Social Services Today: ‘Everyone has strengths’ helps drive agency

Jul. 21, 2014 @ 09:33 AM

I am pleased to share this fourth column in my six-part monthly series highlighting the "Six Principles of Partnership" which guide the work of Durham County Social Services.  The fourth principle --"Everyone has strengths"  -- has been a touchstone for our agency during our most recent strategic planning.

In its most recent retreat the Durham County Board of Social Services considered the question, "If you could be transported in time five years from now and DSS was the best performing department in the state, what would it look like?"  The board was guided by the knowledge that everyone has strengths, meaning that all people have resources including past successes, abilities, dreams, and resiliencies.

After engaging in lively discussions, five goals  were developed that shaped Social Services strategic priorities of the department.  These priorities gives shape to Social Services’ desire and responsibility to be an agent of change in the community while giving significance to specific aspects of the community.  

These priority areas are:

 1.    Every child has access to quality early childhood education.   We know that exposure to the building blocks of education is important for every child.  In Durham, there are a number of children/families who cannot afford child care services and are on waitlists for subsidized child care.  The Department of Social Services envisions a time where there are no children waiting to access this vital resource. 

 2.   Every senior, age 55 or older, has access to quality support for aging adults through services that address health, safety and financial well-being. Within the next 10 years, baby boomers, who comprise 22% of Durham County’s population, will reach retirement age. In addition, Americans are living longer due to advancements in health care.  As people age, the resources needed for a longer retirement grow. To meet the long-term care needs of baby boomers, social and public policy changes must begin soon. Durham County Department of Social Services envisions a community where there is a collaborative approach to addressing the growing needs of the aging population. 

 3.    Everyone has a safe home and housing, a living wage, employment and financial stability. Homelessness in Durham is a critical issue as the number of homeless families and individuals continues to grow.  Housing is a basic component of safety and without this basic need being met, families are unable to meet other, more complex needs.  Durham County Department of Social Services envisions a community that is free of homelessness.

 4.    Everyone has access to affordable healthcare which provides a way in which people can attend to their physical well-being.  As the United States moves to a national health care model, it is imperative that the Department of Social Services works collaboratively with the community to assist members of our community in accessing affordable health care.   The Department of Social Services envisions a community where each member has the ability to attend to their physical needs.

 5.    Youth are engaged as a vital resource in our community. DSS has a vital role in the protection of children in our community through child welfare services.  DSS supports a broader view of the need to engage youth so that they develop into responsible adults.

These priorities are highly aligned with the County Strategic Plan. Goals one and three are in alignment with the "community and family prosperity and enrichment" goal of Durham County's strategic plan while the other three align with the plan's goal of health and well-being for all. 

While DSS board members acknowledge that the five goals are visionary, these intentions will provide a direction for our agency. These goals cannot be quickly or easily achieved, nor can they be reached solely by the Department of Social Services.  We will continue to develop partnerships and act in collaboration with other community agencies to reach these aspirations, which are broad in scope.  We know that everyone has strength and our work is dedicated to supporting Durham residents to build upon their strengths.

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