For more than forty years, Information and Referral (I & R) services have helped people find answers. These services have the potential for increasing, by thousands, the number of people helped, but one major obstacle exists. Many people are unaware I & R services are available and therefore struggle to find answers to their questions about community resources.
What a difference it would make if these citizens could simply dial 211 and talk to a trained and knowledgeable person with access to accurate information!
The 211 Ohio Collaborative believes that the implementation of the telephone number 211 for access to community information is integral to the future of the Information and Referral (I & R) field. The purpose of the 211 Ohio Collaborative, which is comprised of I & R services, is to implement the telephone number "211" for access to community resources in Ohio.
This easily remembered number will enable people in need of vital services-such as food and shelter, home health care, hospice programs, counseling and family support-to be referred to the appropriate community resource, without struggling through hundreds of telephone listings and making many frustrating calls.
On July 21, 2000 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated the telephone number 211 for access to community resource information. The FCC stated in its decision "that the Information and Referral Petitioners have demonstrated sufficient public benefits to justify use of a scarce public resource, and we therefore assign 211 to be used for access to community information and referral services" (FCC 00-256). Community-based information and referral agencies will implement 211, which is already in place in metropolitan Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia and statewide in Connecticut. Communities have overwhelmingly supported the concept of 211.
In October, 2000 the 211 Ohio Collaborative prepared this document in order to: · explain the concept of Information and Referral · describe the history of the I & R field · convey specific information about the state of I & R in Ohio · describe the plan for implementing 211 in Ohio
"Every day, in communities throughout North America, people begin a difficult and sometimes desperate search for an agency that will provide emergency food or shelter, legal or financial assistance, affordable health care, or other essential services. Whether the individual is well-educated or a high school dropout, financially secure or living in poverty, a long-time resident or a runaway new to the city negotiating the maze of human service providers can be a daunting challenge. Those who are most fortunate find their way to an information and referral (I & R) service and to the help they need." (Standards for Professional Information and Referral, Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, 2000)
Information and Referral, commonly referred to as I & R, is a unique process of assessment and information-giving that enables people to make informed decisions about accessing community resources. The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), a national professional association of information and referral providers, distinguishes between an I & R service and the I & R system in a community. According to AIRS, an I & R service "can be a public or private, for-profit or nonprofit organization. It also can be a clearly identifiable, administratively separate unit within a larger organization" (AIRS, 2000). For instance, some I & R services are located within a United Way or a local Department of Job and Family Services, while others are located within a separate nonprofit organization.
There are thousands of I & R services across the United States and throughout the world. Many of these are comprehensive, community-based programs. Others are specialized programs targeting particular issues such as aging, child care, and mental health. Some I & R services also provide referrals to volunteer opportunities as well as information about how to contribute donations of items such as food, clothing and furniture. Each individual I & R service is a part of the I & R system. While I & R services already exist in many communities, the implementation of 211 will increase the public's awareness of these services.
As mentioned above, in order to provide a wide variety of choices, Information and Referral services maintain comprehensive databases of social, community, and government services within a service area. Examples of these services include health screenings, flu shots, childcare, emergency assistance, counseling, legal assistance, housing, and food pantries. The I & R service's community resource database is a critical part of service delivery and is updated regularly as information changes.
As part of the I & R process, service providers, called I & R specialists, use these comprehensive databases to connect people to the most appropriate services. An I & R specialist is a guide to the often complex system of human services and can assist people in understanding how that system works, particularly in how to access services. I & R specialists utilize skillful questioning and active listening with empathy, support, and guidance to help people make thoughtful and informed decisions. They help identify the services most appropriate to the person's needs, discuss pros and cons of various options, and provide education about how to obtain the needed services. Staff of I & R services are actively involved in community life and therefore know the nuances of local resources.
Information and Referral services are most often delivered via telephone. While many I & R services respond to inquiries via e-mail, fax, letter, or through face-to-face contact, the telephone is often the most effective method of providing these services since it is convenient, accessible and allows for thorough processing of the situation. Direct access to information via computer is often appropriate for people who know what they need. However, for those who are overwhelmed by their situation, are not familiar with the many services that are available, and have no idea where to turn, discussing the situation with a trained human services professional is essential.
In addition to connecting people to community resources, I & R services also collect statistics on the number and type of inquiries received. This information is then used to assist communities in long range service planning. Data is collected daily, reports generated regularly, and information disseminated to the appropriate area agencies and task forces. The information gathered by I & R services is critical to identifying community strengths as well as areas of potential service growth.
The overriding goal of I & R is to bring people and services together by providing a source of information that is well organized, community-based and easily accessible. "Information & referral is the only profession with a comprehensive understanding of the human services delivery system and a holistic view of people's wants and needs." (Sales, 1995) By providing trained professionals who listen to the situation, assess the needs, translate the problems into solution options, and facilitate choices, I & R services effectively and efficiently link people to the services they require.
Annually, Information and Referral services respond to more than 50 million calls a year. Today over 5,000 I & R services exist throughout the United States and Canada. While Information and Referral was initially developed in 1921, the first event that led to sustained growth of I & R services was the establishment, in 1925, of the Central Information Bureau by the Welfare Council of New York. Many I & R services were established throughout the United States during and after the Second World War in order to meet the needs of servicemen, veterans and their dependents, and increasingly mobile citizens. Los Angeles established a Community Information Bureau in 1942 and, by 1944, at least six U.S. cities had similar services. Over the next 15 years, I & R services were established in hundreds of communities. The development was fueled by 1) a growth in acceptance of social work as a profession; 2) the increasing breadth and complexity of tax-supported and voluntary services and 3) the demand from organized labor and from industry and business for a more intelligent interpretation and broader utilization of social services. (Out of the Shadows, AIRS, 1995)
In the early 1970's, the information and referral network established the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) to create national standards, share information, and promote professionalism in the field of Information & Referral. Today, AIRS represents nearly 1,000 I & R services throughout the United States and Canada. In 1983, AIRS, in conjunction with the United Way of America, adopted National Standards for Information and Referral. These standards were established to "serve as a valuable tool to any community interested in the effective delivery of I & R service in not-for-profit or for-profit settings" (National Standards for Information and Referral, 1991). The National Standards for Information and Referral were revised in 2000.
Early on, I & R professionals identified the need to organize information about community resources in a consistent and logical manner. In order for people to be able to interpret and exchange information, they needed to utilize the same frame of reference as well as develop a common language. In 1983, a classification system called the AIRS/Infoline Taxonomy was created to meet this need. The AIRS/Infoline Taxonomy provides a conceptual framework for approaching human services, provides a common ground for I & R services wanting to share information about the availability of human services and gaps in services, and provides a common language that bridges the gap between disciplines.
Information and Referral services have been available in Ohio since 1963. Most of Ohio's 88 counties have some form of Information & Referral service. Many I & R services were started in the early 1970s, as grass roots efforts, to meet the need to connect citizens with the various human services available and to assist citizens in navigating this often confusing and complex system. The Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy reported that there were 26,608 public charities in Ohio in 1997. The nonprofit sector is growing substantially every year. For this reason, the role of I & R services becomes even more critical.
Information & Referral services in Ohio are as diverse as the communities they serve. While some I & R services are comprehensive, others are more specialized. Some comprehensive I & R services provide additional, specialized services as well. For instance, HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties is not only the comprehensive I & R service, but also the mental health crisis intervention provider. FIRSTLINK, in Franklin County, acts as the comprehensive I & R provider as well as the volunteer action center, while Info Line in Summit County provides comprehensive I & R, Senior I & R, and child care resource and referral services. Although varied and unique, all I & R services adhere to the same standards of service delivery. The Ohio Council of Information and Referral Providers (OCIRP) was formed in 1978 to: · promote professionalism in the delivery of I&R services · enhance the collective influence of the field of information and referral in Ohio · develop and maintain an information clearinghouse for technical assistance resources, promotional materials, agency profiles and operating procedures · create and maintain a membership communications system
OCIRP currently has 40 members. During the summer of 1999, OCIRP led the formation of the 211 Ohio Collaborative. The purpose of the 211 Ohio Collaborative is to implement the telephone number "211" for access to community resources in Ohio. Over 30 Information and Referral services from all over Ohio are currently members of the 211 Ohio Collaborative. The 211 Ohio Collaborative is considered a committee of OCIRP, but the Collaborative has a separate dues structure and set of operating procedures. More information regarding the implementation of 211 is included in this document in the section titled "The Future of Information and Referral".
In September, 2000 a survey of the members of the Ohio 211 Collaborative was conducted to determine the nature of I & R services being delivered to Ohio citizens. Eighteen Collaborative members responded to the Survey by the end of September 2000. Respondents included I & R services in heavily populated areas such as Franklin, Summit, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, and Montgomery counties as well as less populated areas such as Athens, Hocking, Morrow, and Licking counties.
These 18 agencies provide services to 34 counties with a total population of 7.7 million. This is approximately 66 % of the total population of Ohio. Most of these agencies have provided I & R services for over 20 years.
The Ohio Council of Information & Referral Providers (OCIRP) and the 211 Ohio Collaborative are leading the effort to implement 211 Ohio statewide. Currently, 20 community-based information and referral organizations serving 35 Ohio counties have been approved to operate as 211 centers. Seventeen of these organizations serving 28 counties are now fully operational.
More than 7.6 million Ohio residents (66% of the State population) now have access to 211 services.
Although the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had exempted wireless (cellular) phone companies from having to provide 211 dialing to their customers, the Ohio 2-1-1 Collaborative has formulated a solution and is in the process of implementing cell phone access to 2-1-1. Through a collaboration with the Indiana 2-1-1 Partnership, within the first six months of 2006, cell phones through companies including Sprint/Nextel, Verizon, Cingular, Cellular One, T-Mobile, and Centennial will be able to dial 2-1-1 and if there is a 2-1-1 call center in their area, access that center. For those areas that do not have a 2-1-1 call center at this time, cell phone callers will receive a message indicating that there is no 2-1-1 coverage in their area.
In addition, some businesses and institutions have chosen to "block" the dialing of three-digit (N11) numbers other than 9-1-1 by their employees/customers. As a result, people dialing 211 from some businesses may not yet be able to gain access to the 211 service center. OCIRP/211 Ohio Collaborative are working to resolve these limitations as soon as feasibly possible.
A total of 754,502 Information & Referral calls were received by these 18 agencies in 1999. The 211 Ohio Collaborative estimates that the total number of calls accepted by community-based I & R services (including those that are not currently members of the Collaborative) throughout Ohio is approximately 850,000-900,000 a year. Eleven of the 18 agencies provided services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and several others are planning to implement such services. Fifteen of the 18 agencies provide an 800 number for callers in remote areas, while several other agencies accept collect calls.
Although these 18 I & R services are supported by over $4.6 million in primarily local financial support, the demand for I & R services continues to increase without any substantial increases in funding. United Ways in the local areas provide part of the funding for most of the surveyed I & R services, while several receive additional funding from county or state money, including financial support from county commissioners, local levies, TANF, PRC, Title XX, OIC, and health departments. Area agencies on aging helped fund 5 of the 18 I & R services, while foundations funded part of 3, alcohol and drug boards funded part of 3, corporations funded part of 3 and mental health boards funded part of 2.
Based on the agencies responding to the survey, the average cost of an I & R call is approximately $10.99 per call. There is a wide range of call costs reported in the survey. The cost per call varied from $9.07 less than the average to $14.01 more than the average. This large variance may be based on the costing methods used by the reporting agencies (not defined by the survey question), the nature of the delivery area (urban vs. rural location), the nature of the population (calls from elderly consumers usually take longer, as do calls from people who are homeless or mentally ill), and the degree of computerization and use of technological advances in each county. Some agencies add a case management role to the more difficult and multi-problem calls, while other agencies use volunteers to supplement paid staff. The implementation of 211 may impact the cost per call taken by I & R services.
The 211 Ohio Collaborative believes that the implementation of the telephone number 211 for access to community information is integral to the future of I & R. As mentioned above, the 211 Ohio Collaborative is a committee of the Ohio Council of Information and Referral Providers (OCIRP). The purpose of the 211 Ohio Collaborative is to implement the telephone number "211" for access to community resources throughout Ohio. Over thirty Information and Referral services are currently members of the 211 Ohio Collaborative. In December of 1999, the 211 Ohio Collaborative petitioned the PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) to designate 211 as the universal three digit access number to call for information about community services. On June 21, 2001, the PUCO approved the use of 211 and designated OCIRP/211 Ohio Collaborative as the entity responsible for overseeing the implementation of 211 throughout the state of Ohio.
The National 211 Collaborative, a coalition of non-profit organizations led by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and the United Way of America, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on May 28, 1998 to assign the telephone number 211 for public access to community information and referral services across the U.S. (See FCC, NSD File L-98-80). N11 numbers, like 211, can be assigned on a temporary basis by state regulatory agencies (such as the PUCO), but only the FCC can permanently assign an N11 code. On July 21, 2000 the FCC designated the telephone number 211 for access to community resource information. The FCC stated in its decision "that the Information and Referral Petitioners have demonstrated sufficient public benefits to justify use of a scarce public resource, and we therefore assign 211 to be used for access to community information and referral services" (FCC 00-256). Dimon McFerson, chair of the Board of Governors of United Way of America and retiring chairman and CEO of Nationwide, commented on the FCC's decision: "Everyone involved in the 211 Collaborative has worked very hard to reach this day and is grateful to the Commissioners for granting our request." This easily remembered number will enable people in need of vital services-like food and shelter, home health care, hospice programs, counseling and family support-to be referred to the appropriate community resource, without struggling through hundreds of telephone listings and making many frustrating calls. Community-based information and referral agencies are implementing 211 in Ohio and other states throughout the U.S. While not emergencies, these calls are often urgent and involve critical human needs.
Communities have overwhelmingly supported the concept of 211. Of the 190 Comments submitted to the FCC on assigning 211 for access to community services, only 12 were in opposition. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has expressed concerns about confusion created by numerous N11 numbers. Fortunately, the data available from Atlanta, Georgia and Connecticut, where 211 had already been implemented, indicated that people were able to distinguish the different purposes of N11 numbers and that widespread confusion has not occurred. In addition, the 211 Ohio Collaborative is working with the Ohio Chapter of NENA to discuss the implementation of 211 and to ensure that people in emergency situations are connected to appropriate community resources.
An Information and Referral service must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to act as a 211 Call Center. Many of the metropolitan areas in Ohio already have I & R services that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, more moderately populated or rural areas have much more limited I & R services. These services may choose to become 24/7 call centers or they may decide to contract with an existing 24/7 I & R service to take "after hours" calls. Implementation of 211 across Ohio will occur in phases as these decisions are made and the necessary funds are raised.
As the history of Information and Referral in Ohio indicates, many of Ohio's I & R services began over 40 years ago and 12 organizations have implemented 211 in their communities. The experience and competence of these well-established I & R services is an asset to the State of Ohio. Policymakers and program developers within state government should utilize and support these local I&R/211 services when considering the development of information and referral service programs.
By supporting local I & R providers and the 211 Ohio Collaborative, state and local government can help ensure that Ohio's communities receive vital information and referral services while, at the same time, avoiding duplication of costs, resources, and administrative expenses in creating new databases and information and referral sources.
National Standards for 211 Call Centers were adopted by the National 211 Collaborative in May 2000. These Standards are listed below:
Within States or Regions where more than one I & R will be providing 211 services, it is recommended that 211 Centers have the following:
The National Standards for 211 Call Centers were adopted by the 211 Ohio Collaborative in June 2000. The 211 Ohio Collaborative has developed an application process for those I & R services that plan to become 211 call centers. This process requires that the I & R service have the endorsement of the local community. An agency in Ohio applying to become a 211 Call Center must provide 24-hour coverage, but will have three years within which to comply with the other 211 Call Center Standards.
211 calls will be free to the caller. Since Information and Referral providers already exist in most areas of the state, 211 will build on an already existing infrastructure that is primarily supported locally. 211 Call Centers will continue to raise funds locally to increase staff and to market 211. In addition, many I & R services will need to enhance existing telephone equipment, upgrade information systems, and purchase additional office equipment in order to implement 211. The current estimate for these largely one-time costs is $2.85 million. Government and foundation funding is being sought for these expenses and would dramatically enhance the Information and Referral system in at least 30 counties. Such funding would help insure the successful implementation of 211 in Ohio.
Although much of the government and foundation many needed to complete the successful implementation of 211 throughout the state has not been secured, the 211 Ohio Collaborative is moving forward with 211 efforts in Ohio so that more people will be aware of the availability of Information and Referral services in their communities and will be connected to vital community resources. The success of 211 depends on an investment and commitment to pursue the development of a responsive, integrated system for connecting people in need with the resources available to them. In a sense, 211 is a valuable tool to help people help themselves.
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