We at UNCA take pride in our long history of working with and in neighborhoods, but we aren’t the only ones. Another is the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP).
CSSP’s founder, Tom Joe, was a neighborhood guy before being a neighborhood guy was cool. He passed away in 1999, so he never got to see the burgeoning neighborhood movement that we have today. But he didn’t need to. Even back then, he foresaw the value of an integrated, place-based strategy.
“Our human services systems are still in the dark ages,” he said. “Instead of looking at what the whole family needs and how the individual pieces can work together toward those goals, we’ve built up this crazy collection of categorical programs that have little or nothing to do with the family’s real needs.”
Of course, that is still true today, but it wasn’t even a new idea back then. Tom continued:
Since as far back as 1972, I tried to get services integrated for people. While others were trying to get the federal government to integrate services from the top down, I suggested a different angle. I said, ‘Let’s allow the community to propose what they want to do and then ask the federal government for waivers to integrate programs when the community runs into problems.’
Toward that end, CSSP began working with several local partners engaged in place-based work. In 2001, CSSP released a series of practical Learning Guides that are still useful today. Since then, CSSP has built on its knowledge base through its work with the Annie E. Casey Making Connections sites.
Much of their work informs our work today. Last year, CSSP joined with several other national organizations to produce several reports focused on Promise Neighborhoods, including this one:
- Focusing on Results in Promise Neighborhoods: Recommendations for the Federal Initiative: A document jointly produced by PolicyLink, HCZ, the Center for Study of Social Policy, and Child Trends to help direct the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative process, which describes how a focus on results would contribute to the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, from the planning, design, startup activities and program implementation through the evaluation of the individual sites.
A Focus on Sustainability
In the past couple of years, CSSP has ramped up its attention to an issue that is central to the place-based movement: sustainability. The Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods application package specifies sustainability is a key planning activity during the planning year. Applicants must:
- Work with public and private agencies, organizations (including philanthropic organizations), and individuals to gather and leverage resources needed to support the financial sustainability of the plan. Planning grantees must demonstrate this financial sustainability by identifying the sources and amounts of current Federal, State, and local funds, including public and private funds, that can be used for the project.
CSSP will be an important resource for this and other facets of the planning process. Presently, much of CSSP’s work is being featured on its blog, Financing Community Change, which recently featured two pieces on sustainability.
Overall, CSSP’s sustainability work is being focused on helping communities:
- Develop sustainability and financing plans that maximize the use of all available funding, including private financing;
- Understand and implement results-based financing strategies to scale up and sustain efforts to improve results; and
- Understand and connect to new sources of federal funding (including opportunities like Promise Neighborhoods, the Social Innovation Fund, and the Investing in Innovation (i3) program).
Bill Shepardson, who manages CSSP’s community change and results-based financing efforts says: “Our work with the Making Connections sites and other communities around the country has convinced us that it is never too early to start thinking about what is needed to sustain a neighborhood’s effort to improve results for families.”
Aligning resources and policy with what works is a big part of sustainability, but it is equally important to invest in and grow the infrastructure that assures communities stay committed and accountable to their results agenda and continue to learn about what makes a difference for which families.
Erasing the inequities we see for families living in tough neighborhoods requires supporting families themselves to act as “co-investors” in creating better results, using data for learning and accountability, building and maintaining partnerships of neighborhood residents and key decision makers in the region, and having strong leadership and management capacity on the ground.
When these capacities are in place, communities are much more likely to produce conditions that strengthen neighborhoods and families and create more equitable and effective services and opportunities for kids.
Sustainability is critical in these tight economic times, but especially to multi-generational place-based initiatives. We look forward to more from CSSP on these important topics in the months ahead.