The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency-Next Generation (BIAS-NG) project, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and led by MDRC in collaboration with its research partners MEF Associates, Child Trends, and Public Strategies Inc., aims to improve human services program design and outcomes through the application of behavioral science principles. BIAS-NG partners with state and local agencies to diagnose behavioral barriers to program success, design interventions to address those barriers, and test the efficacy and cost efficiency of those behaviorally informed interventions relative to status quo service delivery.
In Allegheny County, PA, BIAS-NG is working with The Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) in the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
Child welfare agencies around the country have been taking steps to improve how they work with families and to promote greater engagement between families and caseworkers. However, there have been a limited number of randomized trials focused on family engagement once a family’s case has been accepted for service. For this test, the research team is working with a county-administered child welfare agency to test whether a behaviorally informed intervention, utilized early in the case planning process, can increase engagement of families in their cases. Cases are randomized to receive a standard notification letter only or that letter plus a supplemental flyer coupled with text messages. For the intervention cases, the flyer and text messages frame case opening as a “fresh start”; offer simplified information; clearly explain next steps; and include prompts and reminders for action. The trial tests whether initial information plus ongoing communication for up to eight weeks improves engagement of families and caseworkers within the first 60 days of case opening.