County Mayor’s MessageAug 04, 2015 10:05AM ● By Bryan Scott
There are nearly 23,000 low income families with one or more children under the age of five living in Salt Lake County. Data shows that low-income mothers and their children are more at risk to experience troublesome birth, health and development outcomes compared to the general population. Low-income moms are 17 percent more likely to have a premature baby. About half of these low-income children score poorly as 3-year-olds on standard language development tests. Being at such a disadvantage so early in their lives makes is more likely they’ll continue in the cycle of poverty trapping their mothers—75 percent of whom don’t have a high school diploma.
Can we make this county a better place for children and families by investing in what works, by testing and retesting it and by holding ourselves to a higher standard? I believe the answer is yes.
In April, we began a search for a nonprofit partner who would provide services to this specific population. The proposal we issued asked that our prospective partner should have an evidence-based track record, can provide services to both mothers and children, can provide educational employment services to mothers and has experience providing this service to similar groups. In July we selected “Parents as Teachers” to be our lead agency. The concept for Parents as Teachers was developed in Missouri in 1981, when educators there noted that helping parents embrace their important role as their child’s first and best teacher made a striking difference in the child’s development of learning skills.
The county is now working on contract details with Parents as Teachers. Specifics will include a timeline and total number of participants to receive services. But rather than pay for a program, we will only pay for specific outcomes that are achieved. Those outcomes include: reductions in premature births, reductions in emergency room use, improvement in standard school readiness tests and an increase in the mother’s employment and income. In other words, this is our next Pay for Success project.
Pay for Success is an innovative new tool to measurably improve outcomes for communities in need. It builds on public/private partnerships in a way that delivers more money, more quickly to address social needs, such as homelessness or criminal justice. Government often means well, but has a poor track record. Sometimes a program continues year after year, with no proven results. But with our emphasis on the Pay for Success model, we’re attempting to change that in Salt Lake County. What we learned in 2013-2014 with our first-in-the-nation Pay for Success support of high-quality preschool for low-income kids is that working in this different way is a game-changer. Private sector funding spurs innovation and selects for programs that achieve measurable results. Government bureaucracy is reduced because the nonprofit provider receives sufficient upfront funding to run the program and serve residents. Taxpayers benefit because government only pays if outcomes are met. Data and evidence are at the core of this model and we know for sure if a program isn’t working.
Safeguarding taxpayer money is important. But the consequences of failing to measure the impact of our policies and programs go well beyond wasting scarce tax dollars. Every time a person participates in a program that doesn’t work, when he or she could have participated in one that does—that represents a human cost. We can and we will do better.