03/26/2010 - Established almost 20 years ago, the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services is highly valued in the Philadelphia region for its steadfast commitment to organizations that assist some of the area’s most vulnerable citizens.
The Pew Fund is also well known for setting the bar high for the quality of programs it supports. In an era of limited resources, it is imperative that nonprofit health and social service providers offer programs that are successful. Compelling stories without supporting evidence that a particular program or intervention is effective are not sufficient.
The value of hard evidence in the development of effective programming, no matter what the field, is increasingly understood. As the authors of the manual “Turning Knowledge into Practice,” a landmark 2003 study on the use of research in the treatment of mental and addictive disorders, say, “We come down very strongly on the side of using the best that science has to offer in the design and delivery of services. While what we’re doing already may be excellent, at a minimum we want to make sure that, if there is relevant research, we are using it. . . . Interventions supported by rigorous research offer more reassurances of that level of quality.”
The Pew Fund shares that conviction and places strong emphasis on the need for evidence of effectiveness as a condition of support. With the encouragement of Pew and other funders, our partner organizations are making impressive strides in using research to inform their practice, in the spirit of Joseph N. Pew Jr.’s endorsement of fact-based research and trustworthy analysis—which he summed up as “truth”—to guide service providers and recipients alike.
Using the nationally recognized Families and Schools Together curriculum, Turning Points for Children, a Philadelphia social service agency and Pew Fund grantee, is working in 23 Philadelphia elementary schools to address the needs of approximately 6,000 children at risk of school failure. The goals of Family and Schools Together are to enhance children’s success in school, reduce the risk of juvenile delinquency, violence and substance abuse, and improve family functioning.
The program is on the registry of evidence-based programs of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, signifying that the approach has undergone the most thorough testing and evaluation.
Over eight weeks, the program’s families participate in sessions that are led by a team of school counselors, substance-abuse or mental-health professionals and parents. They discuss child development and appropriate discipline, and they are offered activities that encourage interaction between themselves and their children. After this intensive period of involvement, the parents attend monthly support groups for up to two years.
Other Pew Fund grantees are using peer-support programs to assist individuals with chronic mental-health challenges achieve greater levels of independence. Under this approach, individuals who have experienced a serious mental illness teach others in recovery to gain the skills necessary to lead meaningful lives in the community.
In 2004, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration convened over 110 mental health experts who recognized the approach as one of the 10 fundamental components of recovery, and a growing body of research has found consistently positive results for programs employing peer-support specialists. Hedwig House, a psychiatric rehabilitation agency in Montgomery County, is using Pew funding to employ two specialists who work closely with 100 of the organization’s clients to promote stability and wellness. Hedwig is developing materials related to its experience for the benefit of other behavioral health organizations.
Research and reports by such respected entities as the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health as well as the U.S. Surgeon General point to the value of integrating the delivery of behavioral care with that of primary health care. Numerous efforts, sponsored by private and public sources, are under way to demonstrate innovation in this area and develop a more robust evidence base for the coordination of these services.
In Philadelphia, the Eleventh Street Health Center, a nurse-managed primary care center affiliated with Drexel University, has been doing just that. With Pew’s support, a behavioral health specialist working collaboratively with a primary care provider is screening 300 children a year to identify those with serious emotional problems or mental disorders that, if left untreated, will only worsen as the child grows older. When appropriate, the specialist links patients with community resources, provides individual and family therapy and conducts parenting support groups.
The adoption of new, evidence-based approaches can be challenging. The Pew Fund partners with OMG Center for Collaborative Learning to help grantees adjust—through development of new staff skills, alternative funding streams or more sophisticated information and management systems.
In the coming year the Pew Fund will continue to work closely with local providers to serve Philadelphians most in need. We will do so guided by the rigorous, results-oriented research that will best help those vulnerable clients.
Frazierita D. Klasen
Director, Pew Fund for Health and Human Services in Philadelphia
Deputy Director, Philadelphia Program
Read more about Pew's work in Pew Prospectus 2010 (PDF).