Findings from a Study of the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Initiative. Factors That Facilitate Successful Implementation of SOAR

12/15/2009

States varied widely in the extent to which SOAR was implemented with fidelity to the model and to which their efforts were sustained after the initial in-state planning forums and trainings. Based on the interviews, focus groups, and analysis of data collected in the states selected for the case studies, several factors appeared to contribute to the successful implementation of SOAR across communities. As illustrated in Table VI.1, many of these factors were missing in states that struggled to implement SOAR.

Table VI.1
Presence of Factors Facilitating Successful Implementation of SOAR by Degree of Successful Implementation in Case Study States
Factors State 1
(Struggled Least to Implement SOAR)
State 2 State 3 State 4 State 5 State 6
(Struggled Most to Implement SOAR)
  Struggled least to implement SOAR ---> Struggled most to implement SOAR
Strong and consistent leadership X X        
Agency-level support for SOAR X X X X    
Engagement of SSA and DDS X X X X    
Structured inter-agency communication X X        
Identification of qualified trainers X X X X X  
Supervisory support for case managers and/or dedicated benefit specialists X X X X    
Targeted implementation X X        
Outcome data collection X X X X    
  • Strong and Consistent Leadership.  Consistent leadership was essential at all phases of the project. At the state level, leadership was needed to coordinate the in-state trainings and empower and facilitate on-going communication among key stakeholders. Effective state leads had a genuine commitment to SOAR and an understanding of SOAR's goals and potential benefits, both to individuals who are homeless and to their own agencies.
  • Agency-level Support for SOAR.  Support from their agency management and direct supervisors empowered state leaders to dedicate the time and energy needed to coordinate trainings, troubleshoot challenges, and facilitate regular communication among stakeholders to sustain the initiative. Without such buy-in, particularly in the absence of financial support for SOAR, state leads were less able to treat the initiative as a priority. In states where the state level leadership of SOAR changed due to staff turnover, buy-in from the state leader's agency and direct supervisor helped to ensure that the initiative did not flounder during the transition to new leadership. In addition to the state lead having support, developing buy-in at the highest possible levels of other agencies that participated in SOAR, including those agencies in which case managers worked, was essential to ensuring that the initiative was sustained. In several states, support for SOAR came from the same agency that administered PATH funding. There may be potential for states to develop greater synergy between the activities of the PATH and SOAR initiatives.
  • Engagement of SSA and DDS.  Active participation of SSA and DDS in all phases of the initiative helped to ensure that the development of SOAR-specific application processes and procedures was well-received and fit well within standard local SSA and DDS office practices. The engagement of SSA and DDS allowed communities to better tailor SOAR to overcome the particular challenges to obtaining SSI/SSDI specific to their communities. The more deep-rooted engagement among SSA and DDS was, the more beneficial it was to the initiative. Communities in which SSA and DDS were most engaged had the commitment of regional and local office staff, including front-line staff, their supervisors, and senior management. These staff were often engaged in the planning of activities but also participated in the in-state trainings and provided ongoing feedback on application outcomes to case managers and the state lead.
  • Structured Inter-Agency Communication.  The success of SOAR is largely dependent on developing and maintaining strong interagency collaborations to develop application procedures, monitor the progress of the initiative, and continuously improve the application process. Consistent communication among SSA, DDS, case managers, and the state and/or local lead was essential to solidify inter-agency collaborations, advance SOAR, and overcome challenges to implementation. While informal frequent communication was often facilitated through existing relationships, several states conducted formal monthly or quarterly meetings among these stakeholders to foster regular structured communication. These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss any challenges to completing application, gather feedback on the quality of applications, and provide ongoing training. Further, they provided stakeholders with motivation to continue the initiative and were a forum to celebrate the successes of SOAR.
  • Identification of Qualified Trainers.  In-state trainers who had some existing familiarity with the SSA application process and support from their supervisors were well-positioned to train case managers in the SOAR curriculum. Trainers who had no previous experience with the SSA application process required more support to become competent trainers, and in some states, never conducted any trainings.
  • Supervisory Support for Case Managers and/or Dedicated Benefit Specialists.  Case managers were empowered to use the critical components of the SOAR curriculum when they had support from their supervisors to dedicate the time required to assist individuals who are homeless with applications. To the extreme, some states dedicated staff exclusively to providing SSI/SSDI application assistance to these clients. States that employed this model were best able to submit a volume of high-quality applications.
  • Targeted Implementation.  States that piloted SOAR in a small number of local sites were able to hone the SOAR approach and troubleshoot challenges, learn from their early experiences, and then spread the initiative to other areas of the state. Those that attempted to implement SOAR in more than three communities directly following the in-state planning forums, and particularly those that attempted to implement SOAR statewide, experienced greater difficulties coordinating activities and engaging in ongoing communication.
  • Outcome Data Collection.  States that made an effort to systematically track outcomes at the beginning of the initiative were better able to monitor the progress of activities, troubleshoot challenges, and overcome barriers to success. The tracking of outcomes developed a sense of accountability and provided the data necessary to encourage stakeholders to sustain and propel the initiative forward. Without the systematic collection of data, case managers, SSA, and DDS staff were unable to determine whether SOAR was having a positive impact on their clients and were therefore less encouraged to continue to dedicate the time and energy necessary to implement the initiative.

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