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Building Bridges: Strengthening Relationships between Local Departments of Social Services & Adult Education

by Julie Jacobs

“Our goal is to partner effectively with adult education to identify and remove barriers that might keep our mutual customers from achieving desired outcomes of skill and education attainment.”

It should come as no surprise that citizens of the Commonwealth with low literacy levels are very often the same clients that rely on federal and state benefits. These benefits, in many cases, have supported families as the primary means of financial stability. Benefits such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), energy assistance, and housing supports through partner agencies have buoyed families through economic hardship and crisis. The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) has provided this critical infrastructure for families since 1948. Most recently, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our services have provided a much needed safety net for families and individuals facing unprecedented financial crisis as a result of job loss. The face of our customer base has changed. With this change, we have a unique opportunity to assist citizens of the Commonwealth who may have been displaced from low-skill, low-wage jobs. Our goal is to move customers into technical and educational pathways that can lead them to high-wage, high-demand jobs. For many of our customers, the first step toward this goal is basic educational skill attainment through the adult education program array.

Through our VIEW (Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare) and SNAP E&T (SNAP Employment and Training) programs, our case managers engage customers in a comprehensive work- readiness assessment. This assessment may include testing such as TABE (Tests of Adult Basic Education), personality assessments, soft skills, and other related employability screening. Through this assessment process, our customers will often self-identify that basic adult educational skill attainment would move them further on the path to career goals. At this point, DSS case managers would make a referral into the adult education system.

Our goal is to partner effectively with adult education to identify and remove barriers that might keep our mutual customers from achieving desired outcomes of skill and education attainment.

Strategies for successful partnership

  • From the regional and local level, build and sustain strategic connection between local DSS offices and adult education. Coordinate meetings frequently—quarterly or semi-annual meetings between agencies should be the goal.
  • Develop and communicate clear referral process.
Questions to consider:
    • Does the local department of social services (LDSS) know how to access adult education services?
    • Is your adult education process in writing and clearly articulated?
    • If your process is not widely distributed or clearly understood by all referral sources, where can you engage in strategic discussion to change this?
  • Public relations materials regarding adult education programs should be updated and provided to DSS offices for distribution to customers.
  • Outline clear communication process between adult education and your LDSS(s) when customers engage in programs.
Questions to consider:
    • When a customer enrolls in adult education programs, how is that information communicated to a DSS case manager?
    • Is this information clearly articulated and widely understood by all parties?
    • How is attendance reported to the DSS case manager?
    • What is the process of communication if a customer reports that they have a barrier that is preventing their successful progress in adult education courses?

The VDSS and LDSS(s) are committed to strengthening our mutual partnership with adult education. We support the achievement of education and training credentials as the strongest potential to assist our customers into living-wage, family-sustaining career pathways. In those cases where education or skill remediation is necessary to achieve this goal, we pledge to assist our customers with the appropriate support services and case management necessary to be successful.

Together, through collaborative partner- ship, we are stronger in helping vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth advance their educational standing.

Julie JacobsJulie Jacobs serves as Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) Office of Workforce Services. In this role, Julie is responsible for building and sustaining strategic workforce pipelines that connect vulnerable populations to the education, training, and job placements they need most. Prior to her appointment with VDSS, she served in executive leadership with the State of Oregon, Department of Human Services in the Aging and People with Disabilities system. Previously, she served as Senior Workforce Development Manager with Mt. Hood Community College, Oregon, as a key partner in TANF/SNAP workforce readiness program development and delivery.

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