By Brett Mayfield
In 1996, a group of six foster agencies joined together to try something different. In the wake of funding threats and a scarcity of resources, these providers united to continue pursuing their missions toward foster youth advocacy. Thus was the birth of the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC). Based in Atlanta, Georgia, MAAC arranges home options and coordinates additional services for over 1,000 foster care youth across the state. These services include programs to develop self-sufficiency and crisis recovery for youth who have experienced life in the foster care system. Overall, the goal of MAAC is to provide a seamless continuum of services and support for young people so that they do not have to fail their way through the system; the alliance aims to get youth what they need. To accomplish their goals, MAAC currently operates with a small board, a cross between community members with corporate backgrounds and industry experts. The network’s efforts led it to become a Lodestar Collaboration Prize finalist in 2017.
To be an effective alliance, MAAC takes its membership evaluation seriously. The program is robust and relationship-oriented: organizations that want to get involved must have a contract with MAAC so that those relationships can start to grow. After a year of collaboration, organizations have the opportunity to apply for an affiliate membership, which leaders approve through a due diligence process to ensure that any agency fits with MAAC’s mission. A look into the process includes a meeting with the agency’s CEO, attendance at clinical team meetings, and a MAAC board visit. This entire process is to make sure that an applicant is going to be fit for collaboration. After a year of affiliate membership, agencies can apply for full membership approved by a board vote.
Moreover, evaluation is an ongoing process, even for existing members. For example, if two members were to merge, becoming one organization, then that new agency would have to start over the process. The same rule would apply to nonprofits with new leadership. Essentially, any new organization seeking membership must first have at least a one-year contract and experience the evaluation process after its application. This robust system ensures that members are the best fit for MAAC, especially with the challenges brought about during collective impact initiatives, such as the sharing and transferring of resources.
MAAC does much more to meet its mission, such as monitoring its programs’ performance by inspecting indicators of success through a database. The database system the network uses is a joint system called Efforts to Outcomes, which MAAC uses to measure all of its programs. To measure success, leaders examine details such as the number of placement moves a child has had in the system. For example, when youth move from home to home often, MAAC recognizes that this may be emotionally, academically, and socially challenging. Knowing this data allows leaders to make strategic decisions about the most appropriate next steps to provide for Georgia children.
In the end, MAAC’s approach to their collective impact is child-focused programs, maintaining youth voices as the epicenter of the network’s goals. Its holistic approach to foster care advocacy aims to aid youth during and after their foster care system experience. Ultimately, MAAC hopes to help youth make a positive transition into healthy, independent adulthood.
Learn more about the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children and other networks in:
Networks for Social Impact by Michelle Shumate and Katherine Cooper – expected publications July 2021 by Oxford University Press.