Photo: Measuring Impact of Youth Services

Measuring Impact, Not Counting Individuals

Western Youth Services (WYS) is a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services on behalf of children and their families throughout Orange County, California. WYS has decades of experience and expertise in treatment for those with diagnosable mental health conditions. In addition, a current focus is on prevention and early intervention services for at-risk youth through partnerships with schools, outreach and engagement, lunch clubs, and providing educators with training.

Adverse childhood experiences are highly correlated to mental health outcomes. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, trauma or other adverse circumstances are at a much greater risk of experiencing childhood depression and other mental health conditions that can extend well into adulthood if not addressed.

“Our approach is one that takes a child’s behavior into consideration from a more compassionate perspective,” said, Lorry Leigh Belhumeur, Ph.D., chief executive officer, Western Youth Services. “We examine the children’s experiences that are underlying causes of negative behavior—as opposed to labeling these children as behaving badly.”

WYS educates individuals about the correlations between childhood experiences and mental health outcomes. If this is a predictable pattern, then it is often preventable. WYS designs its programs to improve mental health, and to help people to identify the early signs of emotional distress.

“When people think about mental health, they automatically think of mental illness,” said Lorry. “We were determined to eliminate this stigma so that we could shift the paradigm. Our ultimate goal is that mental health is viewed in much the same realm that wellness and well-being are today—with mental health as just one component of overall total wellness.”

Just as individuals choose healthy habits and make lifestyle changes to prevent physical illness such as diabetes, WYS promotes lifestyle changes and choices that children and families can make that will further promote positive mental health and well-being. While mental illness in some cases may not be preventable, WYS also advocates for living as well as possible with mental illness.

High-performance Measurement a la Cart

WYS first partnered with Measurement Resources Company (MRC) in 2016 to explore how WYS could use data to redefine mental health for the children and families they serve, as well as the many community stakeholders who interact with them on a regular basis. When Lorry first started working with MRC, she recalls looking at the data that her funders were requiring WYS to report: the number of children WYS offered services to, the number of visits her staff had with families and educators, the average length of a child’s treatment.

As a licensed psychologist, Lorry was already prone to using data to drive her decision-making in her leadership role at WYS. But she wanted to know more than whether or not people were satisfied with the services they were providing. Lorry wanted metrics that would reflect the degree to which the well-being of these children was improving as a result of WYS’ services.

“I was determined to discover how we could use data to tell our story, and shift the conversation from adverse experiences to more positive outcomes,” said Lorry. “It is great to have a partner like Measurement Resources, who are like-minded in their approach to measuring impact.”

MRC developed a framework for WYS that succinctly measures its impact, and WYS can now view each of its three mission pillars (to advance awareness, cultivate success and strengthen communities through integrated mental health services for children, youth and families) through a data-driven lens. But with staff time devoted to providing services, WYS still struggled to find time to consistently track and interpret the data.

In early 2018, Measurement Resources Company launched a new program that allows organizations to outsource high-performance measurement services on a regular basis. For a fraction of the cost required to hire a full-time analyst, clients like WYS can now have access to a dedicated team of highly qualified professionals, who consistently provide reporting, feedback, and guidance for continued application of key performance and outcome data.

WYS agreed to help pilot this new service, and MRC and WYS continue to hold recurring sessions to review and have discussions around WYS’ performance measurement results. By helping the WYS team better understand the data, WYS can continuously evolve and improve the effectiveness of its programs and focus on its core competencies.

“We now have the ability to share the impact we’re having and tie that impact back to our mission,” said Lorry. “MRC asks the right questions in ways that result in measuring our impact more effectively.”

Measurement Resources invites you and your organization to consider participating in this program. Please reach out to schedule a call with us, so that we can explore this solution together.


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