Friday, March 08, 2013

We Can't Keep the Status Quo:The Mayor's Plan for Health and Human Services

Last week DCAYA and a number of fellow advocates met with Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services BB Otero to discuss current priorities for the Health and Human Services cluster, as well as possible uses for current and future revenue surplus and the District’s sequestration plan. Our friends over at DCFPI already have a great explanation of what’s going on with this year’s revenue surplus and with sequestration up on their blog, so we thought we would report out on what was said about the plan for the agencies overseen by Deputy Mayor Otero.

To begin, the Mayor’s plan for Health and Human Services for the rest of 2013 and 2014 has two main goals: 1) Create Integrated Services and 2) Improve the  Quality of Practice. Both of these things are great areas to focus on given that this cluster includes agencies that serve some of the District’s neediest populations (DHS, CFSA, DYRS, DMH, DOH), but what do “integrated services” and “improved quality” really mean? Keep reading for some insight!

1) Integrated Services:  This is something we hear a lot about but do not necessarily see very often from our government partners, which is troubling, but hopefully rectifiable. In last week’s blog post we talked a little bit about the need to look at homeless youth across a continuum of programming and services, and this is exactly what “integrating services” means.  We need systems and supports that recognize when individuals and families are at a high-risk for a negative outcome (like homelessness or extended unemployment) and intervene proactively so negative outcomes do not begin to snowball. Our current system is one in which individuals and families have to hit rock bottom to obtain support (e.g. homeless families at DC General) and this system is not doing the District any favors.

Mayor Gray’s plan for integrating services also envisions a system where we do not punish  individuals or families who seek support by forcing them to navigate a tangled web of enrollment and case management that makes sense to almost no one. A major goal within the plan is that families or individuals involved with multiple services or agencies (TANF, CFSA, DHS, DYRS) will be able to work with a single service team that supports them in navigating each of these systems and their respective requirements/case plans. While shared intake and case management will take a lot of time and planning to implement, it is assuredly a step in the right direction and we applaud the administration’s dedication to easing the burden we place on those in need.

 2) The Focus on Quality of Practice: The term quality may seem straight forward, but it leaves a surprising amount open to interpretation. In Mayor Gray’s terms though, improving the quality of practice at District agencies means a few things. First it means that there will be a renewed focus on staffing quality and professional development for frontline workers (the ones who actually deal with people). For instance, the positive youth development framework and advancing youth development training offered by CYITC are currently being conducted with agencies like MPD School Resource Officers. Expanding this training to include staff at DPR, CFSA and DHS will ensure that staff is equipped with the skills needed to work effectively with youth.

The focus on quality improvement also extends to data collection. Efforts are currently underway in agencies to developing internal dashboards with agreed upon performance metrics that identify if/when interventions are having a positive impact. This effort is actually very similar to what is going on in the education world with SLED. Lastly, we all know that quality is not just the responsibility of individual agencies but also those they chose to partner with. As a part of quality improvement for agency partners and contractors, agencies are now working with Deputy Mayor Otero to reexamine contracts with external vendors to ensure that previously awarded contracts  are appropriate for the needs of the agency  and that contracts are actually leading to intended agency goals.

Given these two focus areas, Mayor Gray and Deputy Mayor Otero should be proud of the plans they have put forward to strengthen the city’s service provision. Simplifying access, prioritizing prevention and elevating quality are all interventions that will have a direct and meaningful impact if both our District agencies and their partners are ready and willing to implement true reforms. It is important to recognize though, that plans are just that and it is the responsibility of the advocacy community (as well as our agency partners) to ensure that these plans turn into action.

This blog post was written by DCAYA’s Executive Director Maggie Riden.

For more information on DCAYA and our policy/advocacy work, please visit our website.

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