Tag Archives: systems of care

Designing From the Margins Toolkit: Three Ways to Solve Problems Facing Young People

Young people facing disruptions to their education need support and guidance to meet their goals. But too often, the systems meant to support young people at the toughest moments of their lives end up frustrating and burdening them as they navigate a complex bureaucracy. Leaders working within these systems can see the challenges young people face, but they get stuck, because creating change within and across large organizations is difficult.   

A different approach to problem solving can help communities get unstuck within and across schools, nonprofits, and other child-serving organizations. This week, Bellwether released Designing From the Margins: Tools and Examples for Practitioners to Address Fragmentation and Build Equity Into Systems Design. The downloadable toolkit draws on Design Methods for Education Policy and is aligned with our Continuous Improvement in Schools Workbook, but is created specifically for local leaders who might be new to tackling human-centered design from start to finish. It includes tangible examples and facilitation strategies for collaborative problem-solving processes based on our work with communities across the country. 

Designing From the Margins centers young people and families with the most serious and concentrated needs to make inclusive solutions for everyone. By taking this approach, problem solvers focus on equity from the start, and focus on the voices and perspectives of those experiencing problems directly. 

Here are three ways schools, foster care systems, homeless shelters, and health care providers, among others, can use the toolkit:

1. Engage Young People and Families in Identifying Problems

What problems need solving right now? In order to answer this question, you should go to the people experiencing issues directly. This toolkit focuses on improving systems serving young people. In our work, we used techniques like empathy interviews to hear from young people about their experiences and unmet needs. We prioritized young people with severe disruptions in their lives and education, such as incarceration or homelessness, in order to hear how systems served (or failed) those with the greatest needs. The toolkit can help you create a plan to collect these perspectives and reflect on them in a structured and coherent way. 

2. Structure a Collaborative Problem-Solving Process

Organizations serving young people often operate under great stress and uncertainty. This can make collaboration difficult. For example, a leader of a community nonprofit might consider another organization to be a competitor for funding or enrollment, rather than a potential collaborator serving overlapping groups of young people and families. The Designing From the Margins Toolkit gives tangible examples of ways to build a productive, cross-organizational working group that centers on the needs of young people, which includes building relationships among participants who might not work together frequently. 

3. Plan for Better Implementation Through Monitoring and Continuous Improvement 

Even great plans can fall victim to incomplete or insufficient implementation. The problem-solving cycle described in Designing From the Margins includes an emphasis on concrete implementation plans, with clear metrics and owners each step of the way, along with a framework for implementing continuous improvement cycles of monitoring and evaluation once solutions are put in place. 

Click here to read and download Bellwether’s Designing From the Margins Toolkit, and visit Bellwether’s Lost by Design website to learn more.

How Students and Adults Experienced COVID-19 Disruptions

Alieyyah Lewis is an intern with Bellwether’s Policy & Evaluation team.

Like many current students, I experienced disruption due to COVID-19. I’m a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, where I study Public Policy & Management. I was enjoying my spring break in March when my program informed us four days before classes were scheduled to resume that they would be switching to an entirely virtual model for the remainder of spring semester.

This was stressful and shocking. I was concerned with how my professors would switch to a virtual format, how assessments would be administered, whether my professors would provide my accommodations with fidelity, and whether professors would still hold office hours.

But unlike many students across the country, I did not have to worry about lacking access to technology to complete my coursework. I am fortunate to have reliable Wi-Fi at home, and even if I didn’t, my school’s academic buildings remained open for students to use Wi-Fi or printing services.

It is no surprise that students in K-12 schools experienced disruptions much more severe than mine, ranging from lack of adequate school supplies to homelessness. The findings of a recent national survey conducted by Bellwether, which I helped analyze, brought the challenges faced by adults who serve youth into sharper focus.

Our new brief looks at how leaders across systems of care — including schools, nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, juvenile justice systems, and foundations — supported special populations of students before and during COVID-19. Special populations of students include those within foster care, juvenile justice, or special education systems. The analysis sought to understand how time was spent on five priorities before and during COVID-19:

  1. Communication and coordination
  2. Education technology and school supplies
  3. Academic support
  4. Well-being
  5. Collaboration with other entities

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