Our North Star: Transforming Human Services through Strategic Partnerships with Communities


Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families

ACF brings together a wide range of programs aimed to improve the lives of millions of Americans and increase their economic independence and productivity. Our success is only possible through the work of our key partners, including local community based organizations (CBOs), who are critical parts of the larger human services ecosystem. A new report commissioned by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association shares our vision for how we can strengthen the human services ecosystem by joining forces with community based organizations and other partners. We need to align our collective efforts and transcend traditional program boundaries to better serve and improve outcomes for children and families.

Community organizations receive more than $200 billion in each year to deliver services to individuals, families, communities, with less than 20% from the federal government. Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift in thinking about how to work with low-income parents to help them become economically stable. More than 35 states have implemented whole family approaches into state and local legislation, policies, systems and programs. Several states and counties are moving towards integrated human services and health models to deliver care more effectively and efficiently across multiple programs. Policymakers are focusing on breaking down the silos and at ACF we are working on putting people at the center of HHS programs.

To fully realize a vision for a more integrated and effective human services delivery system, the new report highlights a few “north star” initiatives:

  • Commitment to measure long-term outcomes. Measuring outcomes over long periods of time requires consistency in what data is being collected and when, and identifying which outcomes are most critical. One example: the Dakota County (MN) Community Services Administration is leading the way by instituting a common tracking system for outcomes across Departments and with their CBO contract providers, and incentivizing good performance based on these metrics.
  • Investment in capacity for innovation. To continue to improve, human services need to learn about new approaches and technologies including: big data analysis, improving data sharing and outcome analysis, rapid-cycle testing, continuous improvement, and leveraging mobile technology.
  • Strategic partnerships. More than ever, deeper partnerships with government businesses, universities, philanthropy and CBOs are crucial. This new approach may include investments in joint innovation, policy and program development; shared service models; or other cooperative funding models.
  • Reducing regulatory barriers. We need to pare back outmoded and duplicative regulations and clarify overlapping regulations.

Each of these initiatives aligns with work underway in ACF’s Central and Regional Offices. Region 1 is leading an effort to work with all the New England states in partnership with government agencies, philanthropy, academia, local programs and parents to develop a framework for a “Whole Family Approach to Jobs.”

Region 4 brought together federal and community partners to develop a model for seamless services to help individuals get back into the workforce. ACF is working with the Department of Labor and US Department of Agriculture’s employment training programs to support state strategies to integrate services, braid funding, and leverage resources that ensure families being served by multiple agencies receive coordinated and effective help.

We know that in order to truly transform human services, we need to work together through partnerships at the federal-state-local levels and with CBOs in new and different ways.

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