In brief

In brief

  • Today vulnerable families often struggle to solve their problems while navigating fragmented and siloed programs.
  • What could be possible for families if human services systems were to act in a coordinated manner?
  • The COVID-19 outbreak has reinforced why resolving this longstanding challenge is both necessary and urgent.

This piece was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Policy & Practice magazine.

Today’s experience

Imagine a single mother raising two young children who are estranged from their father. While the father provides financial support now and then, the couple’s history of domestic violence leaves the mother reluctant to ask for more. Despite working two minimum-wage jobs, she still does not earn enough to make ends meet. Both of her children have chronic health issues that require subspecialty care, and the elder child often misses school as a result.

This mom is consistently overwhelmed by the demands of managing the family’s daily needs, maintaining housing and ensuring they have enough to eat. Not surprisingly, the culmination of these circumstances and the inherent stressors on this household have led to repeated calls to Child Protection.

This family profiles as an all-too-common demographic, dependent on government programs to meet their most basic needs: food, shelter, health care and safety. Together, they touch Public Benefits, Child Support, Child Welfare, Health, Employment Assistance and Education. They rely on these agencies to cobble together the resources they need—and yet those resources never really solve any of the problems they are facing.

Today’s systems place the burden of navigating the tangle of programs onto the very families who are struggling. This dynamic exemplifies the need for programs across human services to pivot toward a more coordinated approach.

Take a family-centered approach

Instead of asking families to navigate multiple programs, let’s find a way of going where families already appear.

Manage data governance

An integrated approach requires cross-sector governance that promotes partnership, collaboration and appropriate data sharing.

Transition to a family-centered portal

This model will rely on technology. Access to an integrated, easy-to-use portal will be an important first step.

Leverage technology

Let’s apply innovation in serving vulnerable families. This may include customer service bots, mobile alerts and telehealth.

Apply insights

Advanced analytics provide a big-picture view so leaders can redirect and reallocate resources to the most effective programs.

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Tomorrow’s possibilities

Imagine, again, that single mother and how her experience would change if she encountered an integrated model. One could imagine an upfront look into the holistic needs of the family and a plan, co-designed with her and the father of her children, that might get them on their feet.

That plan might involve the opportunity to enroll in training to prepare for more lucrative employment for her and for the children’s father. It might facilitate access to financial aid to minimize the out-of-pocket costs of attending a local trade school, community college or online program. The potential wage increases could create more financial resources for the children and regular contributions from the father.

An integrated plan also might include more support in managing the children’s complex health needs, coordinated with the school so that attendance could be regular and steady. And it might pull together supplemental resources, such as food assistance, that could support the household during a time of transition.

In this alternative model, the family would be less likely to exhaust their resources in pursuit of disparate programs and more likely to solve the array of challenges they are facing.

Let’s start today

Last fall, an integrated service model profiled as a really good idea. The global pandemic—which is having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable families—transitions this idea from "really good" to "urgent." Now more than ever we have a moral, ethical and professional obligation to use our public resources to solve problems for families. All of the solutions mentioned here are available to us now. Together, let’s create a future where this formula is the status quo for everyone we serve.

About the Authors

Gaurav Diwan

Managing Director – Consulting, Health & Human Services, North America

Joseph Fiorentino

Managing Director – Applied Intelligence, Public Service, North America

Jonathan Fry

Managing Director – Consulting, Education Lead

Molly Tierney

Managing Director – Public Service, Child Welfare, North America


Using analytics to improve family outcomes
Using big data to save little lives

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