Harvard Case Study

Harvard case study highlights LCFS’ racial equity work

The case study “Disruption is in our DNA: Lutheran Services in America and the Results Innovation Lab” chronicles how Lutheran Services in America is fundamentally challenging the status quo through innovation and collaboration and features initiatives by member organizations to close disparities for children, youth and families and change outcomes in the child welfare system. The study was produced by Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard.

“With Lutheran Services in America, we are driving transformation through the Results Innovation Lab,” explained Dr. Oftelie. “We bring in partners from across the country to look at the big challenges we’re all facing and our big, audacious goals, and then think about what we can do to dramatically change the trajectory of outcomes for people, families and communities. We work together to figure out what can the future look like? And what will it take to build that future?”

One such partner making a significant impact is Lutheran Children and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS of Illinois), a non-profit child welfare agency dedicated to nurturing and strengthening children and families in need. Through their racial equity work, LCFS of Illinois increased their permanency rate for Black foster care children from 4% in 2018 to 47% in 2020 and the length of stay for Black children decreased by 16% over the same period.

The organizations in the Lutheran Services in America Results Innovation Lab examine their work through a race equity lens by disaggregating data by race, meeting social determinants of health that influence outcomes and addressing racial biases.

Beverly Jones, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of LCFS of Illinois, noted the vital insight central to the Lab’s work that “data is powerful” and went on to utilizing data to make a powerful impact at her organization. After reviewing its own statewide and agency data, with regional sites in Chicago, Belleville, Decatur, Joliet, Kankakee, Mt. Vernon, Oak Brook, Quincy and Springfield, LCFS of Illinois realized that implicit bias and institutional racism were influencing inequitable outcomes for children of color.

The LCFS of Illinois framework to reach their significant results focused on training their staff to look at how their biases may contribute to disparate outcomes. Forums were held for staff to learn and rehearse best practice techniques to improve engagement with families and to utilize those learnings in all familial meetings. The increased focus on engagement with birth families, including fathers is seen by staff as a major contributor to the improved outcomes. Additional staff training focused on working with the judicial system to better navigate court processes and advocate within the courts on behalf of families of color, LGBTQ youth and other societal biases impacting their clients. Finally, Continued Quality Improvement data analysis was held throughout the process.

Beverly Jones shared that, “this roadmap has allowed us to share learnings and be a force in assisting other agencies throughout the state and country on their journeys.” Looking to the future, there needs to be a shift in focus within the child welfare system from intervention to prevention. Both Lutheran Services in America and LCFS of Illinois are committed to being leaders in this change and achieving a world where all families are supported and realize equitable outcomes.

Click here to learn more about LCFS’ racial equity work to improve outcomes for children and families of color.