21, No. 3
NC's Five-County Project: Strategies for Successful Collaboration between Child Welfare and Mental Health
Ensuring the safety, permanence, and well-being of children is too big a job for one agency or one service system alone. Success depends on our ability to collaborate across multiple sectors.
Fortunately, there are many groups in North Carolina working to better coordinate services to children and families involved with child welfare. The Five-County Project, which is active in Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Vance, and Warren counties, is one such effort.
The Five-County Project
After it began in 2013, this multidisciplinary team went through a process of reviewing data, identifying problem areas, and prioritizing strategies to increase placement stability for children in care. In the hope of supporting other cross-organizational efforts, here are some strategies this team has found useful on its journey.
Example: After reviewing relevant data, DSS agencies from the five counties and their managed care organization (MCO) agreed reducing placement disruptions was an important shared concern. They reached this conclusion because they all understood the harmful impact disruptions can have on children. Additionally, everyone had other "pain points" that placement disruptions contributed to, including:
Although it is necessary and helpful to acknowledge these very real challenges, the group found that frequent reminders about their primary goal kept them from getting sidetracked by struggles with these "pain points."
Example: One of the first things the Five-County team did was map each organization's process for referring children to receive mental health assessments and services. This "process mapping" revealed differences in language, documentation, and child and family team (CFT) requirements. This, in turn, helped the team zero in on gaps and identify ways to improve processes.
Once a solution is identified, however, you need small groups focused on specific tasks. The composition of these small groups matters. So do the parameters of their work: the larger group must always have an opportunity to provide feedback and input on small group efforts. Communication must be two-way.
Example: At the beginning of the project the team collected, analyzed, and discussed data related to placement stability to help it decide about goals, outcomes, and action steps. However, it did not use a small group to assist with this. As a result, the process took an unnecessary amount of time and frustrated group members, who were ready to move forward with action planning. A lesson learned here was that the process of data mining would have been better delegated to a small group while the larger group focused on other tasks.