Methods: This paper presents implementation data from an ongoing evaluation of a new program, Connections at Project Harmony. Connections uses educational and medical settings to elicit referrals for youth in need of mental health care and then connects them with local mental health providers within their community. From the outset, Connections requested a strong, collaborative evaluation partnership that would allow them to improve their implementation on an ongoing basis. Our analyses are thus part of an iterative process whereby we collect and analyze data about the experiences of various stakeholders, including school personnel, district administrators, agency leaders, mental health service providers, parents, and Connections staff. We then share our findings with Connections’ leadership as part of an evaluative feedback loop that seeks to improve implementation processes and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for youth. To date, Connections has served ~300 families. We have collected and analyzed 17 interviews with school and agency staff using a quasi-grounded theory approach and are in the process of collecting and analyzing interview data from an additional 40 parents and 10 Connections staff members.
Results: Using evidence from school and agency interview data, we have discovered that there remains confusion with 1) understanding the purpose of and constraints around the Connections program and 2) the implementation of the referral and service delivery systems. School and agency stakeholders have thus far been satisfied overall with the program, but have highlighted unexpected structural challenges, such as appointment availability, and concerns with engaging parents and families.
Conclusions: This paper sheds light on the transactional interplay of research and practice. By sharing findings with Connections at regular intervals, they are able to inform their ongoing program improvement efforts. The findings also inform the evaluation process, such as guiding successive interview protocols for other stakeholders.