Leaders' Edge Advisor

Vol. 2, No. 1

Interagency Collaboration - Creating Community

Today in systems of care we look at children with special needs and their families as a community responsibility. The notion that any child is the responsibility of one agency alone is history. Interagency collaboration is a critical aspect of systems of care. In effect, it defines the governance structure of systems of care. From care planning for a single child and family to marshalling the resources of the state to support all activities within your system of care, interagency collaboration is plain common sense. If we are to maximize resources, show cost effectiveness to the legislature and public and individualize services for children and their families we all need to work together. No more should we say, "This is an 'Education' child" or "This is a 'Mental Health' child." Rather, systems of care say, "This is our child" and together go about developing a plan of care that reflects the strengths and needs of the child and family with support from all the relevant agencies, family and community supports.

Why is interagency collaboration important?

  • Children's needs cut across various agencies. (Health, Education, Social Services, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, Juvenile Justice, Developmental Disabilities)

  • No one agency is given either the financial or legislative mandate to serve all children.

  • Creating a sense of interdependence protects programs from being cut when a department is going through financial difficulties. If a governor or legislature favors one agency over another, program management and funding may move from one agency to another, but the system can still move forward because all parties are working together.

  • Agencies can maximize resources if they pool financing, such as Medicaid, general funds and other federal and state resources.

  • Collaboration amongst agencies will ensure that no agency feels they are in it alone, and agencies will be more willing to share financial obligations if they know they have partners.

  • The chances of a child receiving more than one case manager, therapist or other service coordinator is minimized when agencies are collaborating and appropriately sharing information and service needs.

Making interagency collaboration happen!

I recommend starting small; perhaps with a limited interagency agreement that has an end date of six months. If it doesn't work, your partners have a way out after that time. If it proves effective, and I anticipate that it will, you next want to build a one-year agreement, with a bit more investment of staff time and other resources. I recommend limiting agreements to no more than a year. Also you need to be thinking about eventually solidifying agreements that work well into public policy through state statute. This will give the collaborative effort some staying power. Keep in mind also that this is more than agency collaboration; it needs to be open to a fair representation of families. No less than three family members should be on interagency teams and they should be paid for their involvement.

Leadership tips for interagency collaboration

  • Go out of your way to make it attractive for your partners to attend interagency meetings (an action agenda, food, convenient time, reminders of the meeting date, special speaker, have meetings in a convenient place for the partners)

  • Give more than you take. As Gandhi once said "Be the change you want to see." If you are fortunate to have a federal grant to build your system of care use some of the funds to help stimulate and support the collaboration you are hoping to build. For example, purchase services that might not be covered under a federal funding source, pay for the necessary strategic planning activities for your emerging system of care, support conferences and trainings that will move your community forward. Do not ever ask your partners to support activities that you have not led the way in supporting yourself.

  • Separate reality from perceptions. Begin the inaugural interagency meeting by asking each agency represented to go over the legislative or statutory requirements for their work. This activity will begin to melt away the perceptions of what partners are allowed versus prohibited to do and replace it with the facts of what can actually be accomplished.

  • Take a "can do" approach. Move to a discussion of what we can do as respective state, county or city leaders, within each group and together, to help facilitate the emerging system of care.

  • Start with informal, ad hoc processes. One strategy I used was to have local interagency teams send to the state for "hypothetical purposes" cases of children for whom they were unable to implement a plan of care due to various obstacles. The reasons that local individualized plans of care were not realized generally came down to either a lack of funds, a policy glitch or a program gap. The state team quickly worked together to try to overcome the problem. That early no-commitment process soon led to a formal process to actually try and solve issues related to individualized plans of care.

  • Select a meeting chair and ensure that minutes are taken. These roles can be rotated amongst agencies and family members on a yearly basis.

  • Ensure that individualized plans of care processed get sent back to the community in a timely fashion.

  • Use an administrative assistant to guarantee this interagency process moves smoothly and efficiently. Timelines, content of applications, agenda setting, appeal processes, form development, data collecting of the type of service requests, training of new interagency personnel, and follow-through on work of teams all needs to be managed for state/county/city and neighborhood interagency teams to be effective. This position can be located in any participating agency and in some cases is rotated amongst the agencies.

  • Hold twice a year data mini-retreats with the department commissioners to pass on information on the kinds of problems encountered with the cases reviewed. This can have a powerful impact on what goes into the next year' budget and can help forge similar budget priorities for all the child- serving agencies. Legislative bodies really appreciate collaborative efforts. It shows that government is efficient in the carrying out of its responsibilities.

  • Hold an annual meeting of all the interagency teams from the state to the local level, including the individualized care teams that surround a child and family. Great opportunity for data sharing, an inspirational speaker and sharing of successes of individual teams. Furthermore, it is a great team building mechanism.

  • Recently, a speaker at a conference I attended said that the only reason to have interagency collaboration is to make life better for children and families. She was right. Pulling all the key players together for each child and family in need of services and all stakeholders in the overriding system assures that all children in need are served effectively, efficiently, comprehensively and that the system created works as a community rather than a set of isolated islands.

PART ONE OF A THREE PART SERIES ON INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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