Building Better Programs

Executive Function News – August 2015

Using Executive Function Principles to Build More Effective Employment and Human Service Programs

In This August 2015 Issue

Executive Function and Scaffolding

Previous WebinarUsing an Executive Function-Informed Goal Achievement Framework to Redesign Employment and Related Human Service Programs (Recorded)

Resource of the Month: Crittenton Women’s Union’s Bridge to Self Sufficiency

Executive Function and Scaffolding

“Scaffolding” is a practice that is used often in executive-function-informed practice, especially in education settings for students with learning disabilities.  It is equally relevant, but rarely used, in employment and related human service programs. Scaffolding refers to the practice of facilitating an individual’s ability to solve a problem, complete a task or achieve a goal that they cannot complete without some assistance.  It involves  breaking tasks into smaller steps and providing tools and supports to help an individual achieve each step. Scaffolding may also involve providing environmental modifications to compensate for weak executive function skills or allow a person to practice her skills in an environment that facilitates success. 

  • Scaffolding decreases the initial demand, real or perceived, when beginning a new task. Task demands are greatest when they are new or unfamiliar or if the person does not have or does not believe she has the resources—past experiences or skills—to complete the task.    Breaking the task into small steps can help facilitate success.  For example, to lower the demand of securing child care, especially for someone who is fearful of leaving their child in someone else’s case, caseworkers can break the task down into several steps and provide guidance where necessary. The first step could be to collect documentation, and step two could be to apply for child care assistance or to visit a few child care centers to find a good fit.
  • Scaffolding is designed to be temporary with more support provided in the early stages of skill building. The support can be gradually faded over time as the individual gains more experience and demonstrates the ability to independently use the skill.   Clients new to a goal achievement process may require more support than a client who has achieved several goals already.  Staff often underestimate the initial level of support needed and often don’t assess the individual’s independent ability to use the skill as the essential criterion for deciding when to reduce the support provided.  Withdrawing support too early for fear of enabling or creating dependency can result in the individual failing and undermining their confidence in their ability to achieve success. 

Previous Webinar

Using an Executive Function-Informed Goal Achievement Framework to Redesign Employment and Related Human Service Programs
Presenter: LaDonna Pavetti, Vice President of Family Income Support at CBPP

Pavetti discusses why we should focus on Goal Achievement and says it is a new approach to service delivery that is grounded in science and shifts the emphasis from what we do to what we achieve and how we achieve it. She highlights the steps in the Goal Achievement process–goal setting, planning, acting, and review/revising–and each step’s associated executive functions. An EF-informed, Goal Achievement Framework is different in from current front line practice in several ways:

  • Assessment with a purpose – what is going to get in the way of success
  • More explicit emphasis on goal setting and achievement — how goals are set matters
  • More intentional and specific approach to planning — break goals down into manageable steps with a specific plans for achieving them
  • “Living” plans that are regularly reviewed and revised
  • Different approach to providing support — creating “scaffolds” that break tasks into small steps

Watch a recording of the webinar and view a copy of the slides here.

Resource of the Month

Crittenton Women’s Union’s Bridge to Self Sufficiency – Scaffolding to Self Sufficiency
Crittenton Women’s Union’s Bridge to Self Sufficiency is a multi-faceted approach to economic mobility. Not only is it their theory of change, it represents clear program requirements and expectations. In terms of scaffolding, the bridge breaks down each of their five pillars to self sufficiency into smaller chunks, allowing clients to see where they are and the steps it will take to move them towards self sufficiency. Coaches work with clients to break down the steps further and provide guidance and support to moving along the bridge towards the clients’ goals.   

Bridge to Self Sufficiency