Stephenson County Health Department
Working Together Toward a Common Vision
Located in the Northwest corner of Illinois, spread over 444 square miles, this 95% Caucasian rural community started working to develop its collaboration in 2011. With a newly established Health Department and limited services housed in the county, providers felt it was the right time to begin to work together on a different level to serve the 16,000 residents. Of the 857 children in the county, 53% are living at 200% of the poverty level, and there is very sparse enrollment in programs such as the Child and Family Connections’ Early Intervention and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Our beginning work focused on building the capacity of the network and its providers, as well as helping the community learn about services available to them even though they weren’t housed in the county. In a county where programs are isolated, we have had to work around turf issues to build agency relationships and engage partners in learning about each other’s services, eligibility requirements, referral processes and agency struggles/needs. We joined forces with another community collaboration to share a meeting time and not duplicate each other’s efforts and allow agencies the opportunity to save time and money by attending one monthly meeting instead of two. Out of this joint collaboration, we have partnered and shared materials and marketing dollars to promote several community events aimed at educating the community. These events highlighted early childhood issues such as child abuse prevention, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention, and early childhood mental health. We have had over 200 families present at each event offered.
Through this process of starting a new collaboration, we have learned that we can do more together than we can as individual agencies. We have learned enough about each other’s services that we are beginning to see connections in our programming and offerings. We are building trust between agencies that before did not exist. We are learning new and different ways of working together and are beginning to see the fruits of this labor.
To replicate this process, communities must have a paid staff person with at least 20 hours a week to dedicate to the development of the network including provider recruitment. Communities must be willing to take their time and not force the process. It is not fast work! And most of all, communities must be willing to set aside their personal agenda for the long enough to see the shared agenda. Then success will begin.