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Network Combines Human Services

<bt>Twelve thousand residents move to Loudoun County every year, and a few of them likely will need some form of human services.

That’s where the Loudoun Human Services Network comes in by combining 50 government and non-profit agencies under one umbrella organization. Formed in 2000, the network identifies needs and develops strategies to improve the services the agencies provide. Members of the network find out what the other agencies offer and direct their clients to those services as needed.

“We’re not trying to create new agencies. We’re trying to strengthen our existing agencies,” said Andy Johnston, assistant director for community services for the Loudoun United Way and past co-chair of the Human Services Network. “We’re working with existing agencies to improve the human service climate in the county.”

The Human Services Network is a form of a public-private partnership, said Judy Hines, current co-chair of the network. “This is an unusual ongoing coalition. We want both sides, public and private, represented at all levels,” she said.

THE NETWORK had its start following a county-sponsored human services summit in Leesburg, attended by representatives from 38 agencies. Community members and representatives from the Board of Supervisors, human service agencies and businesses attended the 1999 summit to identify focus areas for improving human services, selecting nine as the most critical. The focus areas include affordable housing, affordable and accessible child care, access to affordable health care, transportation, public safety, alternatives for youth, diversity and immigrant issues, services for people with special needs and disabilities, and services for the senior population.

“Many of the populations we work with do not have a voice,” said Susan Jane Stack, co-chair of the Human Services Network with Hines. “The network is going to serve as that, advocating for the programs that we all provide.”

Following the summit, the agencies met again in the spring of 2000 for Interagency Planning and Collaboration hosted by the United Way.

“We had a meeting on collaboration issues between agencies to raise the status of social services,” Johnston said. “It’s really out of that when we started. … One of our key successes was bringing in existing groups under this Loudoun Human Services Network, rather than creating a new group.”

The Humans Services Network places human service agencies under each focus group, combining like services. For example, the affordable housing subgroup includes Loudoun County Housing Services, Good Shepherd Alliance and Christmas in April.

“These subgroups are made up of people who have some stake and concern in that issue,” Johnston said.

“All of these services everybody provides and we know too little about them,” Hines said. “They’re getting the best out of county services. The more we can do that, the better off county residents will be.”

THE NETWORK plans to identify the needs of each subgroup by conducting a comprehensive community needs assessment, likely through a random residential mail-out survey followed by community focus groups. Existing data is available, but it lacks the randomness, Johnston said.

The network has not set a date for the assessment nor identified a funding source. The assessment may be conducted in smaller sections starting this year, Johnston said, adding that he expects the assessment to cost $70,000 to $100,000.

“We’re already seeing the needs growing tremendously, largely because of the growth. The growth is the bigger issue really,” Johnston said.

The Human Services Network meets quarterly at the Rust Library in Leesburg in January, April, July and October. The subgroups meet every other month.