Re-Tooling Family Well-Being in Colorado


Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Human Services and the Family Resource Center Association – both Ascend Network Partners – collaborated on a practical guide for organizations that serve low-income families to consider and begin using metrics to support families holistically as they move through a continuum of “well-being.” The Family Well-Being Toolkit evolved through an iterative process, aimed at outcomes-focused practices to help Colorado families thrive.

Respondents, both members of the WSS Family Well-Being Workgroup:

  • Samantha O’Neill-Dunbar (SOND), Work Support Strategies, CDHS
  • Virgina Howey (VH), Member Services Director, Family Resource Center Association

Describe the process of developing this Toolkit. What questions were you seeking to answer?

SOND: The ultimate purpose of Colorado’s work to streamline services and improve access to benefits was to better support families. Yet, we had no agreed-upon method way to know if Colorado families were faring better. Thus, the WSS Family Well-Being Workgroup was created late in 2012. The group included representatives from the Colorado Deptartment of Human Services (CDHS), county departments, and a wide representation of community-based organizations and was charged with digging into the broad issue of “family well-being.”

The group quickly realized that there was no clear agreement on the definition of family well-being, let alone consensus about how to measure it. In order to navigate this void, the workgroup invited ten county, community-based, and state entities to share how they defined and used family well-being metrics. Each organization addressed three distinct questions:

  1. How does your organization define family well-being?
  2. How is family well-being measured? What evaluation/assessment tools are used?
  3. What is done with the information gathered on families’ well-being? What outcomes are tracked or evaluation/assessment performed?

The ideas gathered through this process informed the Toolkit. In addition to presenting common domains for tracking well-being, the Toolkit provides Best Practices for Strength-Based Family Support Services; Steps to Establish, Track and Maintain Well-Being Measures; and other resources to inform organizations’ practices in defining and using well-being metrics to support families.

How did you engage the voices of families in the development of the Toolkit?

VH: The organizations that helped develop the Toolkit used their own community-level processes to include family voices in the development, administration, and/or evaluation of the family well-being metrics they already use. These range from regional listening tours, parent focus groups, pilot projects that included feedback from parents, parent satisfaction surveys, and more.

What surprised you most in developing these materials?

VH: We were surprised to learn how many service providers were using similar domains of family well-being in serving their clients such a family well-being matrix.

SOND: I think what surprised me the most was the simple fact that there was no common understanding of “well-being,” even within our relatively small, self-selected workgroup. As we dug into the issue, the concept of well-being became more and more complex as our frames of reference expanded.

What do you think other providers need to know about adapting this Toolkit? What about policymakers?

VH: Providers should know that the following key points emerged during the development of the Toolkit:

  • A wide array of tools and methods are being used to assess well-being.
  • Ultimately, the choice of metrics and tools boils down to what fits both the organization’s purpose and available resources.
  • Despite differences in the tool used and data collected, there are common themes among what is collected and measured.
  • Organizations share a common goal of ensuring that Coloradans are stable, healthy, and have steady income.

The Toolkit is more of a practical “how-to” guide. Wherever the organization is on the continuum – from beginning to think about measuring well-being to expanding their metrics organization-wide – the Toolkit provides practical information for practitioners to explore, adapt, or adopt a well-being matrix.

SOND: Policymakers will make better policy choices when they understand that the many areas of a family’s life are interconnected and interdependent. While economic security is extremely important to a family’s overall well-being, ongoing security is equally rooted in familial stability (e.g. financial literacy, childcare, parenting skills, support networks) and healthy living (e.g. safe communities, access to health care and healthy foods, available mental health and substance abuse resources.) Effective policy or budget decisions are made when the interdependency of these indicators is considered.

How is this Toolkit “two-generational”?

SOND: The Family Well-Being Toolkit is a two-generation approach in its very essence. Its purpose is not to help parents thrive or children thrive…but to help families thrive. Each of the domains could be individually applicable to a parent and/or a child – yet its full effect will be evident across a family unit. For instance, without applying a two-generation lens, transportation could be considered a non-issue if the parent is still able to get to work – however, if a lack of adequate transportation is affecting the parent’s ability to choose high-quality childcare, transportation would likely be identified as a higher-priority issue to address.

What are your recommendations on how practitioners can measure and assess their success in using this Toolkit?

VH: The Toolkit creates a framework to engage community and organizational leaders in exploring new ways to serve families holistically by defining, measuring, and tracking well-being among families. While organizations must remain cognizant of direct services outputs, this toolkit will aid organizations to focus on outcomes, enabling them to consider the entire tapestry of each client’s life and design services to meet their changing needs.

The WSS Family Well-Being Workgroup hopes that this Toolkit will facilitate community- and state-wide dialogue within the realm of tracking and improving family well-being. We believe that collective impact can be achieved when systems serving families work together, collaboratively and more deeply, to support family stability as they strive to impact economic security.