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How Washington State Is Eliminating Disparities for Children, Youth and Families

It’s no secret that education and health outcomes are uneven among children from different racial groups.

And the data supports this, says the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). But that’s not all data can do.

“Reporting the data on disproportionality is a starting point for the conversation. It is not an ending point,” said Vickie Ybarra, Director of DCYF’s Office of Innovation, Alignment and Accountability (OIAA).

Ybarra is a quantitative researcher by training, but spent years working as a home visiting nurse before that. She’s seen the lived experiences of inequitable outcomes for low-income families in Yakima Valley, where she worked as a nurse. And that’s why performance-based contracting (PBC) is a big deal for her and the agency’s work in eliminating disparities.

PBC is an outcome-oriented contracting model that can evaluate the effectiveness of programs for service recipients — in this case, children, youth and families — through key quality and outcome metrics. Many state agencies have been shifting to PBC, but DCYF’s move is arguably the largest.

“It’s the only agencywide implementation we’ve seen,” Ybarra said. And so far, it’s more than halfway to its goal.


2017: State law H.B. 1661 establishes DCYF.

2018: DCYF begins implementing performance-based contracting (PBC) agencywide. The goal is for all client service contracts to be performance-based by 2026.

2020: DCYF releases the Strategic and Racial Equity Plan 2021-2026, which PBC aligns with.

2021: More than 1,000 contracts are shifted to PBC, which is more than 70% of its portfolio and half a billion dollars in investment annually. DCYF receives leading recognition from Results for America’s “Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence.”

How You Can Do It Too

Ybarra’s recommendations for a large agencywide PBC rollout, with (in classic researcher style) questions to ask.

  1. Inventory the baseline system.
    → How many contractors are in each contract group?
    → How much funding is involved?
    → Are there common definitions of baseline terms? Do contractors have necessary data?
    → What will the implementation timeline of PBC look like?
  2. Establish the support system.
    → What partners need to be at the table?
    → Who makes the decisions?
  3. Assess the culture change.
    → Will the impact be low, medium or high for involved parties?
    → How will you resource the change management?
    • This piece was critical to make sure contractors came along rather than resisted. DCYF needs contractors — as your agency probably does, too. “The last thing we want to do is risk losing contractors,” Ybarra said.

“We [OIAA] don’t talk about data-driven decision-making; we talk about evidence-informed decision-making,” Ybarra said. “It’s really the evidence as a whole. And that has to include qualitative data and stories. It has to include understanding the limitations of numbers, and the importance of contextualizing interventions and what we do with the data in the context of the lived experience of those we serve.”

Ybarra added, “Even though I’m, for example, a quantitative scholar … I come from work in the community, and recognize that those numbers are only valuable to the extent they reflect what’s going on in the community, and can be useful to improve lives for those we serve.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “Your Field Notes for Data-Driven Decision-Making in Government.”

Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

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