Providing the Best Resources for Agencies

"Intuition is like gambling, it may work, it may not," says Gary Parker, deputy director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. "The best of intentions don't always lead to successful outcomes with vulnerable populations. Families are slipping through the cracks."

Parker declares that clients deserve the best care possible, and this is rooted in empirical evidence. The importance of research is at times debated in the classroom. Students ask: Is evidence-based practice relevant to real-life settings in the field? Is research applicable to the populations with whom we work? Parker says yes, and this type of culturally mindful and relevant work is being done at the McSilver Institute through its initiative, the Children's Technical Assistance Center (CTAC).

Funded by the New York Office of Mental Health, CTAC is a training, consultation, and educational resource center designed to assist clinics in their efforts to promote high quality mental health services. This resource comes at a needed time. The redesign of New York State Medicaid and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will result in major changes to the way health care is delivered and in the state's reimbursement processes. Publicly funded clinics need to be prepared for these changes or they could be in danger of closing. These are the clinics that serve the most poor and vulnerable children and families. CTAC is working with clinics to make sure their business practices are sustainable, including providing billing assistance so agencies are reimbursed for client services.

CTAC also assists clinics with improving their services to clients. A key issue is engagement. A common scenario social workers face: Parents will bring in a child once with behavior issues, never to be seen again. "Something is not working," says Parker. Social workers must ask important questions: How do you engage with a family dealing with a mental health issue in a way that will most likely result in that family returning for needed services? If engagement works, how do you ensure the client receives the best mental health services possible? Clinic staff can go onto CTAC's website and access their resources such as "TIES Evidence-Based Engagement" and the "4 Rs and 2 Ss" to learn how to reduce no-shows, provide a multiple family group service model, and improve overall staff training.

The research conducted by the McSilver Institute directly informs CTAC's programs. All research is ensured of cultural competence and meaningfulness by employing a community collaborative research model. In the South Bronx, parents, students, teachers, and community leaders work with researchers to identify the needs of the population, the research intervention, and gather data to refine the intervention based on outcomes. This Community Collaborative Board gives project ownership to the people it is meant to serve. This model provides a heightened sense of cultural sensitivity and truly assesses neighborhood needs.

"Social workers are different than doctors and psychologists because our profession is rooted in social justice," says Parker. Students can utilize CTAC as a resource for research to better serve their clients. Parker also encourages students to get more involved politically. "Vote! The National Association of Social Workers publishes a list of candidates for office they endorse." Public policy needs to be shaped to benefit impoverished communities and people of color. Social workers need to speak on behalf of their clients because more work needs to be done.