Human Services Council History


A Decade of Change in Fairfax County Human Services

A County Transformed

The 1970's and 1980's saw a dramatic transformation of Fairfax County, its residents, and its government. During that time, Fairfax County became one of the largest, most affluent, and diverse counties in the country, and also began to experience some of the attendant challenges of such rapid growth. The county government mirrored the changes in the larger community, growing to meet the needs and expectations of its residents, adding new services and benefiting from a rapidly growing economic base.

The government, too, began to experience new challenges associated with rapid growth, including a need for clarity in its goals and priorities for the future.

  • In the late 1980's, the Board of Supervisors recognized this need to assess the state of the county and revisit the goals that had been in place since the mid-1970's.
  • In 1987, the Goals Advisory Commission presented to the Board its comprehensive assessment of the state of the county and recommendations for fifteen goals to guide future policy and decision-making.

Creation of the Human Services Council

In its assessment of human services in the county, the Goals Advisory Commission found that the county did not have a comprehensive human services plan to establish, review, and coordinate service needs, resource requirements, funding allocations, and priorities across all human service agencies. The Commission also found that the county did not have an organization to coordinate the plans, priorities, and efforts of all human service agencies.

In response to these findings, the Board of Supervisors chartered the Fairfax County Human Services Council in June 1988. The Council is comprised of twenty citizens who are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, representing each of the magisterial districts in Fairfax County (two of the Council members are appointed at-large by the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors).

The Council's charge from the Board of Supervisors directed the Council to serve several distinct roles in the human services system:

  • Analyzing needs and the effectiveness of the human services system;
  • Advising the system on annual and strategic goals, objectives, and priorities, with consideration for the requirements of non-county funding sources;
  • Enhancing the coordination of services among human service providers, both public and private, and overseeing key aspects of change in the system; and
  • Serving as a liaison to governing and advisory boards of existing human services organizations, and to the community on human services issues.

Looking Back:  Major Milestones of the First Ten Years

In the ten years that have passed, the Human Services system has undergone tremendous change and made substantial progress in the directions established by the Council.

Through such major milestones as the first redesign efforts, the 1995 Community Needs Assessment, welfare reform implementation, budget reductions, and human services performance measurement, the Council has provided oversight, analysis, and guidance to the human services system. The major milestones in the development of the current human services system over the last ten years illustrate both the scope of change that has occurred in the system and the value of the relationship between the Human Services Council, county human service agencies, and the community.

The timeline and pages that follow provide highlights of the major milestones and achievements of the Human Services System during the Council's first ten years.

A Long-Range Plan For Human Services

The Human Services Council's first report, Toward a Long-Range Plan for Human Services in Fairfax County (1989), provided a comprehensive review of human services programs in the county and made recommendations for both immediate actions and further study. The report presented detailed findings and recommendations on fourteen functional areas (e.g., social services) and seven cross-functional areas (e.g., client access) within human services. The recommendations in this report formed the basis for many of the organizational and  programmatic components of human services redesign. The Council also described its future work in developing a long-range plan for human services, which included examining organizational arrangements, developing human services information systems, collecting reliable data on needs, and projecting future trends and assumptions for policy and program choices.

The "Doomsday Budget" 

In the spring of 1992, severe financial difficulties resulted in an Advertised Budget Plan that proposed devastating reductions for human services. The Human Services Council, working with the human services boards, authorities, and commissions, examined the impact of the proposed "doomsday
budget" on the level and quality of services available for the people of Fairfax County.

The Council identified four categories of expenditures/ reductions that were entirely unacceptable:

  • Critical Services that were vital to maintain the well-being of vulnerable residents;
  • Essential Services that were vital to maintain the essential infrastructure of the service delivery system;
  • Necessary Services that were generally preventive in nature; and
  • Desirable Services.

The Council successfully recommended that the Board fund all services in the Critical and Essential categories, fund some services in the Necessary
and Desirable categories, and provide a mandate for savings to be realized in human services through management initiatives, redesign improvements, and efforts to gain additional non-county revenues.

This data-driven, inclusive approach to developing budget recommendations became the model for the process in subsequent years.

Human Services Redesign:  Making a Better Fairfax County

In April 1992, the Board of Supervisors mandated a reorganization and redesign of the human service delivery system to better meet the needs of county residents.

The Council conducted a community review of the April 1993 Human Services Redesign Plan developed by the Deputy County Executive and made specific recommendations for ongoing oversight and support of redesign initiatives, many of which reflected the Council's mandate from the Board. The redesign plan guided the development and implementation of a number of organizational, process, and technology initiatives, as well as a strategy for new roles and relationships among public and private providers, advisory groups, and agencies within the county human services system. Several primary components of the redesign are described below.

A Regionally Based Human Services System

One of the primary goals of the redesigned human services system was to be community-based and geographically located to meet the dual goals of providing services to clients within their own communities and involving the community in partnership.  Regionalization was also a key strategy for ensuring integrated service delivery, along with collocation of staff, integrated access to services, and team-based case management.  Five geographic regions were established in October 1993. The Regional Manager for Region 1 was hired in early 1995 and the Regional Managers for Regions 2, 3, and 4 were hired in late 1996. The Regional Managers have focused on building partnerships for collaborative planning, communications, and service delivery coordination among community-based and public human service providers, as well as the faith community, schools, businesses, and civic organizations.

Over the past several years, many initiatives within the human service system have been implemented on a regional basis, drawing on regionally-based staff from multiple agencies to respond to the strengths and needs of specific communities. In addition, staff are taking advantage of collocation in regional human services centers to further streamline access to services and integrated service delivery.

Reorganization & Consolidation

Over the past several years, a number of significant reorganization and restructuring initiatives were implemented to develop a more flexible, streamlined and responsive organizational structure:

  • In 1995, four social service agencies (the Department of Human Development, the Office for Children, the Office of Human Services,
    and the Area Agency on Aging) were consolidated into a single service area, the Department of Family Services. The consolidation enabled the new department to develop a unified mission statement and performance outcomes for each service area, and to identify crosscutting work to streamline and integrate service delivery and planning.
  • In July 1995, the administrative functions from each individual human service agency were consolidated into the Department of Administration for Human Services, with five administrative "Business Areas" supporting all of Human Services.
  • Also in 1995, the Department of Systems Management for Human Services was created to integrate and manage system-wide processes (such as strategic planning, needs assessment, and policy management) and to develop and manage integrated service planning and delivery across the four Human Service regions. The Department of Systems Management also contains the Coordinated Services Planning unit, providing broad-based client assessments and regional access to county and community-based services via a single service access number for the county (222-0880).

Technology Initiatives

As noted by the Human Services Council in 1993, the success of the new human services system is critically dependent on the availability of information technology. Computer systems have been implemented in the past several years to increase access to client and resource information to staff across the human services system and to provide automated support for service planning and delivery.

The Resource Services System, an on-line database of public, private, and community-based human services, was implemented in 1993. The Inquiry Screening System, and in 1996, the first modules of the ASSIST system were implemented to provide cross-system support for managing client data on demographics, service needs, and service planning. Many state systems are also being implemented to manage client service delivery information, such as the Health Department's VISION system and the Department of Family Services' ADAPT and OASIS systems.

Human Services also made significant progress to upgrade and expand access to information technology to all staff.  In 1994, there were approximately 500 computers available to assist human services staff in their work, and departments had minimal network capability, if any, to connect those computers. In 1998, there were approximately 3,000 computers available to staff, and over 77% of human service locations (54 sites) were connected to the enterprise network (up from 6 sites in 1994). An increase in networking and shared technology is vital to the success of service delivery integration.

A Review of Citizen Participation Needs

In May 1995, the Board of Supervisors chartered the Citizen Advisory Needs Review Committee to examine the citizen participation needs of the redesigned human service delivery system. The Review Committee was composed of a cross-section of leaders of human services boards, authorities, and commissions, as well as members of the Strategic Management Committee of the Human Services Council.

The Review Committee conducted extensive interviews and discussions with members of the Board, agency directors, community-based organizations,
ecumenical and advocacy groups, and other jurisdictions. Through their research, the committee identified citizen expectations for advisory opportunities and made recommendations to the Board on advisory structures at the regional, service area, and system-wide levels.

The committee recommended that the Human Services Council should continue its work as an umbrella advisory group for human services, and further, that the Council should provide leadership in initiating collaborative work within the larger advisory system.

Community Needs Assessment

In 1995, the first Community Needs Assessment was conducted jointly by Fairfax County, the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way, the City of Falls Church, and the City of Fairfax to gather information on human service needs in the community. A survey was mailed to more than 11,000 households, asking questions about a variety of typical human service needs, such as child care, health care, mental health and substance abuse, employment and money management, disabilities, and needs for special assistance. Over half of the households responded, providing valuable information about the types
of human service problems they experienced over the past year, the services they needed or used to help solve those problems, and any reasons why they may not have gotten the help they needed. Follow-up needs assessment activities are planned for 1999, and the next Community Needs Assessment is scheduled for the year 2000.

Guiding Principles For Human Services

Human service needs cut across racial, economic, and geographic boundaries, and may touch every aspect of the community's life.  Because human service needs are often so complex and inter-related, it can be difficult to establish clear priorities among them. In 1996, the Human Service Council adopted three guiding principles for human services, in order to maintain a clear focus on the primary mission of the human services system in Fairfax County:

To ensure the protection of children and other vulnerable members of the community;

To maximize prevention opportunities in order to strengthen the well-being and stability of families and communities; and

To promote self-sufficiency and help families achieve maximum independence from long-term public supports.

The State Of Human Services Report

As part of its original charge from the Board of Supervisors, the Human Services Council was to educate the community on human service concerns; recommend service delivery goals; and review and report on human services needs and the effectiveness of the service delivery system. In the September 1996 State of Human Services report, the Council carried out that charge by providing an overview of major trends and needs in the community; reviewing
the county's strategic management direction for meeting those needs; and highlighting the Council's areas of concern for the coming year.

The 1997 State of Human Services report provided a progress report on those areas of concern and reviewed key external influences on human services policy and service delivery, such as the:

  • impact of demographic changes in the community,
  • increased focus on performance and accountability, and
  • impact of pending state and federal regulations.

The 1997 Report also described the forum on "Charting a Strategic Direction for Human Services," in which leaders of the human services advisory community began to discuss a framework for community outcomes and indicators of community well-being.

A New Funding Process For Community-Based Services

In the FY 1997 Adopted Budget Plan, the Board of Supervisors established a new competitive grant process for funding human services offered through community-based agencies. In response to the Board's request to consider how this new process might work, the Human Services Council outlined a broad framework for the process and recommended that a committee of community leaders be established to develop recommendations for a funding policy.

With broad citizen input and participation, the Funding Policy Committee identified goals and funding policies, implementation guidelines, an annual citizen involvement process, and broad parameters for accountability and monitoring.

Beginning in the fall of 1997, a Community Funding Implementation Team held public forums and reviewed objective data on needs and trends to establish the funding priorities for the FY 1998 funding year. This process has continued annually, and for FY 2000, the funding pool process was integrated with the Community Development Block Grant process to further streamline the county's mechanisms for funding community-based human service delivery.

Response To Community Challenges

The Community Challenges were adopted in 1996 by the Human Services Leadership Team and the Human Services Council to provide a framework for looking at the broader mission of human services.  The Challenges provide an alternative to the traditional agency-by-agency view of the human services system.

The Community Challenges have been used as the basis for the Human Services Performance Budget, as a tool in evaluating the County Executive's Advertised Budget Plans, as a guide for setting priorities for the Community Funding Pool, and as the framework for the 1999 State of Human Services report and community outcomes efforts. The seven Community Challenges are as follows:

Challenges in the Community

  • Providing assistance to:
    • Promote independence;
    • Ensure the availability of safe, affordable housing;
    • Support families and individuals in crisis and prevent abuse and neglect;
    • Respond to threats to public health;
    • Respond to crime in the community; and
    • Address alcohol, drug, physical health, and mental health issues.
  • Providing community-wide and targeted supports to:
    • Prevent social isolation; and
    • Prevent neighborhood deterioration.

Human Services Performance Budget

Since its inception, the Human Services Council has championed a more comprehensive approach to analyzing and presenting the county's investment in human services. The Council has also championed a focus on performance for individual services and the system as a whole.

In the early 1990's, the Council and staff developed a series of Human Services Program Budgets as a tool to view the human services budget for each agency along program lines, as opposed to by cost centers and individual funding streams. In 1997, the Council sponsored the development of the Human Services Performance Budget, which illustrates how the human services system as a whole responds to challenges in the community and works towards a desired quality of life. For example, the Performance Budgets for FY1998 and FY1999 look across multiple agencies to identify services that have related
objectives and performance targets, regardless of the agency that provides the service.

The Performance Budgets are organized by seven shared Community Challenges, and contain comprehensive information on performance and on funding from state, local, federal, and other sources.

Implementing Welfare Reform: Fairfax Works!

In addition to the areas mentioned above, the Council has played an important oversight role for several major policy issues in human services. With the April 1996 implementation of welfare reform in Fairfax County (VIEW - Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare, or Fairfax Works), the Council
expressed concern about the need for long-term monitoring and follow-up to ensure that families affected by welfare reform have the skills and support to be truly independent. The Department of Family Services began a three-year evaluation study, funded with state and federal resources, to measure the results of the Fairfax Works program and to conduct longer-term evaluation of program participants. Members of the Human Services Council worked closely with staff to oversee the implementation of this effort.

Task Force On Child Welfare

Along with prention and self-sufficiency, one of the Council's three guiding principles for human services is the protection of children and other vulnerable members of the community.

In 1996, members of the Human Services Council expressed concern that the cumulative effect of fiscal pressures across the county, especially in Human Services and the schools, would diminish the community's capacity to meet its obligation to its children, and that the real impact of this loss would not be seen until it was too late. To address this concern, the Council formed a task force to review the county's response to sharp increases in child protective services and foster care caseloads. They reported on their findings and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, resulting in the redeployment of staff to Child Protective Services. The Council's task force also supported efforts to strengthen multi-agency collaboration and study multi-cultural issues in child welfare.

Encouraging Community Partnerships

From its inception, the Human Services Council has recognized the desirability of coordinating the array of services designed to address the human service challenges in the Fairfax community.  Whether services are provided by county agencies or by community-based organizations, whether funded by the United Way or by the county, services are most efficient and effective if the are coordinated. Therefore, from the Community Needs Assessment to the Human Services Performance Budget, the Council has played an active role in sponsoring the development of informational resources and promoting relationships which build partnerships between and among public and community based providers of human services.

The Council has also played an important role in developing these partnerships by creating various forums and processes where organizations can work together in areas of common interest. Among the many examples of the Council in this capacity is the "Charting a Strategic Direction for Human Services" forum which the Council hosted in late 1997. The forum brought together representatives from human services advisory groups, the county school system, public safety, the United Way, and county government. The objective of the forum was to explore ways in which we could identify and
build agreement around desired community outcomes which could then serve as a basis for collaborative action to address human service needs.

In all facets of its work , the Council recognizes the essential requirement to involve community based organizations and others as partners in a true community-wide human services system.

Strategic Directions for FY 2000 and Beyond

In late 1998, the Human Services Council began an eight-part series on Community Challenges for Fairfax County Human Services.  The series, sponsored by the Human Services Council and presented by the Human Services Leadership Team, provided an overview of the seven Community Challenges and collaborative efforts to address those challenges. The series started in October and ended in February 1999 with a discussion of the County Executive's Advertised Budget for FY 2000. The purpose of the series was to give a broad overview of Human Services issues, needs, gaps in services and
the strategic relationship between the advertised budget and current Human Services strategies for meeting community challenges. The series was designed to provide Council members, members of boards, authorities, and commissions, and members of the community with a deeper understanding of all the challenges facing human services, in preparation for making budgetary recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The series will culminate in the 1999 State of Human Services Report, which will present the major crosscutting strengths and gaps in the human services response to the Challenges and will analyze the major trends and issues facing the human service system in the coming years.

As the Council prepares to enter its second decade, it will continue to guide the County in taking an analytical and data-driven approach to human services. The Council will also focus attention on its role as a liaison, seeking involvement and sharing information with the community through human services boards, authorities, and commissions, community-based organizations and advocacy groups.  Just as the human services system continues to evolve in response to changes in the community, so will the Council continue to evolve and build upon the foundation of its work of the past ten years.


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