AOK Networks engage in a continuous improvement process that includes assessment, strategic planning, evaluation, and adaptive action. Every five years, AOK Networks engage in an assessment process to examine the health, development, and welfare of children birth to five and their parents/caregivers using indicators of heath care utilization, health status, child development, child welfare, social-emotional well-being, socio-economic status, and environmental health. Then they use this information to develop dynamic and responsive strategic plans.
Many AOK Networks collaborate with the Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs (IPLAN), Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP), or other local comprehensive planning efforts. AOK Networks bring a specific focus, passion, and data about the needs of expecting parents and children birth to five and their parents/caregivers.
A unique aspect of AOK Networks assessment and strategic planning process is the integration of Appreciative Inquiry as a compliment to more traditional needs or problem-based approaches. This integration allows Network partners to identify needs as well as the strengths and resources that already exist in the community. As a result, AOK Networks develop strategic initiatives that result both from the identification of child and family issues as well as building on what is already working for families with young children.
For example, the Rock Island County AOK Network identified the need to improve their process for sharing information and making client referrals during their needs assessment. At the same time, an enhanced information and referral system was also identified as a project of interest during an Appreciative Inquiry in a Day Summit. Within the year, the Adams County AOK Network began piloting the GP3S Database System with the Department of Human Services.
Based on the findings from their needs and strengths assessments, AOK Networks develop strategic initiatives in three areas.
- Network Capacity: Networks identify and develop at least one initiative to enhance their ability to work together. The initiative may focus on expanding their collaborative skills, deepening their system building know how, and/or strengthening the local infrastructure of their collaboration. By building their Network Capacity they become more effective, efficient, and resilient to changing conditions as they pursue their goals. Network capacity initiatives are often focused on one or more of the network capacity core areas.
- System-Building: Networks can also work specifically on one or more system building strategies for enhancing the system of services and supports. These include, but are not limited to: Early Identification, Public Information and Education, Information and Referral, Service Needs and Utilization, Workforce Staffing and Development, and Local and State Policy.
- Local Child and Family Issues/Priorities: Networks can also identify and develop initiatives focused on any local priority related to the health and well-being of expecting parents or children birth to five and their parents/caregivers. Networks are expected to address child and family priority issues using one or more of the system building strategies. Often they also focus on one or more Network capacity building core areas in order to address the issue. In this way, they address the issue as they also work to enhance the system and deepen their collaborative capacity.
While AOK Networks are required to develop five-year strategic plans, AOK Network members continually adapt their plans so that they can be responsive to changing conditions and emergent opportunities. In this way, AOK Network plans are more “living” than static, reflecting their commitment to continuous learning and adaptive action.
Introduction to Kindergarten: Kindergarten Camp
For several years Adams County All Our Kids (AOK) Network has been struggling with the gap in education services for three and four year olds. Recent cuts in funding for Head Start and Preschool Programs has also made it challenging to prepare children for Kindergarten. Currently over 300 three and four year olds in Adams County do not have access to affordable, quality preschool programs.