Buena Vista County has been named as one of the rollout sites for a new Department of Human Services program called Community Partnership.
According to local DHS Supervisor Phyllis Slawson, it will emerge as "a whole new approach to keeping kids safe."
Community Partnership provides for four strategies designed to involve the community in protecting family and child welfare:
1. A shared decision making team will be set up, involving all segments of the community. They will help to identify strengths, weaknesses and gas in services for the local society, and will brainstorm with DHS staff on solutions.
2. An individualized course of action program will be launched. Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to troubled families, this program will bring the whole family and important people they trust together around a table to help social workers put together the plan to help them. Instead of taking a child away in the case of a drug addiction in a household, for example, members of the extended family might be asked where the child could and should live until the problem has been corrected.
3. Policy and practice changes are already underway. The local DHS office is reviewing every step of its efforts with the hopes of improving services, and especially to make families feel more respected by the system.
4. A project known as Network Neighborhood will be implemented in Buena Vista County. In the case of a neighborhood, block or even an apartment building, DHS will work with residents of a troubled area to determine their needs, and then can assist in planning or even seeking grants to make it happen. This could involve safety, law enforcement, support for single parenting residents, or even a playground for kids where one hasn't existed before.
The programs could be an ideal match for Buena Vista County, Slawson feels.
"There is a lot of strength in the people here...but may not know how to go about helping," she said.