Advocate, counselor, surrogate parent, role model, friend – in youth services, case managers take on a number of different roles.  Think of a case manager like a marathon coach: providing tips to make you stronger, offering an understanding of the course, and helping you navigate the best strategy to the finish line.

Case managers connect young people and their families to available resources and programs for safer, healthier lives.  Screening, referrals, and individual treatment plans from case managers help nonprofits fill their program slots, engage the right youth, and provide the right support.   And coordination by case managers, who can communicate with multiple agencies, reduces the duplication of services and ultimate help resources be spent more effectively.  In effect, case managers elevate networks of care in order to bring maximum benefit to youth.

Source: Case Management Society of America – http://www.cmsa.org/who-we-are/what-is-a-case-manager/

Over the past two years, Get IN Chicago increased its investment in programs with dedicated case management such as Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC).  For acutely high-risk youth, case management can be especially impactful.  In a review of case management practices for at-risk youth, researchers from Brandeis University compare case managers to brokers in their ability to help young people navigate complicated service webs between employment, education, training, counseling, health, housing, welfare, child care, and more.  “At-risk youth have needs that are often complex and intertwined,” they write. “They require help determining which among a variety of services they need, when, and in what order.  They require assistance finding and accessing those services, and support to successfully complete those services.”

Get IN Chicago is currently convening a working group of leading case management practitioners, experts, and organizations to exchange their best strategies for engaging acutely high-risk youth.  Organizations lending their expertise include Cook County Juvenile Probation, Lutheran Child and Family Services, Healing Hurt People-Chicago, and Metropolitan Family Services.  Each of these agencies have longstanding experience working with youth at an elevated risk of violence by providing responsive case management.

The Basics of Youth-Centered Case Management graphic provides an overview of how different social service providers can join forces to form a network of support for young people. This model is being used as a starting point of discussion with Get IN Chicago’s Case Management Working Group.

The goal of the working group is to develop a best practice model that reflects conditions in Chicago and is coordinated, consistent, and capable of transforming the lives of acutely high-risk youth.  For this population, a more targeted approach to traditional case management can yield substantial impact.  For example, for young people with past experiences of trauma, embedding “small wins” and predictability into care plans can help improve functioning through systemic goal-setting.  The working group is also discussing optimal caseload ratios for high-risk youth populations and target dosage and duration standards.   Both on-the-ground experience and research from the Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development suggest that low caseloads, long-term programs, and consistent check-ins (at least weekly) hold the most potential for success.

In addition to the day-to-day case management model, an important aspect of any case management system is its ability to refer individuals to services meeting their specific needs.  As part of SYNC, Get IN Chicago funded Metropolitan Family Services to use the CANS intake process to identify strengths and needs of young people in the program.  Metropolitan will also use that information to recognize larger trends in most-needed services and develop partnerships with local organizations that can provide them.  Next steps include solidifying channels to meet these needs through a growing referral network.