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January 2002Vol. 3, No. 1Getting in SYNC: Agency Responsiveness to the Community

What are the keys to a successful public/private partnership? A teleconference sponsored by the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement in October shed some light on the subject by discussing a public/private partnership between a State division of Social Services and a local mental health agency.

The teleconference focused on a public-private partnership in Vermont between the Barre Social and Rehabilitation Services (Barre SRS) and Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS).

During the teleconference, Don Mandelkorn of Barre SRS and Phil Wells of WCMHS talked about how the partnership has evolved.

Barre SRS and WCMHS began partnering in the late 1980s on Higher Ground, a program to provide wraparound services to juvenile offenders in order to keep youth within their own community. In 1993, the collaboration expanded to include juveniles with sexual offending behaviors and the agencies jointly created Systems in Collaboration (SYNC), an approach to collaboration that relies on shared principles, beliefs, and mission statements; flexible funding strategies; and a clearly articulated, collaborative management structure.

Delivery of services is accomplished through an interdisciplinary treatment team that includes the child and parent whenever possible. Formal grants, contracts, and letters of agreement are used to document and back-up agreements among the partners.

The management structure of the collaboration recognizes the need for communication, respect, and patience among the partners. Roles, norms, and processes for the collaborative are established with the input and agreement of involved parties. Members of the collaborative share equally the credit for the collaborative's success and the responsibility and accountability when the collaborative is not successful.

Wells and Mandelkorn say there are numerous challenges to the collaborative approach. Agreement on treatments and services is sometimes difficult, staff turnover creates a training challenge, and the potential for "paralysis by analysis" due to too many decision makers can hamper collaborative efforts. The advantages, however, afford the collaborative a higher level of coordinated behavior, funding flexibility, and greater continuity of services for children and their families.

Contact information:

Phil Wells, Director
Individualized Services Program
Washington County Mental Health Services, Inc.
260 Beckley Hill Road
Barre, VT 05641
Phone: 802-476-1480

Don Mandelkorn, Director
Division of Social Services
255 North Main Street, 4th Floor
Barre, VT 05641
Phone: 802-479-4260