More than 700,000 children were in foster care in the 2017 fiscal year. As the rates of children involved in the foster care system continues to rise, more attention has been dedicated to improving the quality of foster care services and the organizations that serve foster care and birth families. Emerging research has highlighted the promising benefits of organizational change interventions that include the engagement of community stakeholders, yet little evidence exists on such efforts in foster care. Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) is an approach to strengthening the foster care system. This organizational-change intervention engages staff, caregivers, and other community stakeholders to identify measurable outcomes for foster care services and initiate organizational policy and practice changes to achieve the desired outcomes. QPI has been implemented in over 70 sites but little is known about their implementation process. This qualitative study explores the barriers and facilitators to implementing a community-engaged organizational change intervention.
To assess perceptions of barriers and facilitators of implementing QPI in diverse settings, brief online surveys were completed by QPI Site Leads or evaluators across sites. The surveys included a series of qualitative questions developed by the research team to assess initial and ongoing QPI implementation. One QPI Site Lead or evaluator per site completed the survey (N=41). Respondents were almost entirely female (98%), served in administrative/supervisory positions, and had worked in foster care services for an average of 19 years (sd= 9.50). Qualitative survey responses were coded thematically in Excel.
Three themes emerged as factors influencing QPI implementation. First, preparation was a key element identified as most helpful to the implementation process. Specifically when members of the QPI leadership team facilitated and participated in pre-implementation meetings they encouraged agency leadership participation. Next, respondents consistently reported that stakeholder attitudes shaped their perception of the implementation process. Stakeholder attitudes challenged implementation efforts when stakeholders (e.g., staff, caregivers, and partnering) varied in their interpretation of the QPI philosophy. Sites contracting with community providers struggled with implementing the QPI philosophy across those networks, noting limitations in stakeholder buy-in and conflicting attitudes toward QPI. Finally, the level of readiness for implementation was also identified as impacting the process. Perception of the work environment and organizational resources, such as frequent staff and budget shortages, and persistent foster parent and staff turnover, were factors that negatively impacted QPI implementation.
Conclusions & Implications:
Findings suggest that QPI implementation is most successful when specific internal and external factors are present. That is, when organizations have a certain attitudinal and logistical readiness for change and stakeholders have a solid understanding of the QPI philosophy and can envision the utility of applying these principles to their work (i.e., staff /community partners) or daily lives (i.e., foster/bio families). Therefore, understanding how to positively influence organizational change and the role diverse stakeholders play in strengthening the foster care system is pivotal. More research on strategies to engage the community in efforts to improve organizations serving foster care children and families is needed.