Using data to solve our toughest challenges

STEP—Striving Toward Excellent Practice—is a data leadership program that educates and empowers local child welfare staff across the state in order to increase positive outcomes for children and families.

STEP provides the Connecticut Child Welfare workforce with the skills, resources and support to strengthen Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) through data mining, analysis, research, planning, project development, evaluation, communication, brainstorming and effective use of technology.


An investment in time that delivers real-world results

STEP is designed to accommodate a Child Welfare employee's busy schedule. Over 9 months, participants commit to a day of classroom instruction and a day of coaching focused on their office's challenges. Learning in strengthened via web-based lessons. STEP is designed for the child welfare professional who enjoys meeting challenges, facilitating problem solving, and getting to results.

Our Mission

To promote a data-driven and results-oriented protective services process to support children and strengthen families.


The program is firmly grounded in the values of the child welfare agency with a workforce committed to the goals of helping children and their families. We are committed to finding solutions to some of our most persistent problems—both internal and external to the organization.


We envision a statewide network of child welfare professionals skilled in data analysis, working together, sharing strategies, and overcoming challenges. We envision offices that have the capacity to best serve their communities.


Four components provide personalized instruction and accommodate a busy workforce

Classroom Instruction

Multimedia presentations plus large and small group discussions to provide opportunities to learn, share, debate, role play and dialogue. The activities promote empowerment, nurture creativity and strengthen critical thinking.


Participants receive coaching focused on identifying problems and building skills needed to initiate and strengthen CQI. Coaching provides technical assistance in data analysis, research, software, technology, capacity-building, group facilitation and communication.

Web-Based Lessons + Resources

The STEP website provides participants with lessons, links to data, access to research and all the tools and virtual training needed to support a data-driven, results-oriented process.

Sharing + Projects

Participants choose a challenge to solve with on-going support from the instructors. Participants are given the tools to share all aspects of the program, including the development of the local data-driven projects, with their office.


Education continues online with a learning management system

The web-based learning management system provides unique features to strengthen all aspects of CQI including: project management, assessment, planning, data-informed action, evaluation, policy and program research. The website allows the participant to continue learning in their present work environment and supports the blended learning approach, combining web-based instruction and classroom experiences. Web-based instruction supports participants with different learning styles and levels of interest.

State-of-the-art features:

  • Lessons on nine topic areas
  • Multimedia to reinforce topics
  • Links to data
  • Infographics to illustrate key concepts
  • Guide to data mining and analysis
  • Guide to policy, protocol and program research
  • Training materials for local office staff
  • Comments and feedback features
  • Post-lesson surveys
  • Teleconferencing with instructors
  • Complete Course Curricula
  • Evaluation Tools and Procedures

To learn more about the evaluation of STEP and customizing the program to meet local needs, click: STEP Evaluation.


STEP Empowers Institutional Change

Hover over the course topics below for more details on lesson content:

Session 1:
Begin Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Process
Session 2:
Assess Work Flow Strengths and Challenges
Session 3:
Exploring Research and Data Sources
Session 4:
Plan with Logic + Research
Session 5:
Test a Hypothesis + Collect Evidence
Session 6:
Use Data to Inform Action
Session 7:
Evaluate Results with Data
Session 8:
Communicate About Change
Session 9:
Get to Results
Evaluation of Change Initiatives

STEP focuses on quality improvement, promoting racial justice, and reaching measurable goals in all areas of the Department, particularly supporting improvements in outcomes related to case planning and meeting out children's and families' needs.


Instructors and coaches understand the power of data and research

headshotDominic Cappello (Developer and Instructor) is the co-founder of Safety+Success — a socially-engaged design and strategic planning firm. He began his work in public service as a health educator in Seattle's Juvenile Detention Facility and youth group residential homes. He worked for the NM Department of Health's Epidemiology and Response Division and the NM Protective Services-Research, Assessment and Data Bureau. His training and curricula development clients include Casey Family Programs, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Rhode Island Department of Health, National Education Association and Navaho Nation. He has a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Language and Communication from Regis University. Dominic is the creator of the Ten Talks book series on family safety that gained a national audience when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He's also the co-author (with Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD) of Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment. Dominic oversaw the development of the Data Leaders for Child Welfare programs in New York City, Connecticut and New Mexico. He's now leading the design of the nation's first data-driven and cross-sector Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) prevention program in Seattle.

headshotSusan R. Smith (Co-instructor and Content Specialist) works as the Connecticut Department of Children and Families Chief of Quality + Planning. Susan started with the Department in 1995, as the Systems Coordinator in Region 1. She has served as the Statewide Systems Coordinator; a Program Manager in the Central Office Behavioral Health Unit; and a Program Director for both the Contracts Division and the Office for Foster and Adoption Services, where she oversaw the Therapeutic Foster Care Program. Prior to her current role as the Chief of Quality and Planning, she was the Director of ORE. Susan attended Williams College and Duke University School of Law.

headshotSusan Reilly (Consultant and Content Specialist) has worked in the field of child welfare for over 25 years and has been with Casey Family Programs as a Senior Director of Strategic Consulting in New England since November of 2010. She has a primary focus on consultation with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, but also partners with all six New England states. Before joining Casey Family Programs, Susan worked for the Annie E. Casey Foundation as well as having held director positions in two non- profit agencies. Her career has focused primarily on therapeutic focus care, improving permanency outcomes for children and youth, early development, and continuous quality improvement. She holds a Masters degree in Child Welfare from St Joseph College in CT.

headshot Elizabeth Duryea (Coach) joined DCF in September 2012, and in her capacity as Chief of Staff, she oversees interagency collaborations, grant activities and initiatives that assist DCF in improving well-being outcomes for children and families involved with the Department. Prior to joining DCF, Elizabeth worked for the Connecticut Judicial Branch in juvenile court administration since 1997. She later served as an interim Administrative Officer at the Connecticut Supreme Court from 2010 to 2011. Throughout her career, Attorney Duryea has been involved with many of Connecticut’s juvenile justice and child welfare policy reforms, data enhancement projects and other system improvements that have helped our children and families. Some of these reforms include implementation of Connecticut’s “Raise the Age” legislation and development of strategies to better address disproportionate minority contact across Connecticut's juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Elizabeth is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac Law School with a certification in Family and Child Advocacy. She has certifications in Serving Multi-Systems Youth and Information Sharing from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

headshotFernando Muñiz (Coach) is responsible for oversight of the Department's administrative functions including Human Resources, Fiscal Services, Information Systems and the Academy for Workforce Development. Prior to his appointment as Deputy Commissioner, Fernando served as Chief of Quality and Planning, as a Program Director in Quality Improvement and as Executive Assistant to the Commissioner. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and in other management roles at several not-for-profit organizations. He holds a BA from Fairfield University and a Master of Public Administration degree from New York University.

headshot Michael Williams (Coach) is responsible for oversight of the Department’s operational functions, including Clinical and Community Consultation and Support Team, Office of Organizational Climate and Staff Support, Health and Wellness, Education Services, Adolescent and Juvenile Services, Care Line, Office of Performance Management and Change Management. Prior to his appointment as Deputy Commissioner, Michael served as regional Administrator of Region IV Hartford and Manchester Area Offices. Prior to coming to DCF, Mr. Williams served 10 years as Chief Executive Officer of Hartford Behavioral Health and formerly served as the vice-chair of the Hartford Board of Education, the President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Hartford, and as the co-chair of the Annie E. Casey’s Making Connections Initiative for the city of Hartford. He is a graduate of Northeast Louisiana University of Monroe, Louisiana; a graduate of University of Connecticut School of Social Work; a graduate of Trinity College of Vermont; and, a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s School of Business’ Executive Program in Managed Care.

headshotKatherine Ortega Courtney (Strategic Planner and Consultant) has a PhD from the Texas Christian University where she studied at the Institute of Behavioral Research. Her focus has been on improving organizations. Dr. Courtney worked with the State of New Mexico for six years, first as the Juvenile Justice Epidemiologist, then as the Bureau Chief for Protective Services Research Assessment and Data Bureau. An advocate for data-informed decision-making, Dr. Courtney championed the development of STEP to strengthen continuous quality improvement throughout child welfare. She currently is directing initiatives with the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

headshotHeather Labansat (Guest Instructor/Coach) graduated from Texas Christian University with a PhD in Experimental Psychology with an emphasis in Cognition. Interested in applied research, her research developed new strategies for helping people be more effective at goal attainment and learning. Her work with Child Welfare focuses on using scientific methodology to develop evidence-based practices to solve workplace and community problems. Heather currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses for Tarleton State University in Dallas-Fort Worth..

headshotPatrice Perrault (Content Specialist/Coach) has worked in human services for almost 30 years and as a professional social worker for 17 years. She earned her Bachelor's Degree from The American University in 1985 with dual majors in Psychology and International Relations. Patrice earned her MSW from Catholic University in Washington, DC in 1997. Patrice has worked in a variety of service fields including child welfare, behavioral health, homeless youth, HIV/AIDS services, crisis intervention and developmental disabilities. For five years she has served as the Youth Services Bureau Chief for the state of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department. Patrice currently works as a Child Welfare Specialist with the Children's Bureau, Region 3 for Administration for Children and Families.

headshot Chad Shaver (Coach and Software Specialist) currently works with the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare Results Oriented Management (ROM) project. ROM provides reporting and analytical tools for human services agencies for monitoring and reporting outcomes. Chad is currently the lead developer and liaison to both New Mexico and Colorado. Prior to joining the ROM project, Chad spent a decade in state service with the Wyoming Department of Family Services where he served as a data analyst, CQI manager and SACWIS manager. Chad has a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University Of Wyoming and lives in Laramie.

headshotBarbara Needell (Consultant) provides support to public child welfare agencies in the use of administrative data. She recently retired from her position as Principal Investigator of the California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP) at UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare. Barbara graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mills College, with a B.A. with Honors in Psychology. She received her M.S.W. and Ph.D. with Distinction from the School of Social Welfare at Berkeley, and was the recipient of the 2008 Peter Forsythe Award for Leadership in Public Child Welfare from the American Public Human Services Association.

headshotWeihai Zhan (Coach) is the statistician at Connecticut Department of Children and Families where he performs data analysis using different statistical techniques, provides consultation services on research/evaluation methodology (e.g., study design, sample size determination, instrument development and data analysis plan), and prepares reports for the Department and scientific manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals. He received his M.D. in Preventive Medicine from Shanghai Medical University (now Fudan University Shanghai Medical College, China) and Ph.D. in Population Health Sciences with a concentration on Epidemiology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Weihai Zhan's research interests span a wide range of topics in both child welfare and public health, including prevention of child abuse and neglect, permanency and well-being of children in foster care, alcohol, tobacco and substance use/abuse, sexual behavior, and hearing impairment. He has published one book chapter and 21 peer- reviewed articles in many prestigious scientific journals such as American Journal of Epidemiology, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, AIDS and Behavior, Preventive Medicine, and Children and Youth Services Review.  He has also reviewed many scientific manuscripts for various journals including, but not limited to Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, International Journal of STD & AIDS, and International Journal of Audiology. Currently he serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases.




To view the answers, click on the

STEP is designed to reinforce and complement the experimentation and use of data that is integral to the Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) process. STEP participants will receive focused training on CQI, data mining and analysis, and research into evidence-based practice. STEP participants will bring back what they learn from the program to their individual offices, addressing challenges specific to that office, team, or facility.

STEP is designed to empower individual offices to identify the strengths and challenges unique to their communities; understand how data informs local change initiatives; and how evaluation effectively measures progress. STEP provides participants with the skills to solve problems using data, research and technology— strengthening systems change on the agency and community levels.

STEP is designed for child welfare professionals who are interested in data, research and evidence-informed practice. We seek self-directed participants who are motivated to learn, share, challenge assumptions and manage change.

Qualities of successful participants include: being invested in using data to inform practice and decision-making; being invested in CQI; a willingness to enhance communication skills to present the relevant skills learned in STEP to their local office; and an interest in proactively improving agency performance and outcomes for families and children.

STEP is an ongoing CQI process, which will continue to impact participant's work in years to come. STEP begins with a series of training sessions taking place over a nine month period. Participants attend two full days of classroom and coaching sessions per month. Participants will impart the knowledge, skills, and insights they gained with co-workers.

The application process includes getting buy-in from immediate supervisors to ensure that participants are allotted the time needed to invest in the STEP and fully commit to data-informed decision-making. DCP Leadership is committed to ensuring that those participating in STEP have time to dedicate to the process.

Classroom/Coaching Sessions

April 13 9:30am to 4pm
Step 1: Begin Continuous Quality Improvement

May 18 + 19 9:30am to 4pm
Step 2: Assess Work Flow, Strengths + Challenges

June 15 + 16 9:30am to 4pm
Step 3: Explore Research and Data Sources

July 20 + 21 9:30am to 4pm
Step 4: Plan with Logic + Research

August 24 + 25 9:30am to 4pm
Step 5: Test a Hypothesis + Collect Evidence

Sept. 21 + 22 9:30am to 4pm
Step 6: Use Data to Inform Action

Oct. 16 + 17 9:30am to 4pm
Step 7: Evaluate Results with Data

Nov. 13 + 14 9:30am to 4pm
Step 8: Communicate About Change

Dec. 8 9:30am to 4pm
Step 9: Get to Results