Putting families first--a model for sustainable self-sufficiency: the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services TANF redesign initiative shows philosophy in practice

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Authors: David A. Berns and Trey Long
Date: Dec. 2011
From: Policy & Practice(Vol. 69, Issue 6)
Publisher: American Public Human Services Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,807 words
Lexile Measure: 1300L

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In today's strained economic climate, it's easy to focus on what we don't have. Human service agencies don't have enough funding or staff. Some individuals and families don't have jobs, child care or even basic human necessities. It's no wonder that we dwell on our shortages and prepare our budget requests based on what we do not have.

Legislators and funders themselves look at the deficiencies, especially after hearing so often that they are pouring millions down a black hole. What are they getting for their investment and why should they put more money into a failing system?

We human service agencies need to do a better job describing what we have accomplished with our resources. The resources so generously given to us have made a difference, and more can be done with incremental increases. We can make better use of both existing and proposed resources by looking at the entire system and how we can work most efficiently and effectively. For example, what if we truly put the family at the center of our service delivery model--factoring in all the other supports that can help propel them on the road to self-sufficiency? This is not limited to governmental resources. Families have assets and resources that we are just beginning to tap through strength - based approaches.

Communities are resilient and thriving despite economic downturns. So, instead of focusing entirely on scarcity, we need to look at the abundance of resources in human services: compassionate caseworkers; dedicated volunteers; and family members who are experts in their own unique circumstances.

Strengthening the Circle of Support

If we put families at the center, we must move our agencies to some other place in the model. The "Circles of Support" model depicted in Figure 1 shows that agencies, such as welfare offices, are required only when more natural or community-based approaches are not meeting the need. The choice then becomes more apparent. Do we solve the problem through long-term governmental intervention, or do we concentrate on bolstering family and community supports that prevent the need for government dependency?

When we concentrate on "services" that families need, we perpetuate an agency - centered approach. Services are things that are given to families. They are often based on the assumption that people need our specific package of government - funded guidance to solve their problems. Under this new model, services are just part of an array of supports that result in better outcomes.

This philosophy is different in four important ways:

* It changes the focus from spending money on services and starts investing in better outcomes.

* It ensures that the family or individual is part of the planning process, working with the agency to develop and...

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