Better lives,through better choices.

System Change & Program Development

What is system change?

  • System change are efforts to change (improve) interagency policies, practices, and programs, as well as how resources are allocated. Generally, system change in the public sector focuses on improving how professionals from key agencies respond to better serving community needs.
  • System change first identifies the mechanisms which make the system operate in a particular way. These can include policies, routines, relationships, resources, power structures and values.
  • Systems change aims to bring about better and lasting change by addressing the root causes of a problem and finding solutions through collaboration, leadership, and learning.

 What efforts are being made to change current policies and practices to be developmentally appropriate and enhance interagency responses? 

  • Recognizing problems with current practices, some jurisdictions and states are making efforts to identify gaps, develop effective policies, and create strategies to enhance triage decisions and coordination of care.
  • Missouri determined the need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of child protective services within child welfare when responding to reports of problematic sexual behavior by a youth.  Legislation was passed to guide assessment and follow up assessment of cases.
  • Efforts have been made to better distinguish acts that involve youth produced images from felony child pornography, with legislation passed in the United Kingdom and others being considered in the United States. 
  • Statewide Juvenile Justice Taskforces have been formed to examine the current research and implication to state’s policies and practices. [See State and Legislative Taskforce Reports under Public Policy and Practice].
  • Child Welfare programs have developed specific practice guidelines to address problematic sexual behavior of youth. [See Child Welfare Practice Standards under Public Policy and Practice].
  • Registration of youth with illegal sexual behavior has been significantly questioned. There are efforts to modify or eliminate registration and notification of youth.
    • Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court recently declared Pennsylvania’s law on “the lifetime registry of juvenile sexual offenders” unconstitutional.
    • Juvenile Law Center’s position
    • New York University Review of Law and Social Change
    • Interagency taskforces at the local and state level have been formed to examine and remove barriers to coordinated identification, response, and intervention. [See State and Legislative Taskforce Reports under Public Policy and Practice].
    • States and local communities are implementing training efforts to build a network of evidence-based treatments and trained foster homes to enhance treatment and community placement options.
    • The National Children’s Alliance (NCA), the national association and accrediting body for Child Advocacy Centers in the United States, has a designated serving youth with problematic sexual behaviors, their victims, and families as one of their national initiative focuses.  With NCSBY collaboration, NCA has developed a video training series for professionals, with corresponding fact sheets.


An effective community response requires agency collaboration to plan, develop, and enact a decision-making process to address safety, management, supervision, and treatment of youth with problematic sexual behaviors. Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) occupy a unique place in the child abuse community response, as we are strongly connected to all stakeholders involved in the protection of children."   

—Where Do We Begin, 2017, Page 2


What are some guiding principles for implementing systems change?

  • Understand how the system operates, map it out to capture the relationships, activities, stakeholders, and beliefs or assumptions.
  • Understand the current policies and pattern of implementation in practice.
  • Identify and prioritize key problems and barriers.
  • Find advocates and people with power and influence to gain buy-in from decision makers from key community/state agencies.
  • Collaborate with others and work together towards common goals.
  • Identify leaders who are willing to collaborate with other agencies and take risks.
  • Foster a learning culture through problem solving, reflection, sharing, and adapting.
  • Pilot new policies and practices, within an evaluation structure, to inform continuous improvement.