Collaboration Isn’t Always Easy: Successful Suggestions for Building Partnerships
by Kendra Kuehn, National Adult Protective Services Association
Collaboration is critical to adult protective services (APS) - from the members of the federal Elder Justice Coordinating Council to local partnerships. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that interagency collaboration improves effectiveness, expands awareness of other perspectives, reduces “turf battles,” and builds recognition of cross-cutting priorities. While we know collaboration brings benefits, it also brings challenges including negotiating agency differences. Several APS leaders shared the following tips about how to successfully add collaboration to your toolkit.
A priority should be taking the time and effort to build and nurture relationships. Working with financial institutions is often mentioned as a time-consuming challenge. Learning more about the institution and which department handles fraud can help in finding a collaborative contact faster. An APS leader in partnering with financial institutions recommends being flexible in scheduling presentations or meetings with leaders.
A former administrator recommends reaching out directly. In her county, APS did not have assigned legal counsel and had to rely on counsel assigned to other divisions, creating frustration. The director started lunch meetings with the head of the legal department to discuss the situation. In the process of advocating for an APS focused counsel, she was able to improve her own skills and understanding of the legal components. Taking a proactive approach helped to address the problem.
Another administrator benefited from a personal strengths’ assessment. The assessment highlighted his skills in collaboration, an asset as a team leader. The training also noted potential weaknesses associated with certain strengths. For him, that included looking too far ahead and losing team members in the process. By recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and those of partners you can address potential difficulties and maximize strengths. This administrator recognized where he could build relationships to complement his own abilities.
It is important to continue learning about your partners terminology and unique knowledge. As in the legal counsel example above, you can avoid challenges and build a base for addressing them by understanding your partners’ terms, language, and skills. Learn how groups view and interpret their work including law enforcement, advocates from areas such as Protection and Advocacy agencies, and domestic violence programs. Engaging in cross training can educate everyone.
You may also learn more about partnership challenges affecting client services. A Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission program matching therapists with clients found few therapists with expertise or ability to work with trauma and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Without appropriate options, needs went unmet and in some cases individuals may be retraumatized. Through building partnerships, including with a university, to provide education and training for therapists, there has been an exponential growth in appropriate professionals. A challenge that may originally be viewed as a difficult profession was actually an issue of education. Both collaboration and learning can get to the root of a challenge.
APS should also learn what other professionals can and cannot do. Just as difficulties and frustration arise when others don’t understand an APS program’s requirements, other industries might be more limited or more flexible than realized. In the financial industry there are numerous national and state laws and regulations impacting institutions. Important ones to know are the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act exceptions allowing reporting to APS, FINRA rules for securities and brokerage companies around preventing and addressing exploitation, the federal Senior Safe Act providing immunity for bank employees reporting financial exploitation, and your own state requirements. In learning others’ abilities, you can highlight where your paths may cross.
Find a Champion
Finding a champion can help you work from within and bring their authority to challenges. The county APS administrator noted above started this with a simple lunch meeting. Another program gained a champion after the county prosecutor attended a training on elder abuse. This prosecutor has helped develop a county team and advocate for expanded legislation. In financial institutions, you can seek out the department most involved in cases or even a particularly interested employee. By engaging in learning opportunities, you may start encountering champions you didn’t anticipate.
It is important to acknowledge that everyone is busy, including your partners and yourself! APS administrators said it is important to explain why the time and effort to collaborate is useful. The CRS listed strong evidence for collaboration, but it is easy to forget. A rural administrator said collaboration was important when services are limited. The financial abuse team he coordinates created wide range of contacts now familiar with APS. Members also benefit from speakers, email alerts, and regular phone meetings. He notes that, as a rural area, they need each other and work hard to overcome obstacles whether personal or organizational.
We all like to be recognized and it can help break down barriers. A former county administrator felt expressing appreciation of law enforcement was helpful in building a relationship. When the program had challenges with law enforcement accepting referrals, she started highlighting particularly helpful officers. She noted that the recognition was generally an award, such as a certificate or plaque, and the vital component was acknowledgement. This effort helped build support from the police department. She also noted the importance of recognizing current partners and workers, even items like a favorite snack or a positive note is appreciated.
I can deal with difficult organizations. What about difficult personalities?
While we would all like to avoid challenging people, it’s simply not going to happen. Many of the tips above can be applied to people as well. Learn about your teammates, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they are passionate about. An administrator recommended returning to your own clinical skills. You most likely have had to deal with difficult clients, transfer your skills to building connections with challenging people.
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