Evaluation activities in the five case-study sites varied considerably in their focus and degree of sophistication. States conducted formative research to guide program design, developed systems for monitoring client characteristics and services delivered, and identified outcome measures. However, the usefulness of evaluations in some states was limited by inconsistent implementation, insufficient resources to achieve adequate response rates, and limited data analysis. Considering that these five are among the countrys most highly regarded programs, the relatively limited emphasis on evaluation is noteworthy.(1)
Evaluations of PAS implementation and outcomes are needed to support program development and document the value of continued funding.
None of these programs is more than 10 years old, and the field of post-adoption services is not much older than that. The newness of PAS as a service delivery model is itself a barrier to evaluation. In a new arena, program models, service offerings, and service delivery strategies are subject to ongoing adaptation based on experience; tailoring the program takes precedence over maintaining consistent implementation. Under these circumstances, programs rely on immediate field experience rather than waiting for evaluation findings.
As the field matures, however, the potential usefulness of evaluation increases. The variety of approaches with which states have implemented core services like information and referral suggests the need for evaluation to assess which strategies work best under various conditions. Data from strong evaluations could enable the experience of these five states to provide needed guidance to other jurisdictions currently considering or developing PAS programs. If existing programs are to continue improving and to inform the development of others, their evaluation components will need to be strengthened. This strengthening would include design enhancement in the form of outcome indicators and robust evaluation designs, as well as strategies to minimize respondent burden and engage program staff in the process. Substantially more resources than are currently being dedicated to evaluation will be needed.
The impetus for what evaluation is being done comes from state adoption program managers and PAS program coordinators, in varying combinations. Notably absent is any evidence of pressure from the larger funding agency or calls for accountability from legislators involved in budget negotiations. This absence might reflect the considerable persuasiveness of adoptive parents advocating these programs or a sense of urgency attached to increasing the rate of foster care adoptions. Because these influences might be inadequate to sustain program resources in the face of state budget crises and competing needs, evaluations that can document program implementation and effectiveness must become a priority among leaders in PAS programs. The continued acceleration in the rate of adoptions and the number of adoptive families underscores the need for a scientifically robust base of evaluation research to guide program development.