'Everyone needs to be heard' agency's credo

May. 24, 2014 @ 01:20 PM

(((((overline))))Social Services Today



This is the second in my six-part monthly series highlighting the Six Principles of Partnership which guide the work of Durham County Social Services.  The second principle--"Everyone needs to be heard" -- is a crucial element in DSS employees' day-to-day interactions with one another, our clients and our community partners.

In Stephen R. Covey's best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the fifth habit is “seek first to understand, and then be understood.”  DSS is working to build on many already-existing good practices that put the community and its needs at the center of our way of working.   Staff and the DSS Board members are active members of the Durham community; being visible and present in discussions about the needs of community has allowed Social Services to demonstrate that we have heard where we need to focus our attention. 

Recently, the DSS board and director worked to develop a set of priorities that will focus the energy of Social Services leadership and staff on the needs of the people we serve.    The new priority areas for DSS are: early childhood education, support for aging adults, homeless services, healthcare and youth engagement.

Focusing our efforts and time will allow DSS to be in places where we will hear and more effectively understand the needs of our clients.  Providing this level of attention allows DSS staff to represent the agency in forums where the needs of our client population are being discussed and interventions being planned with members of the community.   These priority areas allow us to be in places to hear directly from our clients and community partners. 

Using our priorities to be involved in community based discussions about how DSS can be more involved is a more global way that we want to ensure that everyone is heard.   While at the agency level, social services employees are a group that sees themselves as helpers.  In order to that we must take the time to provide respectful services.   To provide family-centered services we take the time to actively listen to our customers -- this allows us to be certain that we are providing the most effective service at the right time. 

We have taken steps to make sure that community members have the telephone numbers to supervisors and managers on voicemails; supervisors and managers are readily available to assist staff in addressing complex issues regarding client needs.  What we have begun to recognize is that by making ourselves available and to ensure that our customers understand the reason that our operations function as they do, then our customer – feels more respected in the process.

On a daily basis, DSS employees have, and use, opportunities to listen to our clients so that they are understood and heard.  At DSS we are always looking for way to improve our customer service, sometimes there are big ideas that make this happen. However, getting back to the basics works too!  Simply listening and hearing others is the start to building a working relationship.

Michael A Becketts is the director of Durham County Department of Social Services