PACT for Families Collaborative

Report date
June 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Data collected from the perspectives of youth, their parents and diverse professionals was powerful in igniting planning and discussion among collaborative county groups. The data was studied by groups comprised of social service supervisors and case managers, school administrators and social workers/resource officers and attendance coordinators, as well as county attorneys, judges, corrections staff, and community partners. Focusing on youth and parent input as well as the focus group information led to a deeper understanding of complex issues and increased communication which had been more crisis-related prior to these structured conversations.
County group discussions were critical to moving forward on responses to the larger issues around truancy and pointed out how the systems in place were sometimes unknown by the players involved or other times got in the way of effectively working towards meaningful problem solving. Using a collective impact approach was important in creating meaningful dialog and in pointing the way to effective responses.
Seed funding helped to expand the groups’ planning and creative thinking. While the funds were not the primary motivator for the meetings, they did provide the opportunity to help participants think about possible solutions differently and open up new options to long-standing problems. The dollars also helped to focus on defined “tasks” that kept the groups moving forward towards a ‘product’ at the end of the process.

Key lessons learned

We under-projected the amount of time it would take for the groups to discuss the issues and work towards completing a plan or project. The challenge of time was increased as we worked with five different county groups in this way. However, we were able to make use of the planning and progress of one group to help improve the process for the next.
It can be demanding for a county group to reach a decision and then act on it. As we met more times than originally planned, there was not always a consistent group; this meant we needed to keep everyone updated (electronically and by reviewing progress at each meeting) related to discussions and plans that were developing. As we got closer to wanting to make some ‘final decisions,’ the variety of people involved and turnover in key positions made this a bit unwieldy.
We were reminded of the challenge of bringing professionals from different service “systems” together for discussion and planning. Finding a common time to meet, using similar terms, balancing different agendas and service mandates, incorporating different people into the conversations, keeping the discussion focused on strengths, and working together to find strategies that could have an impact were all part of the process. Still, it was amazing to see how motivated people (with very demanding schedules) were to explore the source of the issues, especially with data available to guide the discussion.

Reflections on the community innovation process

The “loops” could be taller (taking more time!), and wider (taking longer!) otherwise, no—it is a great diagram of the process—the only other addition may be showing movement such as: you may end up going backwards before you move forward!

Progress toward an innovation

Each of the five participating counties achieved innovation in truancy responses in their own unique way.
Yellow Medicine County used their seed money for a part-time School Resource Officer in the Yellow Medicine East school district.
Kandiyohi County seed funding was used to secure an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow position for the Area Learning Center to support students struggling with attendance; grant dollars were also used to add one more truancy circle (there was already one meeting; a second one was added).
Meeker County seed funding was applied to supporting a new truancy social worker position to address those things that are getting in the way of kids getting school--no transportation, lack of adult supervision when parents are gone to work, etc.
McLeod County funds from the grant were combined with Meeker and Renville Counties to send school teams to the Check and Connect training and to train mentor coaches.
Renville County grant funds were used to support combined positive messaging through banners and posters developed with common themes.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

We believe we achieved many responses that were innovative, but as long as students are truant, it will continue to be a work in progress.

What's next?

This spring we will be tying up a number of the projects started with the funding of this grant. Three counties are moving forward with implementing the University of Minnesota’s Check and Connect program—it is a multi-step project where we now are scheduled to have six professionals trained as C and C coaches. After these individuals are endorsed, they will be scheduling time with the schools in their assigned areas to train teacher/mentors—we anticipate this to occur in the spring and possibly summer and fall. What is great about this approach is that we will have trainer/coaches who can work with the numerous schools to train mentors now and into the future. This will allow for schools to take on the program when they are ready and to create opportunities to train new mentors when there is turnover in staffing. Our hopes are that the impact of the project will be felt into the distant future as teacher/mentors have new tools to work with at-risk students.

Four of the five counties are finalizing their truancy handbooks that outline county policies, procedures, and forms for school staff. In the fall, we will help to sponsor “meet and greet” type meetings.

If you could do it all over again...

We feel our overall plan was sound – the time it took to work through the issues county by county turned out to take longer than we projected. While not quite sure how to change it, the actual selection of responses was the toughest part of the process. In the end, we needed to steer this much more than anticipated, but results were very constructive.

One last thought

This process has been very positive within our collaborative. The conversation regarding unexcused absences increased significantly in a way that led to support of ongoing positions that will impact the responses far into the future. We were very encouraged to see the exchange of information that took place at the meeting that brought all counties together to share what they had been working on and their plans moving forward. We continue to hear from school districts about how they have been reviewing their attendance policies and having conversation within their district on how to better respond to attendance concerns in ways that can have a positive impact on attendance for students. We were also very encouraged to see how county social services added staff through other funding to address attendance concerns, and how they internally made some changes to better respond to truancy referrals. While progress has been made, there will still need to be conversations and planning to forward creative solutions to this complicated issue.