Since 2020, Partners for Impact has been working with Child Care Services Association (CCSA) on a pilot project to help homeless and domestic violence shelters implement the Early Childhood Self Assessment Tool (ECSAT). This instrument guides an agency through multiple areas to improve their services for very young children experiencing homelessness. On the way to developing a replicable process for implementing the ECSAT, important insights into the nature of crisis work have emerged. While all of the Partners for Impact team members have first-hand experience working in crisis services, our perspective as consultants outside of these agencies has brought into sharper focus how they differ from other types of organizations.
As we began this pilot project, commitments to equity and to not adding to the burden of the shelter staff were among our top priorities. This entailed a plan to move at the speed of the shelters rather than imposing project-based timelines on them. While this seems to meet our equity goal, the reality of working with crisis services agencies means adjusting and re-adjusting expectations of the time that shelter staff can give the project. No matter what the staff plans in advance, meeting the immediate needs of clients always takes priority. This can often result in last minute changes in meeting times and people being called away in the middle of a conversation. It also limits the bandwidth that staff have between meetings to devote to the assessment and other pieces of the pilot project.
Crisis services also require staffing around the clock. Some staff members working directly in the shelter facility who have the most experience and interest in participating in the ECSAT process may work second or third shift. Setting meeting times that can include these staff members requires additional advance planning and may even entail paid overtime. Our consultants have focused on using the time of all staff members effectively and efficiently to limit the stress on already tight personnel rosters and budgets.
Unpredictability is a fundamental reality of crisis work, particularly for those on the front-lines of delivering services. Although it may be less challenging logistically to move forward without the staff who have the most difficult schedules, they often have the deepest knowledge of the needs of the children and families served by the agency. These staff also know how policies are implemented, including when procedures vary from written manuals. The effort required to connect with these staff pays off in the quality of the assessment and improvement plan.
In addition to some trial and error, Partners for Impact has leaned heavily into flexibility and adaptability as keys to successfully guiding shelters through the ECSAT process. This has included scheduling time to walk the staff through the assessment process, rather than asking them to complete sections between meetings. We have also provided simple online templates to facilitate the planning process, and have helped translate ideas expressed verbally into written form that can be edited and added to. Deadlines have been kept to a minimum, with significant consultant support to moving the process forward on a timeline sensitive to the demands on the shelter staff.
While each shelter is moving at a different pace, they have all made significant progress in improving their services for young children experiencing homelessness. The shelter staff continue to learn and make changes in their services. And Partners for Impact continues to hold to our commitments to the shelters and improve the support that we provide to these agencies serving our most vulnerable neighbors.