The TTT sessions teach a select number of representatives from each SOAR state how to train case managers in the state in the SSTR curriculum. The sessions are held at strategic locations throughout the country and typically accommodate up to 40 people. Each state participating in SOAR for the first time may send up to four people (two for free and two at their own cost) to a TTT session facilitated by the TA contractor, and may send additional people to a subsequent TTT session if space allows. These individuals are then expected to return to their states and train state and local program staff who serve individuals who are homeless in the SSTR curriculum. The processes to apply for SSI/SSDI and receive a disability determination are complex and difficult to navigate. The SSTR curriculum is designed to make case managers more knowledgeable about the disability application process by delivering the information and tools needed to effectively guide those who are homeless through this process. The SSTR curriculum consists of sixteen modules, each of which provides an in-depth explanation of a unique aspect of the process and pointers on assisting clients through it.
The focus of the four-day TTT sessions is split between the content of the SSTR curriculum and preparing the trainers to train others to be able to implement the curriculum when they return to their states. The TA contractor sets a tone for the sessions that is centered on learning, welcoming audience questions and experiences, and developing trainer buy-in to the importance of understanding and implementing each of the SOAR critical components. Incorporated into the TTT sessions are training activities and strategies that include icebreaker activities, small prizes to reward participation and collaboration, small group activities, role playing to allow participants to gain experience training on a given module, and opportunities for trainer and peer feedback. At the end of each day, the TA contractor reviews with participants areas they found most useful as well as areas where they needed additional instruction. The TA contractor encourages the trainers to adapt these activities and strategies for use during the in-state trainings in their home state.
The TTT model used in SOAR offers several benefits. First, it offers a way for states to sustain their efforts if federally funded TA is no longer available. Second, it offers a way for states to tailor trainings to their individual communities and to take ownership of SOAR. And third, it enables training to reach a volume of local case managers that would not be feasible if the TA contractor were to conduct all of the trainings. However, the efficacy of the TTT model depends on the qualifications of the in-state trainers, the type and amount of support trainers receive from the state and the TA contractor, and the extent to which there are systems in place to handle turnover among trainers. Below we describe how the trainers were selected and their general qualifications as well as trainers' experiences with the TTT sessions.
The TA contractor conducted a total of 12 TTT sessions, the first of which was a pilot training session. In total, 202 individuals from the 25 Rounds One and Two states attended a TTT session. States generally sent trainers from a mix of organizations often one or more state agencies and one or more CBOs. Approximately 60 percent of training participants were from CBOs and the majority of the others were state, county, or municipal staff. In a handful of states, staff from DDS attended the TTT session. From the six states we visited, 33 individuals attended a TTT session, about a third of whom were from lead agencies that were instrumental in implementing SOAR. A few state or local leads became trainers and conducted regular trainings. Although this had the advantage of helping state leads engage with case managers and get a fuller picture of the initiative, some talented and dedicated state leads did not have the time or background necessary to become successful trainers.
Attendees at the TTT sessions had mixed professional backgrounds. About two-thirds were social workers, case managers, and benefit specialists, and most of the remaining attendees were supervisors and program managers. Generally, trainers who were case managers or benefit specialists from active stakeholders were more likely to have ongoing involvement in SOAR because they were invested in the initiative, had agency-level support to implement SOAR critical components, and could identify personally with the challenges and potential returns of integrating SOAR concepts into their jobs. However, some case study states intentionally sent a mix of case managers and supervisors to the session to provide some continuity to the initiative, in light of high case manager turnover.
Attendees at these sessions also had varying degrees of knowledge of SSI/SSDI processes and experience as trainers. In one state, a PATH clinician felt confident delivering SOAR trainings because she had conducted SSI/SSDI benefit assistance trainings for both shelter staff and advocates, using training materials she had designed prior to SOAR. However, some trainers were initially overwhelmed because they did not have a strong background in homelessness or SSI/SSDI processes. One such trainer leaned heavily on the TA contractor before the first in-state SOAR training until she gained confidence as a trainer. In another state, a trainer with substantive knowledge of SSI/SSDI processes re-trained her colleagues after the TTT session because they were overwhelmed by the material. These findings suggest that prior knowledge of SSI/SSDI processes and experience conducting trainings could be instrumental in ensuring the quality of subsequent in-state trainings. They also suggest that trainers who do not have strong backgrounds in homelessness or SSI/SSDI process could benefit from more intensive TA before conducting the first in-state training.
Turnover among trainers and resource constraints sometimes stymied in-state trainings even before they ever materialized. For example, one state sent only two individuals to the TTT session because it could not afford to send others with state funds; both vacated their positions within a year after SOAR was implemented. In another state, the two original trainers were not able to conduct any in-state trainings because their agencies could not afford them the time to do so.
TA contractor staff were praised for their enthusiasm, facilitation skills, and in-depth knowledge during the TTT sessions. Overall, 95 percent of in-state trainers reported they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the way in which the TTT session was organized and presented. Moreover, 99 percent of in-state trainers agreed or strongly agreed that the training information in the SSTR curriculum was presented clearly, and 97 percent reported that the training was organized in a way that was conducive to delivery and learning.
Trainers' perception of the SSTR training material varied depending on their professional background. Overall, 99 percent of trainers agreed or strongly agreed that the SSTR training materials were comprehensive and well-designed. Some trainers with extensive experience working with those who are homeless, however, did not need as much training on strategies for working with this population, individuals with mental health issues, or on SSI in general. Others who did not have strong backgrounds in either social security or homelessness were overwhelmed by the content. These findings underscore the difficulty in providing training to a diverse audience and suggest that the TTT sessions may need to be tailored to accommodate the information needs of the audience, that different levels of training may need to be offered, or that the TA contractor may need to require states to select trainers with certain prerequisites.
The content covered during the TTT sessions provided valuable information on the SSI/SSDI application process. A total of 99 percent of the trainers agreed or strongly agreed that they have a better understanding of the process and their role as a trainer teaching case managers about the processes. All trainers completed a 12-item questionnaire at the start and end of the session to assess gains in knowledge along several key dimensions. The questionnaire is included as Appendix B. An analysis of the questionnaires from nine TTT sessions indicates that the TTT sessions indeed resulted in substantial gains in knowledge among trainers about SSA policies and SSI/SSDI application processes. At the start of the training sessions, the mean number of correct responses across the 287 trainers was 69 percent. The mean number of correct responses at the conclusion of the training sessions was 89 percent, a statistically significant 20 percentage point increase relative to the start of the session.
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