Researcher assesses local impact of Hub model

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Matt Gardner
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A researcher from the University of Saskatchewan offered a preliminary impact assessment of Community Mobilization Prince Albert’s Hub model on Thursday.

Dr. Chad Nilson, an inaugural research fellow at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies, reported his findings to assorted community members at the Art Hauser Centre’s Ches Leach Lounge.

Nilson’s report offered a largely positive view of the Hub and its effects.

“The Hub provides an opportunity for human service professionals to work together to identify risk, build solutions to reduce that risk and help families and individuals more quickly than they had in the past,” Nilson said.

“The two biggest findings of the report are that the Hub model in Prince Albert is reducing risk and it’s helping human service professionals provide improved service to their clients,” he added.

For his study, Nilson used a three-part methodology to answer his main questions, which included how the Hub began, how it functions, its effects on agencies and their clients, its strengths, challenges and future opportunities for improvement.

His methods consisted of case studies for 10 different Hub discussions, group interviews with 21 human service professionals on their experience in the Hub and individual interviews with 14 key stakeholders from various agencies that helped develop and implement the Hub model in Prince Albert.

A major element of the Hub’s success, Nilson noted, has been its proactive approach to at-risk individuals, focusing on prevention rather than reaction.

“Basically, what’ll happen is one of the agencies that sits around the Hub table will come to the discussion and say, ‘Hey, I have a family here that is in a situation of acutely-elevated risk,’ and they will discuss the risk factors,” he said.

“Then they will work as a team to identify a number of solutions to help that family … Five or six of them will go that person’s house, knock on their door, say, ‘Hey, we know you’re having some tough times right now. We can offer you some support before things get out of hand.’”

He offered the example of a youth becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol, in which a closer look at the situation might reveal violence at home where intoxicants help the youth to cope.

“The Hub comes in and tries to provide an intervention before those risks elevate to a situation of crisis,” Nilson said.

Among his key findings, Nilson identified the erosion of long-standing institutional barriers between agencies, a positive response by clients to collaborative interventions based on voluntary offers of support, quicker access to services before harm occurs and the lowering of risk for those affected as important successes.

He also noted that different agencies have experienced benefits of the Hub in different ways.

“In education, for example, the Hub is of great value to educators because they do finally help students with a problem that they were aware of for a long time, but they didn’t any tools to actually help them,” Nilson said. “The fact that agencies offer support through mitigation instead of arbitration really helps students, and that’s some of the value that our education folks in P.A. see.

“Social services, they see considerable value in the Hub because … here is an opportunity for a client to make a single plan with multiple agencies, instead of making multiple plans with multiple agencies.”

From a police perspective, he said, both the RCMP and Prince Albert Police Service appreciate being able to work with a client and involve that individual in solutions to their own problems.

Meanwhile, addictions professionals have found the Hub effective in getting clients connected with support on a voluntary basis, rather than being compelled via court order or some other impetus.

While most of his report was positive, Nilson identified numerous challenges in both the discussion and intervention processes.

Difficulties in discussion include the lack of direct involvement by community-based organizations, a fast pace of discussions that limits general dialogue, and even the Hub’s very popularity resulting in agencies sending complicated cases there without trying to address the issue themselves first.

Regarding intervention, the report noted that there is no followup mechanism to ensure clients have engaged in services. Hub interventions also appear to be more effective with clients who are newly at-risk rather than those with chronic risk factors.

Nilson pointed to some limitations of the report’s methodology, such as a natural bias among interview respondents to be supportive of the Hub model as well as his inability to speak to the clients themselves.

The two biggest findings of the report are that the Hub model in Prince Albert is reducing risk and it’s helping human service professionals provide improved service to their clients. Chad Nilson

“At this stage in the process, we have not been able to engage clients due to confidentiality and privacy,” he said. “Phase two of this research will start to measure client satisfaction with this service.”

“Phase two is when we have a large enough client base that we can start to get the agencies involved to approach their clients and say, ‘Are you comfortable giving us your feedback?’ -- because you could imagine, the clients who come to that table, they’re in crisis mode,” he added.

“The last thing they want to do is talk to a researcher about how they feel about the Hub … We’ve got to wait until they’re in a more stable situation before we start putting a researcher in front of them.”

The report included numerous recommendations going forward, such as a followup mechanism to verify the engagement of clients, removing barriers to staff engagement, engaging community-based organizations and implementing advanced data collection methods that will enable the measurement of outcomes.

“It’s achieved a lot,” Nilson noted of the Hub model. “But there’s still opportunity to improve the process to make sure that more families have an opportunity to benefit from this model, and I think that if we continue to engage the community partners that are involved in the Hub that they’re going to have bigger results in the end.”

Nilson’s appraisal of the Hub model was received warmly by other panel speakers at Thursday’s event, which included Community Mobilization executive director Ken Hunter and Prince Albert Catholic School Division director of education Lorel Trumier as well as Norm Taylor, a senior advisor to Deputy Minister of Corrections and Policing Dale McFee who provided closing remarks.

“I thought that report was very, very well done -- exceptional job of capturing our early vision, how we grew, challenges, how it grew in the province, how the government came in behind it,” Hunter said.

“It’s not all good news,” he added. “There are things where we certainly need to get our game together and as we move forward, and that’s what it’s all about. We just want to get better. But we absolutely know for sure that we’re onto something pretty good, and it is really having an impact on the community.”

The fact that an outside academic praised the Hub model in a comprehensive study bolstered the belief of its supporters that they were on the right track, Hunter said.

Meanwhile, Taylor called the report a solid reflection of the Ministry’s commitment to evidence-based models and practices.

He noted that the government of Saskatchewan will continue to support the expansion of the Hub model into other communities throughout the province.

“This truly is a very landmark moment in the evolution of this process … The term that we’ve been using lately is that it, in many ways, marks the end of the beginning,” Taylor said.

“The last two years have been a very, very impressive rollout of this building partnerships model -- here in Prince Albert now, almost three years. But we’re at a point now where this is starting to gain a different sort of energy behind it, and I think that today marks an opportunity for us to be building on that evidence-based practice that Chad talks so much about.”

While Hunter noted that Community Mobilization would continue to work with the province in building up partnerships, Nilson said his research on the subject would continue, with an eye towards eventually interviewing clients.

“We have a very aggressive research agenda with respect to the Community Mobilization process in Saskatchewan,” he said. “Both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina are aggressively involved in measuring the impact of Community Mobilization and the Hub model.”

Electronic copies of Nilson’s report, Risk-Driven Collaborative Intervention: A Preliminary Impact Assessment of Community Mobilization Prince Albert’s Hub Model, are available at www.mobilizepa.ca and www.usask.ca/cfbsjs.

Organizations: Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Art Hauser Centre, Prince Albert Community Mobilization Ken Hunter and Prince Albert Catholic School Daily Herald

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