There is growing evidence that the conditions of families and children in the United States are getting worse and that this deterioration comes at a time when we are spending more money than ever on family and children's services. Much of the resulting debate is about the adequacy of spending levels for specific programs intended to address these conditions. Relatively little attention has been paid to the processes that are used to make decisions about spending levels, namely the budgeting systems of the federal, state and local governments. Budgeting systems are arguably the most important decision processes in government; and government budgeting systems have grown up to reflect many of the same problems found in the family and children's service system itself: fragmentation, shortsightedness and a preoccupation with process rather than results. The paper explores the notion that the budgeting systems used by the federal, state and local governments are actually part of the problem of fragmented and ineffective services, and that changes to budgeting systems are not a sideshow, but an essential part of, and possibly a precondition for, effective reform. The paper offers ideas about new approaches to structuring and running budgeting systems which could be used to produce better outcomes for families and children in the next year and the next century. What is meant by outcome based budgeting? Put simply, it is the development of a budget that explicitly works toward the achievement of outcomes agreed upon by state and local leaders and citizens. Spending plans are established according to the likelihood that they will result in improved
outcomes for children and families. Such a budgeting process would begin by building on, rather than replace, existing budget structures. It would provide pictures of spending by function and result, in addition to the current agency and program array. It would present the long term...