I’m excited to share a new 2014 report, titled Measuring What Matters: A Guide for Children’s Centres. The report was developed in the United Kingdom by Jill Roberts and Angela Donkin, with Demetris Pillas, University College London Institute for Health Equity (IHE). This report lays out a framework of child and parent outcomes for Children’s Centres and recommends common measures for assessing these outcomes. The recommendations were developed from a series of steps including a review of the research literature, expert advisory panel input, field visits, and weighing the existing evidence. The guiding principle for the outcomes framework was: “children’s centres need to be focusing on and measuring what is important, not just what can be easily measured” (Measuring What Matters: A Guide for Children’s Centres, page 10).
UK Children’s Centres are community-based, government-funded birth to 5 programs that aim to get children ready for school by improving children’s health and development, supporting families, and building parenting skills of families. In the past 4 years, local government budgets for Children’s Centres have decreased by 36%, and further cuts are anticipated. To prevent further cuts, proof of outcomes is more urgent than ever before.
The Need to Measure What Matters in Family Services
In order to determine what Children’s Centres were currently doing to measure outcomes, the IHE conducted field visits to 22 Children’s Centres across England. Although they found that most of the Centres were confident and working hard to achieve the outcomes in the Measuring What Matters framework, they were not measuring all of the key outcomes. They also noted that few Centres were using validated quantitative measures. This compromised the Centres’ ability to detect actual change in child and parent outcomes, to compare effectiveness across communities and to identify areas for program improvement.
The IHE report asserts, “By implementing the IHE’s outcomes framework and associated quantitative measures, children’s centres will be both improving outcomes for children and dispelling criticism that they have a limited evidence base, which will help to keep centres open, funded and thriving.” – Measuring What Matters: A Guide for Children’s Centres, page 10
Institute for Health Equity: Parenting Drives Child Outcomes
During budget cutbacks, family support services are often the first to be cut or scaled back. Yet, according to this IHE report, this is a misguided decision.
Parenting, and the context in which parenting takes place, are the most important drivers of good outcomes for children. Government and local commissioners must ensure that funding cuts do not undermine Children’s Centres’ capacities to deliver these crucial family-focused services. -Measuring What Matters: A Guide for Children’s Centres, Page 7
In the Measuring What Matters framework, the first outcome involves effective outreach and sustained engagement with the wider community, which captures the level and quality of support provided to local families. The next 6 outcomes are relevant to the child’s language, fine motor and socio-emotional skills. The final 13 of the 22 outcomes pertain to parenting practices/behaviors or the parenting context (e.g., mental well-being, support from family/friends, improving basic literacy and work skills). This distribution of outcomes recognizes the remarkable value that parents have in influencing children’s development during the early years, which is based on the results of ample research studies. For each set of child and parent outcomes, the IHE explained:
- Selected Measurement Tools
- Rationale for the Selected Measures
- What Do Children’s Centres Need to Do?
- What Do Community Partners Need to Do?
- Key Frameworks/Guidance/Initiative That Align with Outcome and Measures
The accompanying Measuring What Matters: Technical Report indicates that measures were initially considered if they provided evidence of reliable and valid data, and were practical and efficient for Children’s Centre staff to administer. After the first cut, further in-depth review of measures included criteria such as:
- Validity for UK and diverse families
- Sensitivity to changes over time
- Feasibility in the Children’s Centre setting
- Simplicity of scoring and data analysis
We were delighted to see that the Measuring What Matters report selected the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) as the recommended measure for the following parenting behaviors in the outcomes framework:
- More parents are regularly engaging positively with their child.
- Improved parental responsiveness and secure parent–child attachment.
- More parents are setting and reinforcing boundaries.
- More parents are increasing their knowledge and application of good parenting.
The beauty of the Measuring What Matters report is the thoughtful, and surprisingly readable, detailing of the process they used. It spells out the series of steps, evidence and rationale used to identify the framework of outcomes and measures. It provides a stellar model for others who are developing data-based systems with common outcomes and measures.
What I particularly value about the report is how it balanced the use of assessments for their clinical value in serving families, for quality improvement and for evaluating outcomes. The report emphasizes that we need to focus assessments on a few outcomes that really matter. Too often we either don’t assess at all, or we measure what’s easy rather than thinking about what really matters. Thus, I was so pleased that 13 of 22 outcomes in this framework focus on parenting.
Let me close with a key message I gleaned from this report, which is worth remembering and sharing in these times of limited funding.
Failing to evidence the positive difference children’s centres make to families’ outcomes will make it difficult for centres to improve their offer, and leaves them vulnerable to criticism, cuts and closures. Measuring What Matters: A Guide for Children’s Centres,-Page 4.