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DHS News December 2011   

PDF Icon DHS News December 2011

SOCI is gone, but its legacy lives on

Between 1998 and 2011, the DHS Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) received grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to implement projects—Community Connections for Families (CCF), Partnerships for Youth Transition (PYT), and Starting Early Together (SET)—collectively known as the System of Care Initiative (SOCI). Working with nine targeted neighborhoods during the nearly 14-year period, SOCI served more than 1,000 families and youth from birth to 24 years old, using “wraparound” as the primary practice model for service delivery.

Designed for youth with serious emotional disturbances (SED) who also were involved in multiple child-serving systems, the SOCI grant programs were designed to provide comprehensive and coordinated mental health services that were family driven, community-based, delivered in a culturally competent manner, and focused on family and youth strengths.

While the SOCI grant programs came to an end this year, its accomplishments in the last 14 years are featured in a retrospective, titled “Reflections: Lessons Learned from the Allegheny County System of Care Initiative,” and the impact of the programs’ approach to human services delivery continue to be felt throughout DHS and its provider agencies.

The retrospective is available on the DHS website.

SOCI practices adopted across DHS
Despite the completion of the SOCI grant programs, system of care practices have been adopted across DHS. Some examples include:

Opening up new roles for consumers and family members
Before the grant-funded projects, involving those served by the behavioral health and other human services systems in program evaluation and in the development of products for evaluation was simply not done. The SOCI programs broadened the thinking to the realization that inclusion of family members (caretakers) is an extremely valuable element for promoting and sustaining system change. This practice has since led to other process and policy changes within DHS operations, such as the addition of consumers and family members to stakeholder/peer review committees that are created to read, evaluate and score contract proposals from potential county providers and to inform funding recommendations to DHS leadership.

CANS now used DHS-wide
The Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths Assessment (CANS) tool, first developed and used by the system of care communities, has been adopted as the DHS-wide common assessment tool. CANS is different from other assessment tools because it is a family-/consumer-driven tool that comprehensively rates strengths and culture as well as needs. This tool will be used across child-serving systems to ensure better communication when a family/consumer is served by multiple systems. DHS is in the process of developing a version of this tool for adult consumers as well as for the early childhood population.

Each system of care grant was awarded with an end-date attached to it, and when implementation began, the Department anticipated that the “system change” would also take place during those respective project periods. With the end of the final grant period, DHS now recognizes that putting the system of care philosophy into practice is not, nor ever will be, a time-limited effort. In fact, the process of growth, improvement and development should be continuous and ever-improving services for children, youth and families.
The SOCI programs have provided DHS and its partners with an opportunity to adopt the system of care values and integrate them into the larger county-funded service delivery system. DHS is not dedicated to pursuing these values solely because they sound good or because consumers and families like them, but because the implementation of essential components, such as cultural awareness and youth and family inclusion, produces tangible outcomes that positively influence the lives of those served. 

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