Boulder County collaborates to success
The message to struggling families in Boulder County, Colo., is really more of an invitation: “Any door is the right door.”
Whether they need help obtaining stable housing, receiving medical attention, putting food on the table or getting protection from domestic violence, the invitation is the same. If parents walk through any agency’s door in Boulder County, they will receive the services needed to strengthen their families and keep their children safe.
Over the years, Casey Family Programs has been honored to work with many outstanding child welfare leaders across America who are dedicated to improving the lives of children and families in the communities they serve. Frank L. Alexander, director of the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services, is among a growing number of those leaders who have come to recognize the importance of infusing communities with hope.
In 2009, Boulder County appointed Alexander to head a new agency created when the departments of housing and human services merged.
“We wanted to break down the silos across our human services delivery system,” Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico said. “It made sense to have housing and human services under one agency with the same mission of getting families on their feet and children off to a good start. We wanted to see what kind of boost we could get from that synergy.”
Since the agency was created, the number of Boulder County children in foster care has decreased from 191 in January 2009 to 80 at the end of 2011, a 58 percent reduction in just three years.
By integrating service systems, Boulder County has ensured that government bureaucracy never will detour or deter struggling families from seeking and receiving the help they need for themselves and their children.
“Systems are too complicated,” Alexander said. “Historically, it’s been difficult for families to access the right combination of services in the right dosage in the ways they want and need.”
Alexander has been a strong advocate for programs, policies and practices that help prevent the need for foster care by strengthening families and their communities. For example, he worked with the federal government to obtain special housing vouchers that are designated exclusively for families at risk of having children removed from their homes because of unsafe housing conditions. The vouchers make stable housing readily available, thereby averting the trauma of separating families.
“No homeless or housing situation ever should be the cause of a foster care placement,” Alexander said.
Alexander also has made sure that the county’s “Any door is the right door” philosophy of integrated services extends to community nonprofits by building strong partnerships with those providers. Anne Tapp, executive director of the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, which provides support for victims of domestic violence, said Alexander “has set a new standard for what collaboration and community investment looks like from a county department. He has built bridges that allow us to improve policies and find better ways to serve families.”
Alexander is quick to note his appreciation for Boulder County’s ongoing partnership with Casey Family Programs. He cited the focus on early intervention to strengthen families rather than the more traditional approach of separating them as just one example of success the collaboration has brought.
Alexander also is president of the Colorado Human Services Directors Association, which represents the 64 county human services departments across the state. The association works collaboratively with the Colorado Department of Human Services to improve outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.
“Frank is true to his word, does great follow-up, is genuinely compassionate and uses data to help people be accountable, do the right things and move things forward,” said Roxane White, chief of staff for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Alexander’s calm and gracious leadership style helps nurture the agency integration and community partnerships that are opening doors and building hope for families that need services.
“When you are building communities of hope,” White said, “any way to access services is the right way.”