Baltimore, MD., – September 25, 2012 – Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, honored the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) with a prestigious Bright Idea award for developing  an innovative government initiative.

BCDSS was one of 111 honorees in this cycle.  Since Bright Idea’s 2010 inception, 500 awards have been presented from a pool of 27,000 applications. Recipients from all levels of government—including school districts, county, city, state, and federal agencies as well as public-private partnerships— have demonstrated a creative range of solutions to issues. Examples include urban and rural degradation, environmental problems, and the academic achievement of students. Programs were evaluated and selected by a team of policy experts from academic and public sectors.

The Baltimore City DSS was recognized for its innovative partnership with the Baltimore City School system in implementing the highly successful Place Matters initiative that strives to place foster children within a sphere of safety and community when they are removed from their homes. A concerted effort is made to place children with someone they know to reduce the trauma of abuse, neglect and family separation.

When a school-age child enters BCDSS’ care, the school system is notified. Within hours, school administrators share the child’s emergency contact information with BCDSS. Social work staff use the information to locate a family member or trusted friend to consider as a placement option. In addition, BCDSS social work staff are housed within various schools throughout Baltimore City to assist with on-site issues that may arise in the school setting, work with the administration to resolve issues and serve as a resource for staff.

“Historically the role of social service providers has been to serve and protect needy and vulnerable children, families and adults in ways that encouraged personal responsibility,” said Molly McGrath Tierney, director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. “However, too frequently, social service workers have had to focus on fulfilling intake and eligibility program requirements rather than on affecting real change in their clients’ lives. Baltimore City DSS is developing creative programs and service delivery methods that yield measurable results, enable workers to be more effective and make a greater impact on the people they serve.”

The  selection criteria used to identify the 111 innovative government programs included: novelty, the degree to which the program demonstrates a leap in creativity; effectiveness, the degree to which the program has achieved tangible results; significance, the degree to which the program successfully addresses an important problem of public concern; and  transferability, the degree to which the program, or aspects of it, shows promise of inspiring successful replication by other governmental entities.

“Government innovation does not require endless resources and generous budgets,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center. “As exemplified by this year’s Bright Ideas, some of our country’s smartest innovations can in fact reduce government’s size while serving our citizens more efficiently and effectively.”

The Ash Center advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.

Baltimore City Department of Social Services is a field office of the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) the state’s primary social service provider serving over one million people annually. BCDSS provides services to over 50 percent of the state’s child welfare cases.   DHR, through its 24 local departments of social services, aggressively pursues opportunities to assist people in economic need, provide preventive services, and protect vulnerable children and adults in each of Maryland’s 24 counties.

Filed in: Baltimore City, Child Welfare

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