As service providers, meeting needs is a complex challenge. It is not as simple as just creating a “list of services”, but rather creating flexible systems, wider awareness and easier access to such services. It’s about enhancing existing systems and processes to manage and deliver information to those who need it. It’s about linking service information across providers to build wider awareness about how such services can better serve those at risk.
Youth in Toronto face significant challenges and barriers within a youth service system that does not always provide equitable access and outcomes to this population. Sometimes even where services exist, they are not easy to find, leaving youth exposed to social and economic marginalization. The Youth Asset Mapping Project was a City-Provincial partnership that began in 2015. The Ministry of Children & Youth Services provided funding to the City of Toronto to develop digital asset mapping tools to support the youth-focused service sector. The result was the launch of the new YouthTO portal in May 2016 (www.toronto.ca/youth), along with a new FindYouthServices tool co-developed between the City and Findhelp/211 Central:
The City of Toronto strategically partnered with Findhelp/211 Central to develop the first City web-enabled application to access live 211 data via Findhelp/211’s API technology. This allows youth and service agencies the ability to directly access more meaningful and relevantly-defined youth services. FindYouthServices provides an interactive map that allows users to locate youth-oriented programs and services throughout Toronto.
This tool provides the City, other levels of governments, service providers and youth with a new information resource to support direct service access, while complimenting existing 211 services and collaborative local planning around addressing gaps in youth services. The launch of this site marks the delivery of one of the City’s actions from the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy and a significant customer service improvement initiative for Toronto youth.
The leverage of vital 211 data in this manner re-enforces the important role that such information plays in the youth-service sector that then fosters collaborative local planning for youth services. Gaps and overlaps in service requirements and delivery will be much easier to identify because of this data and these tools. Youth will have a user-friendly tool to access the services they need on their own.
“Thanks for all you do. You have no idea how helpful you are. I work in Social Services and have referred 211 to many clients and you have helped them greatly! Thank you and may the need of Torontonians be lesser next year.”
The past three years have been focused on transformation – moving from a loose network of 211 service providers, to an integrated provincial 211 system delivering maximum value to residents and to those who invest in our service. A big part of that work has included the development and implementation of shared tools and systems. All of the work described below brings us much closer to realizing the vision of having 211 be the front door to accessing human services in Ontario.
Last year, we implemented a cloud-based phone system in our 211 contact centres, creating a virtual hub of highly-qualified resources across the province. The benefits of this system include the ability to flow calls throughout the province in peak periods or emergencies to reduce wait times for callers, and the ability to route calls according to the expertise of staff in specific locations. In both cases, 211 callers benefit by having their calls answered in the language of their choice, and by receiving a consistent level of 211 service, no matter where they are located. In addition, the system’s enhanced reporting capabilities and automated feedback tools allow 211 service managers to improve staff scheduling, performance management and coaching, and the quality and efficiency of the service for callers.
This phone system also allowed us to become the “front door” to service for Good2Talk (a post-secondary mental health helpline), DSO Toronto Region (access point for adult developmental services in Toronto), and ReportON (an Abuse and Neglect Reporting line for people with intellectual disabilities). In all of these cases, trained 211 Specialists take the first call to these services, address general information and referral needs of clients and transfer callers directly to the services they need.
Early data from the phone integration suggests that by operating as a provincial virtual hub, we not only improve service to our callers, but create efficiencies by making the best use of 211 resources across the system.
We also developed a new Business Intelligence (BI) platform that presents 211 data on program and service availability through our resource database, plus data on who calls 211, and what their needs are. This platform improves our ability to share our data with funders, planners and decision-makers to help them address the needs (and unmet needs) of Ontario residents.
Our new BI Platform has been developed in partnership with our service providers, and will soon be rolled out to other 211 stakeholders, including local United Way organizations. It is a rich tool that we anticipate will benefit the broader human services system in the very near future.
Work began last year to re-design our online search experience on our public website, making it much more user-friendly and delivering higher-quality search results. A proof of concept was developed and tested in partnership with our service providers, and the Ministry of Community and Social Services approved a full roll-out of the new platform. The new public website will be launched in the late Fall of 2016.
Part of the work involved in designing the new search experience last year was the creation of a separate data repository where our resource data would reside, that the search software could integrate with. This work sets the foundation for the creation of an open repository where 211 data can be integrated with other data sets (census data, municipal services data, impact data) for research or planning purposes. 211 data already feeds many local and provincial websites across the province, and we believe there are countless opportunities to share our 211 resource and caller data more broadly – reducing duplication of data collection across different sectors.
For a number of years the Ontario 211 system has been serving communities during times of emergency such as tornados, fires and floods. 211 reinforces the messages emergency officials need to communicate such as the location of evacuation centres, road closures, safety instructions, social services to assist disaster victims and more. Impacted residents can rely on 211 for information they need to deal with and recover from a disaster. In preparation for future emergencies, Ontario 211 and the Regional Service Providers have been actively building relationships with emergency officials, encouraging the inclusion of 211 in municipal emergency response plans and participating in numerous emergency exercises.
One important exercise Ontario 211 participated in the past year was the Canada-United States Enhanced Resiliency Experiment, also known as CAUSE IV which was supported by Canadian and American federal agencies. Based on a tornado situation in Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan, CAUSE IV sought to improve cross-border collaboration and test new technologies. Ontario 211 and Michigan 211 collaborated to create mock call scenarios that 211 would likely receive during such a disaster, agreed to collect key demographic information such as the caller’s zip/postal code and used common terminology to explain callers’ needs. 211 call data was then plotted on a situational awareness map that was utilized by municipal Emergency Operations Centres on both sides of the border. The CAUSE IV experiment demonstrated how 211 data could be easily shared, presented in a visual format and utilized to support decisions made by emergency officials.
Ontario 211 seeks to continually improve its ability to serve as a public inquiry line during times of disaster through internal capacity building, external partnership development and participation in preparedness activities such as CAUSE IV.
Last year, 211 in Ontario was once again powered by partnerships. From social service and health agencies, to first responders, to community strategy tables, to government agencies, 211’s phone support and data are being leveraged by many to achieve greater impact for residents. We are proud to work with all of these partners to create better access to their services, or to support front-line workers in helping connect people to the programs and services they need.
There are hundreds of partnerships at a local or regional level where 211 is playing a front-door role or where 211 data is feeding local or specialized websites (access point for utility assistance, falls prevention information, mental health resources, youth housing support, legal services and more). Thank you to all of these partners for working with us to improve access to services in Ontario!
Through their Front Line Care strategy, Green Shield Canada has invested $1M over three years to help build 211’s capacity to “open doors to better health” by connecting Canadians to programs and services that address the social determinants of health. Ontario 211 Services is the lead partner in the project, working closely with United Way Canada and Findhelp Information Services, as well as all of the 211 Service Partners in Ontario and in the rest of Canada. Last year, the project team completed pilot work around the follow-up process for vulnerable callers, tracking of caller needs and unmet needs for low-income residents, and building awareness of 211’s capacity within the agency sectors that deal with low-income Canadians. Work has also begun to embed the pilot recommendations into our every day processes for call handling, beginning in Ontario and sharing out to the rest of Canada within the next year. We are grateful for the generous support of Green Shield in this important work.
Good2Talk is a post-secondary mental health helpline for Ontario students who are struggling with mental health issues. The service provides 24/7 support, including access to professional counsellors or specialized information and referral to mental health and addictions programs. Funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, the service is well-used by students with more than 40,000 calls handled since its launch. In January of 2016, 211 became the front door for Good2Talk by answering the 1-800 line and directing callers to Kids Help Phone for counselling or to ConnexOntario for specialized information and referral. Ontario’s Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health continues to oversee program evaluation – and the feedback thus far has been very positive (click here for Good2Talk Evaluation Report).
211 has partnered with Surrey Place in Toronto to integrate the Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) Toronto Region support line with 211’s helpline in an effort to improve service for families who need developmental, caregiver or other support services. In the Fall of 2015, our 211 Central Region contact centre began to answer the first call to DSO Toronto’s office and flowing to them only those clients who require, and are eligible for, DS services. To date, feedback from DSO staff and clients has been positive. Many appreciate the ability to speak with a live voice 24/7 that can explain what is available, and if eligible, connect them to a DSO case-worker for program support.
The model is working well in the Toronto region, and work is underway to expand the program to other parts of Ontario.
Early in 2016, 211 began answering the first call to the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ (MCSS) reporting helpline for adults with developmental disabilities who are being neglected or abused. 211 specialists conduct a brief screening and assessment of the caller’s situation, and where appropriate, transfer those callers to MCSS to conduct an investigation of the reported incident(s).
The partnership is working well so far, allowing MCSS staff to focus on those cases that require investigation, and leaving 211 to provide information and referral to other services that the clients or family members might need (legal assistance, respite care, financial support, peer support groups). A more public launch of the service is planned for the Fall of 2016.
Ontario 211 Services worked with local United Ways in North Bay, Sudbury and in Prescott Russell to develop a partnership model to not only grow awareness of 211 in that region, but to strengthen both United Way and 211 in the process.
In all of these communities, United Ways sought funding to create a 211 outreach position, to meet with local agencies, municipalities and other partners to increase awareness of, and participation in, the 211 system. Information gathered through outreach visits was then shared with our 211 Regional Service Partners to include in the 211 database and to apply the data standards to the records. The partnership is working well and producing good results – from increased call volume, to more complete resource data, to new and improved relationships with 211 at a local level.
Hats off to Michael Cullen and his team at United Way of Sudbury and Nipissing, and to Jodie Densmore at United Way of Prescott Russell for their passion, and their local efforts to maximize awareness in their communities!
Collectively, the people listed below represent decades of experience in the information and referral and non-profit sectors. They are experts, advisors, contributors and sometimes cheerleaders - and we couldn’t do it without them.
Keeping Local Agency Information Up-To-Date