DSS: Human Services Infrastructure - Q & A

Human Services Infrastructure - Q & A

A Plain-Language Q&A Discussion 

What is HSI? 

HSI stands for Human Services Infrastructure. HSI is envisioned as a coordinated, statewide social service system for people in the state of Connecticut.

Is HSI really needed?

Right now, Connecticut's public-and-private-sector human service delivery system can be duplicative and uncoordinated. The range and complexity of services can be confusing to the average person. Multiple social service agencies may be serving the same person and not even know it. Some people are not aware of federally- and state-funded services that can help them as individuals or families. Outcomes and results are seldom tracked. Layoffs, retirements, budget crises, and closure of several Department of Social Services offices have put more pressure on the system. With HSI, the state and non-profit partners are looking to address these challenges by pulling together a coordinated, outcome-conscious, results-oriented system of services.

What's the overall goal? 

The goal and vision is for a coordinated system of services that helps people access the services they need to gain or maintain self-sufficiency.

Can you elaborate on that? 

We want make sure we can help people avoid public welfare, get off welfare if they're on it, stay off welfare, get into the workforce, stay in the workforce, get help with various critical problems the most efficient way possible, from dedicated staff in hard-pressed social service agencies.

We see HSI as supporting:

  • Better use of existing resources;

  • Connecting clients to community resources before, during and/or after intervention by the Department of Social Services;

  • Getting clients to DSS prepared to use services efficiently; and

  • Coordinating services within the statewide network of 'helping' agencies.

The vision is for a coordinated system of services that people can access easily-whether or not they are DSS clients. And if they're DSS clients in the area of family welfare (Temporary Family Assistance), we want to increase 'front-end' services to meet the needs of clients who face multiple barriers to their entry into the workforce. This commitment is more important than ever because recent legislation lowered the number of available TFA extensions from three to two. The newly-developed Employment Success Program will help in this respect, providing in-depth assessment and intensive case management to TFA clients with multiple barriers.

But aren't a lot of people well-served by the current system?

For many people, that's certainly true. Despite its flaws, Connecticut has one of the best social service systems in the nation. But it's apparent that we need a new framework for managing increased needs during a period of sustained budget pressure and diminished resources. HSI is designed to tighten up the gaps, bring agencies closer together, and better track client services and outcomes so we know how people are doing as we try to serve them more comprehensively.

Comprehensively-and 'holistically?' 

That's probably a good way to put it, too. We're trying to get rid of the traditional reflex of serving people categorically and independently. HSI is moving us toward a more holistic approach between services and between agencies…eliminating those traditional 'silos' of services.

What agencies you're talking about for HSI? 

At the start, there are three groups we're calling key functional statewide partners: · Connecticut Department of Social Services; · Connecticut's Community Action Agencies (CAAs); and · 2-1-1/Infoline

These entities are uniquely positioned to build on their existing successes and expertise to help the state create a more innovative, automated and cost-effective approach to the delivery of social services. HSI was developed as a natural extension of the partnership established last year between DSS, 2-1-1, and CAAs to serve low-income families leaving cash assistance because of the federal 60-month time limit on Temporary Family Assistance. HSI provides a framework for coordinated services.

Is there a role for other social service agencies?

Essentially, all human service organizations are part of the HSI concept--non-profit service providers, municipalities, state and federal agencies, corporate and volunteer resources, faith-based organizations, and university-based assets. We are attempting to bring existing resources closer together.

When does HSI begin?

Implementation begins on January 1, 2004. The first stage involves providing training and staff development for the staff of DSS, 211/Infoline and the CAAs, and installing the new, statewide client and outcome tracking software, called the Connecticut Family Agency Community System (CT FACS) at all CAA locations. Beginning January 1, clients applying for the CT Energy Assistance Program are part of this system. The second stage will begin by March 1, 2004, when we anticipate that all clients entering a CAA program or service will begin to be processed with use of HSI protocols and data testing. Development and implementation of HSI will continue throughout the next year.

Is HSI going to take more funding? 

HSI is primarily a re-focusing and realignment of existing resources in the Community Action Agency network. No new resources are anticipated, as HSI activities can appropriately be funded through specific program expenses for case management, with planning and administrative expenses covered primarily through existing funds. HSI is a new way of serving clients and recording outcomes to document returns on investment in human terms.

You mentioned automation at one point. What's that all about? 

Automated computer systems will support something called ROMA--which stands for Results-Oriented Management and Accountability. It's mandated by the federal government for Community Action Agencies nationwide. Actually, ROMA is a sound management practice that incorporates the use of outcomes or results into the administration, management and operation of human services. CAAs must focus on the outcome-the result or the product-in addition to the program or service. Computer software supporting ROMA is being installed in each CAA agency to support the outcome-based foundation of HSI.

Can you elaborate on what all this is going to mean for clients? 

First of all, people who are not DSS clients would be assisted in finding services in the community to help them to live better lives. This is currently done if they call 2-1-1 Infoline or by happenstance, if people know the right agencies to go to. HSI will enhance information and referral by further integrating it into the system.

People who do need DSS's help would arrive at the door better prepared to receive that help. For example, if they go to a Community Action Agency, assessment, information and referral--and pre-application assistance for DSS programs-will connect them to services in a more effective way, and help them understand DSS processes and requirements.

For people seeking services in DSS' time-limited Temporary Family Assistance program, it is anticipated that special problems and barriers would be discovered and addressed so that 21 months would be enough time to build a foundation for success. Clients would leave the system employed and informed about services in the community to help them maintain independence, connect to helpful resources, build assets, and grow with their community.

What, specifically, will the Community Action Agencies and 2-1-1 Infoline be doing in HSI? 

Staff in Community Action Agencies, like staff at DSS, 2-1-1 Infoline and other agencies, are already working hard to get people the help they need. But they're not necessarily doing it in the most coordinated fashion. HSI should change that. We envision CAAs to become 'Self-Sufficiency Centers'-doing comprehensive intake and assessment; DSS pre-application assistance; direct services; referral to services outside their agencies; case management, tracking and outcome reporting.

As background, Connecticut's CAAs have a nearly 40-year history as the federally-designated anti-poverty agencies. CAAs are locally-based and well-known in their communities. They serve a diverse base of clients/customers of all ages and backgrounds with a wide range of needs. People served by CAAs include everyone from infants to elders, the unemployed and the employed, in-school youth and out-of-school youth. CAAs are governed by boards comprised of representatives from business, the public sector, and the populations served.

2-1-1 Infoline, operated by the United Way of Connecticut, has a strong record as the state's human services information and referral network, dating from the 1970s. In 1999, Connecticut helped set a national trend with the easy 2-1-1 phone contact, on a 24-hour/seven-day basis. 2-1-1 Infoline and CAAs will work together to ensure that available resources are identified.

Both of these partners are available statewide, and both have longstanding contractual and funding relationships with DSS.

What are you calling pre-screening and application support? 

DSS has been working with the CAAs and Infoline to create an assessment, referral and application support system that builds upon these organizations' historic connections to the community and our clientele.

In the system, the CAAs will assess clients to identify potential sources of help, regardless of whether it is a DSS or CAA program, or one run by another agency. Low-income individuals often do not know that they are eligible for some programs in addition to the one for which they are applying. The CAAs are well-situationed to know what is readily available in their own communities.

The CAAs will also provide application support by helping clients prepare what they need in order to apply. Assistance programs have different criteria and methods for determining income, assets and household composition. There are lengthy and complex application forms and various forms of proof are needed.

The CAAs can help clients be better prepared when they interact with DSS. For example, CAA staff can help an applicant understand that when filing an application for federally-funded Food Stamps, her or she will need to bring four recent pay stubs, a birth certificate or other proof of identity, rent receipts or other proof of rent or housing costs, and copies of utility bills. Every client who comes to the doors of DSS better prepared for an appointment will mean convenience for the client and savings in time and workload for hard-pressed DSS staff.

Can you summarize what CAAs will be doing, then? 

If a person comes through the door of a Community Action Agency, staff will assess individual or family needs. Many clients will receive a formal, comprehensive needs assessment. Depending on those needs, the CAA staff member will help the person prepare for the DSS application process, collect the necessary documentation, and help make an appointment at DSS. This saves time and confusion for the client, and help DSS workers in a time of decreased staffing. Clients will go to DSS better prepared, and DSS staff will be in a better position to determine eligibility. CAA staff will immediately refer clients with significant barriers to DSS. CAA staff will assist other clients with applications to DSS programs and services-as well as other services, like the federally-funded winter heating program administered regionally by CAAs. Staff will also work with 2-1-1 Infoline caseworkers to refer clients to services and collaborate on tracking and outcome reporting.

How about some more information about Infoline's role? 

Infoline, operated by the United Way of Connecticut, has a well-regarded, comprehensive system of tracking referrals to services and of capturing demographic information about people requesting assistance. Building on the system developed previously to assist former TFA clients with service referrals, Infoline will refer low-income clients and, where appropriate, will negotiate priority access to services. In addition, Infoline will coordinate referrals to and from the Community Action Agency network.

With the combination of Infoline's database and the ROMA tracking capabilities being developed by the CAAs, we will have the ability to measure outcomes, assess our successes and shortcomings, and make future funding requests and decisions, as appropriate.

To sum up, how would you describe HSI for the average reader? 

Connecticut's Human Services Infrastructure is all about serving Connecticut's low-income, vulnerable citizens and eligible non-citizens in the most effective way possible.

  • It's both a vision and a concrete action plan.

  • It's about improving relationships and coordination between human service agencies in a time of budget cutbacks.

  • It's about giving people help that feels like help in their efforts toward improved self-sufficiency.

  • It's about human service agencies coming together to serve people cooperatively, instead of independently.

  • It's about improving knowledge about and access to existing services and their often complex eligibility criteria.

  • It's about reaching out to people to make sure they know about available services, instead of having them try to discover what's available on a hit-or-miss basis. For example, making sure eligible people know about federally-funded winter heating assistance can mean a big difference in their ability to remain self-sufficient.

  • For those who need DSS's help, it's about arriving at the door better prepared to receive that help, with the assistance of Community Action Agencies, 2-1-1 Infoline and other service partners.

  • It's about tracking outcomes to make sure people are being helped and are helping themselves.

  • It's about making sure the human services system is responsive to people within their cultural context, and sufficiently flexible to meet emerging needs.

  • It's about Connecticut's public and private human service agencies working together to determine people's needs and connect them with available services.

  • Finally, it's about maximizing the effectiveness of taxpayer dollars invested in human services.

Back to HSI main page.

Content Last Modified on 7/28/2008 3:56:32 PM