White House Council Acknowledges Herkimer County as One of Twelve Communities Making Positive (Needle Moving) Change
The White House Council for Community Solutions has acknowledged Herkimer County for its collaborative planning initiative that has improved the lives of at-risk children and their families and made a positive impact on the community.
In December 2010, President Obama created the White House Council for Community Solutions to demonstrate the power of engaging "all citizens, all sectors working together" to improve the lives of youth. With First Lady Michelle Obama as Honorary Chairperson, the council draws on a diverse group of national leaders to connect communities with resources and strategies that will continue to help them effect positive change. The Council decided to look beyond individual programs showing success with limited populations and instead examined communities that are solving problems together in a way that improves results for the whole community.
"Communities face powerful challenges that require powerful solutions. In a climate of increasingly constrained resources, those solutions must help communities to achieve more with less. A new kind of community collaborative—an approach that aspires to significant, community-wide progress by enlisting all sectors to work together toward a common goal—offers enormous promise to bring about broader, more lasting change across the nation."
The White House Council for Community Solutions, working with the Bridgespan Group, researched over 100 successful community collaboratives across the country and identified twelve exemplary ones which have achieved needle-moving change and are making further strides in solving critical social issues.
The twelve exemplary communities include:
- Atlanta, Ga.
- Boston, Ma.
- Chicago, Ill.
- Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky
- Herkimer County, NY
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Milwaukee, Wis.
- Nashville, Tenn.
- Orlando (Parramore), Fla.
- Philadelphia, Pa.
- San Joaquin County/Stockton, Ca.
- San Jose, Ca.
The Council's research found, in addition to sharing a commitment to needle-moving change, these collaboratives had the following core elements that contributed to their success:
- Effective leadership and governance, with highly respected leaders at the helm who are viewed as neutral, honest brokers and who attract and retain a diverse group of large and small organizations to guide the collaborative forward;
- Shared vision and agenda, in which leaders from government, nonprofit, law enforcement and education develop measurable community-wide goals and a clear road-map to achieving them;
- Alignment of resources toward what works, where nonprofits, government, philanthropy, and business work together to target efforts and resources toward the most effective approaches and services;
- Dedicated staff capacity and appropriate structure to provide the facilitation, data analyses, and administration needed for success;
- Sufficient funding and resources to maintain staff and invest in the strategic priorities of the collaborative.
Herkimer County Initiative – Focused on Results
The Herkimer County Integrated County Planning (ICP) initiative began in 1998 when Herkimer County won a five-year grant from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to establish an integrated county level planning process that improved outcomes for children and families and maximized resources. A Strategic Planning Coordinator was hired to lead data collection efforts, facilitate meetings and keep the collaborative running. Since 1998, the leaders of government, health, mental health, human and social service delivery entities, school officials, law enforcement and community representatives have come together to discuss priority issues, improve coordination and collaboration, reduce duplication of efforts and make more efficient use of funds.
Herkimer County's ICP teams actively review community level data to identify needs and develop service priorities. Initially, ICP focused on five risk factors: economic deprivation, family management, family conflict, at-risk youth behaviors and the needs of the birth-to-age-five population. ICP researched best practices and developed comprehensive plans to address service gaps. Over time, Herkimer County added bullying and youth violence as priorities in addition to its focus on youth in general.
One ICP priority issue highlighted in the White House Council's report was the effort to address rising levels of at-risk youth placed in residential facilities, an intervention that experts have shown to be costly and less effective. In response to this issue, Herkimer County blended resources from the Department of Social Services, Probation, the Youth Bureau and Mental Health to create the Family Support PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) program in 2003. This program provides a combination of counseling, probation, preventive strategies and family support services which allows youth to remain in their homes and communities. Herkimer County collaborated with a nonprofit agency, Family Services of the Mohawk Valley (now the Center for Family Life and Recovery), to provide these services.
Herkimer County's most recent effort is the Return Home Early Project, which was established in 2008. Consistent with best child-welfare practices, the project identifies children in residential facilities who would be better served by intensive community-based services in their homes. The initiative includes Herkimer County's Department of Social Services, Kids Herkimer (a nonprofit providing support to families with at-risk youth) and collaborates with placement facilities, families, Family Court, school districts, and community partners. The intent is twofold: to provide services to children and families in their homes and communities (in lieu of expensive residential facilities) and to realize better results.
Herkimer County ICP's long-term commitment has paid off. The total number of children in foster care fell from a high of 138 in May 2003 to 64 in December 2011, which is the lowest in-care number recorded in the past 20 years. In parallel, Herkimer County significantly reduced costly juvenile placements in residential facilities through a series of coordinated interventions such as Kids Herkimer and the Family Support PINS Diversion Program, resulting in a savings of approximately two million dollars.
Continued Commitment to Goals
Bolstered by its early successes, Herkimer County was able to keep the ICP initiative running after the state grant ran out in 2003. Jim Wallace, Herkimer County Administrator, remains actively involved in leading the initiative and serves as ICP's legislative liaison, which has helped to earn the Herkimer County Legislature's backing by reporting on the collaborative's significant outcomes and money saved. While other New York State communities had to modify their efforts when funding ran out in 2003, Herkimer County was able to push forward with the support of the Herkimer County Legislature and have found scarce county revenues to sustain Integrated County Planning to this day. ICP's proven impact, broad-based legislative support and lean management structure were instrumental in securing these ongoing sources of funding. "This initiative would not be successful without the ongoing support of the Herkimer County Legislature and the involvement of dedicated individuals from across all sectors including government, nonprofit agencies, law enforcement, schools districts and the community" Chairman Vincent Bono stated.
One coming challenge for Herkimer County is to further refine its data collection efforts. At the start, Herkimer County ICP set up an extensive data collection effort with the help of Communities That Care, a research-based system focused on risk factors that contribute to youth problem behaviors, and with Herkimer County HealthNet, a rural health network funded by the NYS Department of Health. As a result, the collaborative has published the Herkimer County Risk Assessment Profile every three years since 2000. The Profile includes over 800 community data measures and is used to help identify priority needs and develop service priorities. But to add more rigor to its measurement, the team is now utilizing funding allocated to the Herkimer County Youth Bureau by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services to formalize its evaluation capabilities and revisit its metrics.
Resources for Communities
The White House Council for Community Solutions has made a variety of resources available as the result of their research. The Community Collaboratives Toolbox has been developed to empower communities to explore a new kind of long-term, cross-sector collaborative that takes advantage of data-driven decision-making. As communities must help more citizens with fewer resources, the kit provides the case studies of the twelve effective collaborative efforts in diverse communities as they tackle complex issues, from violence to low graduation rates. The toolbox was created by the Bridgespan Group in coordination with FSG (Foundation Strategy Group) and is available for download on the White House Council's Resources page at www.serve.gov/council.
To view The White House Council's report on Herkimer County's Collaborative Effort prepared by The Bridgespan Group, click here.