Co-designing toolkits that inspire trust for families in prevention-services
For many families who undergo the prevention-service process with the Administration for Children's Services, this experience can be traumatic. Often times, families fear that any interaction with ACS will lead to the separation of their children.
In order to create a solution for improving the prevention-service experience for families, it's important to hear from caretakers and design with their needs in mind as their advocates.
The challenge is to conduct research with families in a way that's dignified, trauma-informed, and non-intrusive. The last thing we'd want to do as empathetic designers is cause our family stakeholders to relive painful and traumatic memories by asking intrusive questions.
In collaboration with the Community-Based Strategies team at ACS, the Service Design Studio at NYC Opportunity hosted a workshop in which we designed toolkits known as culture probes for inspiring trust among families.
Culture probes are a user-research artifact used for gathering data about people's lives, values, and thoughts. We designed our probes as personalized gifts that our families could take home and perform a set of self-directed tasks at their convenience that would later open a window into how they view the world through their direct experience.
In child welfare, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) contracts with private nonprofit organizations to support and stabilize families at risk of a crisis through preventive services, and provides foster care services for children not able to safely remain at home.
A culture of fear and stigma keeps families from trusting ACS
We can't include families in the research process unless there's mutual trust established
As user-centered designers, it's an established best-practice to incorporate stakeholders in our research efforts. The very notion of user-centered design is to talk to and learn from... our users. Sounds like the right thing to do.
However, in the case of family prevention services, the conversations can be emotionally charged and counter-productive for the very families we're designing and advocating for.
Throughout our second research sprint in which the Studio interviewed Community Based Organizations (CBO's) offering prevention services, a recurring theme that we learned was that families were in fear of ACS. There were also feelings of stigma that prevented families from fully trusting their ACS caseworkers.
Here's what we heard firsthand:
"The challenge for us is that ACS has to come in as investigators. They go in like the police. Whatever time/day it’s on their schedule. It’s not the most relationship-building for our families."
"When ACS says 'do you want services'- it’s implied that they’re going to take their kids away, and that’s the message conveyed. I know ACS is working very hard to change that, but that’s their fear."
"The challenge w/ ACS is that they make the families believe that they have to sign or if not their children will be taken away"
"There are some families that sign up begrudingly- some of the reasons revolve around fear of ACS. Those are the families that are the most challenging to engage."
The data obtained from interviewing families is unreliable
Furthermore, we also learned that the responses we obtain from families during interviews can be influenced by trauma and fear, thereby yielding unreliable data.
Mai Kobori, design consultant and lead facilitator of the culture-probes workshop highlighted this very phenomenon; that the information we get from conversations with families merely scratches the surface of deeper issues, due to families' fear of saying anything that may potentially incriminate them.
As one Executive Director from a CBO stated, some families may say things just to appease someone who they perceive to come from a position of authority:
When we get brought in- the families will say yes in front of ACS and then once ACS leaves the families say 'I really don't want services, I just wanted to get rid of that ACS rep'
How then, can we incorporate families into the design process so that they can share meaningful, latent knowledge about their experience with prevention-services in a meaningful, dignified, and non-intrusive way?
How to improve going forward
Better time management for facilitating discussions
I can't overstate enough how great it was to have design "allies" within ACS participate with the Studio in improving the way city-agencies (i.e. ACS) communicate with families in a dignified and trauma-informed way via culture-probes.
The conversations were exciting, the ideas were flowing, we were all engaged- but I mismanaged the amount of time allocated for group discussion. As a result, we didn't have enough time to fully develop the probes. In the future, I would adhere to a strict one-minute share-out of ideas and allow for participants to jot down follow-up points or questions on sticky notes and share them if there's time remaining.
A way to continue the conversation
Just because we had a great workshop doesn't mean the conversation has to end then and there.
One thing all of the workshop facilitators agreed upon was that there should be a way to keep the discussions alive and explore ways of digitizing all of our ideas in a shared repository. It would also be great to host a follow-up workshop to see how the culture-probes worked with the family stakeholders.
We came together as a team and shared our thoughts on how the workshop went and how we envision its progress in the future:
Good vibes thanks to the icebreakers
Everyone was eager and willing to learn
Everyone talked in the workshop. High participation.
Not a lot of the participants had knowledge beforehand
Better prepped with time management (i.e. facilitator's agenda)
Shareout could be intentional with role-playing
A "solidified" end-goal deliverable as a compass
More balanced control in the group discussion
Time to test with outside groups
More time to spend with the probe
Give more tangible examples
Tangible objects as inspiration to make