Ottawa Great Start nears launch of Whole Family Connection

By Brenda Brissette Mata

OTTAWA COUNTY – It’s been a big job, but the members of the Ottawa County Great Start Collaborative are convinced the Whole Family Connection will be worth it.

Whole Family Connection is an on-line information and referral system that will connect families and services in Ottawa County. The project, established and in place in Florida, is a web-based tool that provides a virtual one-stop shop for resources while also providing critical data about children and services.

Jan Shangle, director of the Ottawa County Great Start Collaborative, said Great Start learned about the Florida project at a conference in North Carolina. 

“It was great timing. They were comfortable with the project and ready to expand,” Shangle said.

The Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Ready for School, the Greater Ottawa County United Way and Pathways MI funded the project.

For months, staff and members of the Ottawa County GSC worked to complete the implementation process. The collaborative then loaded local program information into the system and trained service providers in its use.

Unlike a simple directory of service providers, the Whole Family Connection helps users explore and understand their options, develop an improvement plan, and facilitates the connection between users and service providers.

“A family opens this website and they fill out what looks like a survey,” Shangle explained. “There are questions like: Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? Do you have enough money to pay your bills on a regular basis? Do you have someone you trust watching your child on a regular basis? Have you had a dentist or physician appointment recently?”

The answers help build a "success plan" for the family's use, determining which services the family might be eligible for and whether they need them or not. The family can then contact the needed services or ask to be contacted.

"A person waking up at 2 a.m., thinking about bills and doctors appointments and all those worries that wake you up at 2 in the morning, can just go to the computer and send out some e-mails and check back later,” Shangle said. “No more phone calls at work, no more stress about how to find what you need. It will all be at your fingertips.”

Changes and updates to the system are also easy.

“If dad becomes unemployed or if a family takes in a niece or nephew, the profile can be adjusted. And services for the new situation will be made available,” Shangle said.

The Whole Family Connection is just one more step along the path to collaboration of services in the state of Michigan.

“To make collaboration work, to create a system change we have to be willing to think beyond what we’ve traditionally done,” Shangle said.

“We have to learn how to braid and blend funds. If we just reorganize a little bit, we can create something that is more sustainable.”

The on-line database and referral project is completed but will not go public until after the holidays.

Since October, organizations have been uploading information to the database and learning how to use the system via a “play” site. On the play site, the collaborative’s partner organizations can enter a fake family name and data to see how the referencing works.

“It begins to make more sense when they go in and play around,” Shangle said.

Partnering organizations have signed an agreement to keep all information updated, to support the tool in the community and to get back within five working days to those looking for assistance.

The system is equipped with a report mechanism that keeps organizations informed as to when a family began looking for assistance.

“The checks and balance system is built right in,” Shangle explained. “Consumers can leave a comment if they can’t reach a program or an administrator and that program or administrator will be notified.”

There are reports built into the database so that each organization can check on how things are working with the push of a button. The reports will also monitor demographics so that the needs of the community can be met.

“If we see that no one is using the Spanish version, then we know we have to drive that community to the site. If we families are going in and asking for Medicaid dentists and we don’t have enough Medicaid dentist, then we know that is an issue to be addressed.”

The license holder and fiduciary for Whole Family Connection is the local United Way. Because Great Start does not administer programs, the administration for Whole Family Connection will be at Pathways.

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With free online money by sidd (not verified)