The Rollout of Employment Services Transformation in Haldimand-Norfolk
By Stephanie Rice
It is said that change is the only constant, and that has certainly been the case in social assistance. Add to the mix a pandemic, and well, I am sure you get the picture.
As one of the prototype locations for Employment Services Transformation (EST), it has been nearly a year since the roll out in Haldimand-Norfolk.
EST is the first major step of the Social Assistance (SA) transformation that we have experienced, quickly followed by centralized intake in February. We know we are in the first stages of an ongoing transformation which is mapped to take us until 2024.
To simplify our journey so far, I have provided some highlights of the positives, the challenges, and lessons we have learned along the way so when your municipality is ready to implement this process you can learn from Haldimand-Norfolk:
- The SA transformation provides us with a clearer understanding that the role of the CMSM is life stabilization. EST has allowed us to begin focusing on what this looks like for our CMSM and our communities.
- We have a better notion of what service integration could look like as the future begins to take form.
- New/stronger working relationships with our local ODSP office and our Employment Ontario (EO) providers.
- Difficult to fully embrace a life stabilization focus whilst continuing to manage financial assistance eligibility.
- Staff anxiety related to job loss and what the next steps in the transformation will be.
- Budget reductions associated with EST resulted in a decrease in funds for available for clients to support them with their goals.
- Initial uncertainty on when to refer a client to EO and who was referral ready.
- Targets and goal setting: We do not yet have all the required data; it is challenging to set outcomes in a new model.
- Limited community resources and services for those seeking life stabilization supports.
- Client communication could have been better organized by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and our CMSM. The changes caused confusion for clients; the why was hard to explain. In order to allow time for our case managers to explain the new process to our clients, we offered the full amount of ERE for the first quarter, despite budget reductions. We also had several of our previous employment supports staff assisting with client transition.
- Better preparedness for staff. Many on our team say the job has changed a great deal and feel a sense of change saturation.
- Prior learning by the Service System Manager(SSM) of OW processes and services, and vice versa. Although there was engagement prior to EST, it could have been more fulsome. Specifically a better shared understanding of each program and how we work with clients.
- Integrated case management is a key facet of OW working with EO to support our clients. This concept is not as well defined as it needs to be and is a key focus as we move to 2022. Locally we are working with our SSM to help clarify the expectations for staff and we have requested the Ministry support us with as well.
Things we would have done differently:
- Get communications out to clients and prior understanding of the programming of EO.
- Better training and preparedness for our staff. There were training materials provided prior to launch but we weren‘t as prepared as we could have been.
- Would have preferred to not have begun Central Intake a month after EST began. Too much change at once that left us feeling overwhelmed and underprepared.
It can be challenging to accept change, especially when the uncertainty of what that means for your work and your job security is embedded in the changes. Knowing that the SA transformation journey will continue to 2024 is both comforting and daunting at the same time. We have learned a lot over since the roll out began. While there were mistakes made and opportunities missed, we have certainly worked hard to continue to serve our clients and to prepare for, and evolve with, change as much as possible.