessment tools, including the Adult Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA), the Family Advocacy and Support Tool (FAST) and the criminal justice risk assessment.
This report describes the process of adapting and/or developing these common assessments for use in Allegheny County, the implementation process, and the impact on consumer engagement and service delivery.
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