How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 1

Quote from Atila in El Dorado County, CA saying "I just always felt behind/I never felt smart" and ""as far as learning went, there wasn't a whole lot of that. i never was able to stay in one spot for one full school year, until 7th grade. really didn't even learn to read until about 6th, 7th grade."

Atila in El Dorado County, CA (from a series of Bellwether visuals)

Young people served by multiple agencies — like schools, mental health providers, child welfare agencies, and community nonprofits — experience a fragmented network of care. In fact, as Bellwether has pointed out again and again, fragmentation across care agencies results in uncoordinated, poorly communicated, and insufficient supports for some of our nation’s most vulnerable young people. And this means they are not getting the education they need and deserve.

We’ve been working on these issues, both as researchers and consultants on the ground, for more than two years. We’ve developed a unique approach to supporting local leaders as they streamline the educational supports for high-need students and break down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels.

Our approach places the education system at the center of all services, acting as the through-line for students. We do this because schools are the places where every kid shows up — education can be the one constant in the midst of chaos.

In this work, we are guided by two key hypotheses:

  1. Continuity of people, continuity of information, and ownership of the work are the key levers for rethinking how care agencies interact with young people. (See our paper, Continuity Counts, for more information about these three principles.)
  2. Agencies’ placement in the administrative hierarchy (for example, state vs. county vs. district) will impact their ability to address fragmentation, requiring us to tailor our approach to the local context.

We set out to test these hypotheses by partnering with three organizations: the Utah State Board of Education (a state agency), the El Dorado County Office of Education in California (a county agency), and the Youth Opportunity Center of the Orleans Parish School Board in New Orleans, Louisiana (a district agency). With each of these clients, we worked for more than a year to break down the silos in their work. At the end of our collaboration, we left each organization with a customized implementation plan that focused on the local context in which they operate and the unique needs they have as a result.

Some agencies needed to think about how they related to and worked with other agencies and partner organizations in their area. Others needed to first focus on making sure they had clarity on how they related to people in their own organizations. Some of the changes our clients began to imagine were about policy, and others were about resources or communication norms. 

Over the next few weeks, we will share more about the details of each of these implementation plans so you can see how we practically approach this work. And we are currently looking for state and local leaders interested in partnering with us to improve coherence and coordination across agencies and departments to better serve young people who experience disruptions to their education. Letters of interest are due by September 30. Please contact me directly if you have any questions.

Read more of our blogging on ending fragmentation here.

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