Youth-focused reform efforts had another strong showing this year among the finalists for the Innovations in Government Award, which is funded by the Ford Foundation and overseen by the Kennedy School of Government's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University.
In 2008, it was the juvenile justice field front and center. Washington, D.C.'s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services made it to the final 50, and Missouri's Division of Youth Services was one of the six award winners.
This year, it is efforts at serving families involved in the child welfare system that garnered three of the 16 finalist spots. Any program selected as an actual winner will receive $100,000.
The State of Maine, for its child welfare reforms: Like last year's nominee, the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Maine's child welfare system was in dire straits before new leadership and philosophy took hold. Mary Callahan, a former foster parent, got things started by speaking frequently and poignantly about the fact that the vast majority of children who came into her home could easily have stayed with their parents. Under the leadership of Gov. John Baldacci (D) and Jim Beougher, director of the Office of Child and Family Services in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine has sought to reduce the foster care caseload by using data better, keeping more youths with family members, and focusing more resources on family preservation.
Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, for Wraparound Milwaukee: The program will accept any youth that fits the following criteria: has a serious emotional or health need, has been referred from the child welfare or juvenile justice system, and is otherwise headed for placement. Wraparound tailors an entire plan of services to that youth and his or her family. The program got its start in 1995, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Center for Mental Health Services gave the county a six-year, $15 million grant to develop comprehensive, community-based care.
City of Louisville, Ky., for Neighborhood Places: Since 1993, the neighborhood places have served as more accessible portals to services for those in need. Families go through one intake and assessment process, and sign a consent to release information. That enables staff from four major providers of youth and family services - who daily are in place at eight "neighborhood places" and three satellite sites throughout the metro area - to work together and determine what any given family is eligible to receive. The State of Louisiana plans on adapting the model for New Orleans.