Job Title: Statistical Research Specialist / Lead Evaluator
As an evaluator for the Tennessee Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Don Walker leads the statewide evaluation of grant programs for children, youth and young adults within the Tennessee System of Care (SOCAT). His role is to understand how SOCAT impacts the individual young people and their families who receive services. He evaluates what the state does to implement the system of care principles and the cost-effectiveness of the model. He hopes to show compelling data that using Wraparound in the system of care framework results in better outcomes for children and their families while ultimately lowering costs.
After college, Don started his career as a tech in a psychiatric hospital. Later, he provided organizational development and training within a large electronics company. Following his interest in mental health, Don returned to school and earned a graduate degree in counseling. A position as case manager led him to the evaluation field. Don’s dedication to gathering useful data emerged early. In Fort Worth, Texas, as part of a program working with individuals experiencing homelessness and substance use issues, he distinguished himself by achieving a 90% rate of completion for 6-month follow up assessments.
Today, the program uses seven different instruments for data collection, with a significant portion of the data collection coming directly from the providers. One of the instruments the providers administer is the Wraparound Fidelity Index (WFI), a brief survey that measures adherence to Wraparound principles. Within the SOCAT grant, all providers collect the WFI data on tablets so the data is automatically collected in the HIPPA-compliant REDCap data portal. This efficient process eliminates the need for collecting data on paper and ensures the data is secure. After providers briefly discuss the importance of the WFI and explain that the process protects their privacy, the young person, and depending on age, their parent/caregiver as well, complete the WFI on the tablet privately. Completing the WFI takes about five to ten minutes and is collected one time, six months after entry into Wraparound.
Don and his team regularly send data dashboards to providers so they can monitor their own performance. The dashboard includes things like the number of young people and families enrolled and follow up rates. The dashboard also provides data on the number of children enrolled who do not have behavioral health related hospital stays, emergency room visits, or juvenile justice/adult corrections system involvement. Each provider in SOCAT receives their own data along with a comparison data point of the average results across the state.
Once a year, Don travels around the state visiting providers in each of ten sites currently included in the grant, in order to conduct focus groups. This process allows him to gather important qualitative data on the impact of the SOCAT programs. He loves being able to hear first-hand the stories of the positive changes in people’s lives as a result of being in Wraparound.
In reflecting on his favorite thing about his work, Don remembers the experience he had as a psych tech, seeing young patients separated from their families. “If we do our job well, delivering information to providers helps them to do their job well. As a result, there are kids who won’t have to be separated from their families.”
Don grew up in Nashville and is proud of the city’s reputation for friendly people. Outside work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and their teenage son, being involved with church activities, building wood furniture and working in the yard.