Illustration of animated figures working together and connecting the dots.Care Coordination

Connecting the Dots: Care Coordination

By: Katherine Ramirez

During this time of unprecedented hardships facing so many families, there is also tremendous opportunity for those who serve children and families to rise to the challenge and meet their needs.

Connecticut Children’s 4th annual Care Coordination Forum, hosted by Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination and funded by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, provided participants with two days of virtual learning focused on the theme of Connecting the Dots. During the convening, about 250 care coordinators, social workers, family support providers, school psychologists, nurse managers and others learned best practices in connecting children to community-based services and increasing collaboration across all sectors that impact child health, development and well-being.

Connecting the Dots: A Bold Call to Action

The Forum kicked off with welcoming remarks from Ryan Calhoun, MBA, MHA, vice president for strategy and care integration at Connecticut Children’s, and Paul H. Dworkin, MD, executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s. Both issued a call to action to participants, urging them to be bold in engaging families during this unprecedented time, as many families continue to feel the impact of toxic stress, increased behavioral health challenges, financial hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing racial injustice, social injustice and other stressors.

“I challenge you all to think broader than your specific geographies and the current system that you operate in,” stated Calhoun. “The pandemic has proven that we all can embrace change and do it rapidly to help families. We should build off of that experience and be bold in our approach to supporting families.”

Calhoun encouraged participants to engage as much as possible with families, find ways to implement best practices learned through the Forum in their daily work, and partner with those in attendance to share and implement great ideas across sectors.

“It’s really important for us to not just be reactive when families reach out to us and ask for your support, but be proactive in engaging them, as by the time they contact you, it may be too late to make the change that you want to make,” stated Calhoun. “Be bold. Be proactive. Families need our support. The more we can work together, the greater impact we can make on their health and well-being.”

Similar to Calhoun, Dr. Dworkin noted the challenges families face during current times and the opportunities that arise from such challenges.

“The profound needs of families are evident to all of us,” stated Dr. Dworkin. “We are so mindful of the devastating impact on families of the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion in families’ needs. We are also mindful of amplified calls for social and racial justice in response to tragedies across the nation. Yet, this is also a time of unparalleled resources at our disposal.”

Dr. Dworkin noted progress made at the state and federal levels in advancing care coordination and comprehensive system building across sectors relevant to child health, development and well-being. However, there remains far more to accomplish, he stated.

“I want to be brutally candid and honest with you. With a few notable exceptions, Connecticut is lacking bold, visionary leadership at the highest levels of state government committed to strengthening families and promoting children’s optimal health, development and well-being. We are also lacking the inter-agency collaboration and partnering that is critical for comprehensive system building with all sectors in and cross sector collaboration.”

The Forum will address many of the critical issues currently confronting children and families, such as homelessness, substance abuse prevention, caring for children with complex medical needs, and the impact of social determinants of health on children and families, said Dr. Dworkin.

“I recognize the importance of this audience as an impetus for transformation,” stated Dr. Dworkin. “You are front line providers, managers and organizational leaders. For each issue, I request that you consider your specific opportunity to advance our progress. Come away from this convening with a personal action plan. Consider those who may partner with you in this effort and, perhaps most importantly, hold yourself accountable for your success.”

Connecting the Dots: Inspiring Change

The Forum included inspirational keynote addresses on each day. Corey Best, a community curator with the organization Mining for Gold, delivered the first keynote address. During his presentation, Best shared meaningful examples of what it takes to live the values of belonging, racial justice, self-awareness and reciprocity. He shared his belief that protective factors are magical ingredients that elevate systems and families’ partnerships. He reminded us that we can witness the joy of authenticity and the transformative power of what occurs when we focus on what is strong and invest in hope.

Susan Graham, the founder and CEO of Let’s Build IT, delivered the other keynote address. Graham’s presentation, titled Collaboration: Connecting the Dots, helped participants enhance their collaboration skills. Even though we have all been taught that 1+1=2, Graham brought us through a journey of exploring the possibility that the value of collaborative partnerships can create a result of 1+1 equaling 3 or more, which is an impact that better serves children, families and communities.

Also during the Forum, participants learned from presenters during eight breakout sessions, which included strategies to better help children with complex needs; an analysis of social determinants of health, social risk factors and social needs; and guidance on preventing secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue.

Our hope is that participants learned best practices and new strategies to better connect the dots in serving children and families, especially in this time of great need. We hope each participant felt that they are truly a dot when connecting and collaborating with other sector providers. It is up to those of us who work in care coordination to help break down the barriers families often face in accessing healthcare and support services. Care coordination empowers families to do all they can to help children thrive and care coordinators offer powerful advocacy and support to help ease the burden for families.

Watch the 4th annual Care Coordination Forum here: Day 1 and Day 2

Connecting the Dots: Do We Have the Will?

As professionals serving children and families, we are all committed to doing what we can to ensure children and families are in their best position to thrive. We must transform the way in which we go about our work to truly promote children’s health, development and well-being. We must hold ourselves accountable to partnering across sectors to streamline and enhance the ways in which we connect children and families to services.

As Dr. Dworkin noted in his remarks, “I am fully confident that we collectively have the knowledge, the skills, the processes and the tools to transform our capacity to strengthen families and promote children’s optimal health, development and well-being. The real question is do we have the will? To the extent that we do, I am fully confident that it resides within this audience.”

Katherine Ramirez is manager of Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination.

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