We talk a great deal about driving impact and proving that our clients create positive outcomes in their communities with data to back them up. But how do you actually go from providing services to demonstrating outcomes? Measuring how many participants served is all well and good – and should certainly be done – but did you make a difference further than that? Are their lives better or more manageable? Are their children’s lives impacted positively? Is your community prospering because of your program’s success?
If you’re unable to answer these questions, this is where assessments come in.
So, what are assessments, and why should we care?
According to the Clinical Assessments of Social Work, assessments are defined as
“An ongoing process of data collection aimed at identifying client strengths and problems. Early assessment models were based on psychoanalytic theory; however, current assessments are based on brief, evidence-based practice models. Both quantitative and qualitative methods may be used to create an integrative skills approach that links assessment to intervention.”
When you measure different metrics upon entry, at intervals, and upon exit, you are able as an organization to demonstrate that the participant is not only using your services but making strides to improve their quality of life.
Picking the right assessments for your organization
Assessments are one part of a greater evidence-based strategy that helps an organization analyze, report and improve its impact. Not only do they help you gather data, but they also inform decision-making and best practices. Many organizations use a tailored set of assessments that are often program-specific. The Casey Life Skills Assessment and the Arizona Self Sufficiency Matrix are both notable assessments used by various human services agencies that can then be customized to fit the program’s exact needs.
Casey Life Skills Assessment
The Casey Life Skills (CLS) Assessment measures different domains of life and is usually used by youth services organizations. “Casey Life Skills is a free practice tool and framework for working with youth [especially] in foster care. It assesses independent living skills and provides results instantly.”
The CLS is a free tool that “assesses the behaviors and competencies youth need to achieve their long term goals. It aims to set youth on their way toward developing healthy, productive lives.” This assessment measures: maintaining healthy relationships, work and study habits, planning and goal-setting, budgeting, computer literacy, and whether the client has permanent connections to caring adults.
The CLS Assessment was created by Casey Family Programs, founded by Jim Casey, who started a bike messenger service to help his mother support the family after his father died. That small company eventually became UPS. He noted that the employees who had a stable family setting and access to high-quality services were better able to do their jobs and be leaders for others. It became his mission to help all children have that stable foundation in their lives to succeed in their work, and more importantly, in life.
“Like with any multi-domain assessment, we ultimately want to measure the outcomes of a program. But, in order to help a participant, it’s necessary to find areas of strength and not only deficits or areas of need. Identifying an individual’s strengths can not only help create individualized programming, but you’ll be able to say, “Hey, you’re doing really great in these areas!” Strength-based interventions not only make a difference in the lives of participants, but it can also improve the total outcomes of organizations.”
Krystel Rae Davis, Solutions Specialist, previous experience in the youth development sector
Our outcomes-focused case management software includes the CLS Assessment already built-in, but here is the assessment if you would like to consider adding to your organization’s toolbox. Want more information on the CLS Assessment? Check out this case study by Casey Family Programs that can help your organization pick the right assessment for you, especially if you are a child services or child protection agency
The Arizona Self Sufficiency Matrix
Similar to the CLS assessment, the Arizona Self Sufficiency Matrix assessment measures multiple domains of life. This study was first developed as part of the “Arizona Evaluation Project on Homelessness.” It’s geared more towards adults – especially those who may have many factors contributing to homelessness or need for shelter services, substance abuse, and services that assist adults in need of improving their life skills.
“I like this assessment because it looks at 18 different domains of living – it’s 18 questions that you rate from 1 to 5, creating a holistic view of someone’s current situation. It can be a quick assessment while still thorough enough to provide valuable insights into a participant’s life. The matrix addresses everything from housing, employment and income, to food insecurity, childcare, education and mental health. It helps uncover multiple circumstances that can be contributing factors to why someone is seeking assistance.
From my experience in workforce development, if you are working with someone who doesn’t have a steady job, it does not necessarily mean that they are unqualified; it’s usually because of other compounding variables. Maybe they don’t have access to reliable transportation or childcare. These other factors can often be overlooked, but an assessment like this is broad enough to create that full picture leading to a plan of action that addresses the whole person.”
Jerrica Witte, Solutions Specialist, previous experience in the workforce development sector
Apricot software includes the Arizona Self Sufficiency Matrix for easy intake and skill tracking, but you can check out this case study for how to best use the matrix and add it to your toolkit.
Connecting the dots and implementing assessments into your workflow
Does your current software have built-in assessments? Can you build your own, if needed? Is it easy to send these to your participants to check in with them with a defined cadence? Is it easy to create reports that show how participants are doing in your programs based on the metrics/standards you have set?
Ultimately, we design our software with outcomes in mind; one of the ways to prove those outcomes is by using a variety of Assessments that are directly anchored to the impacts you are making or hope to make. You can select one from our robust Template Library or create your own assessment from scratch.
“When it comes to assessments, Apricot is well designed to track participant progress over time. We have plenty of organizations that build out their own forms with the assessment questions and even add values to calculate a final score automatically. They then have their clients fill out this form several times throughout working together. Maybe it’s every six months; maybe it’s just pre- and post-program. Apricot Connect allows staff to send assessments via email or text to be filled out directly by the client. The organizations can then set up comparison reports to look at client answers and scores over time to gauge how their programming has helped or driven different outcomes. Maybe it’s an improvement in their job stability or a decrease in substance dependence. We love the Arizona Self Sufficiency Matrix as a pre-built template, but Apricot is so customizable that clients can build in any assessment their organization needs.”
Annie Winsett, Client Success Manager
Maximize Impact and Prove Outcomes
The bottom line is assessments can be used in so many ways and are a great tool to add to your workflow and best practices toolbox. In addition to providing a beacon of what you hope your participants can achieve, assessments can be a key indicator for your program and organization’s management strategy.
When you can recognize how far an individual has come since enrolling, participating and exiting your programs, or you can explore how a designated group of individuals program-wide have progressed throughout their time in your system, the impact you are making becomes crystal clear. Reporting on the findings from your evidence-based assessment benchmarks shows current and new funders what your organization is capable of and, in turn, the impact you can have in your community.
Ready to see how assessments can help your organization track outcomes and prove more impact? Request a demo today!