- Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Fargo, ND
Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.
In 1996, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota contracted with a retired adoption specialist to do a study of adoption services delivery across the state in the hopes of becoming more efficient. The three service providers of adoption at the time were Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), The Village Family Service Center and Catholic Family Services of ND. Lutheran Social Services was experiencing difficulty serving clients across this very rural state. The need for services was evident and the organization wanted to find a better way to provide them. One of the options presented by the specialist was to form a collaboration to avoid duplication of services and increase financial efficiencies. LSSND approached the other adoption services providers with this collaborative concept. In 1999, LSSND and The Village Family Service Center (The Village) established the collaboration, now known as The Adoption Option, which would provide pregnancy counseling and adoption services across the state of North Dakota. Catholic Family Services chose not to participate because of conflicting philosophies regarding birth control.
Prior to the formation of The Adoption Option, LSSND’s adoption program was operated by a program director, with oversight by a vice president and then the CEO. The Village had the same program structure. These six individuals—two CEOs, two vice presidents and two program directors—designed the management structure for The Adoption Option.
As the Adoption Option took shape, the following was decided: The Village would be the fiscal agent; the program would have one director who would be a Village employee; and any current staff with a master’s degree could apply for the position.
Sue Grundysen, who had been the adoption program director at LSSND, applied for the job as director of The Adoption Option, was selected, and became a Village employee in March 1999. The initial management structure, then, included the two CEO’s, the two vice presidents and the program director. These five people made up the ad-hoc Adoption Option Board.
A few years into the collaboration, The Village’s vice presidential representative on the board retired from The Village. The collaboration decided the remaining members had in-depth knowledge of the adoption needs in the state and worked so well together, there was no need to fill the spot. From that point to the present, the management structure for The Adoption Option consists of: the two CEO’s, one vice president(from LSSND) and one program director(a Village employee).
The Adoption Option is effective because there is no duplication of services, fiscal management requires a strict division of funds, and the program functions under a single procedural manual, marketing campaign and vision for the future.
The Adoption Option yields improved outcomes unattainable by the individual organizations had they remained separate. Clients are served statewide, outreach is broader and the staff is highly trained. Furthermore, each organization can remain an adoption provider, true to its roots, despite a decline in the number of adoptions statewide.
People tend to resist change. The board recognized this and expected staff turnover at the start. Within 12 months, The Adoption Option had a dedicated staff, who recognized the value and opportunities provided by the collaboration. Consistent teambuilding is essential to maintaining the collaboration, to bridge the two organizations' cultures and make them one.
Another challenge was program identity and marketing. Each organization had a solid reputation and long history in the community. The Adoption Option capitalizes on both reputations and is billed as a program of LSSND and The Village. By highlighting The Adoption Option as a program of both major human services providers in North Dakota, the program had instant credibility.
The financial challenges are handled equally and fairly. The Village is the fiscal agent for The Adoption Option. Each quarter the finances are reviewed and all profits or losses are split equally between Lutheran Social Services of ND and The Village.
Each organization has a well-established development department tasked with raising funds for all programs of their respective agencies. The board decided to leave those departments separate because of the historical identity held by each organization. However, at the close of an adoption, the information is shared with both development departments.
Since 1999, The Adoption Option has been providing pregnancy counseling and adoption services across North Dakota. The collaboration is focused on the following:
1. Providing the broadest access to quality services for clients.
2. Providing a concerted public education and outreach effort, promoting the message that adoption is a positive, loving choice.
3. Maintaining a well-trained staff throughout North Dakota.
Quality service is evaluated through a variety of means including client satisfaction surveys, quality assurance reviews within the program, documentation of staff training and topics covered, and recording of staff meeting minutes. The Adoption Option tracks pregnancy intakes, pregnancy outcomes and health of the infant, adoption placements by type, unduplicated clients served, and search and disclosure cases completed.
Outcome measures for public education include documentation of presentation sites, topics, and number of individuals in attendance. Measurements for promoting awareness include media frequency, public relations frequency and number of contacts, and estimates of persons impacted.
The Adoption Option is a worthy model in a number of ways. First, it developed out of two agencies with similar histories, who competed in the community, yet had unique identities; a situation that is likely mimicked in countless organizations across the country. In the process, both agencies have maintained their identities. The Adoption Option proves a collaboration does not have to wipe out years of work an individual organization has spent building a solid reputation.
The collaboration resulted in efficiencies across the entire program. Statewide coverage is manageable and unified marketing, finances, human resources, outreach and education reduce duplication. Young women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy or families searching for a child to adopt are able to receive services whether they live in Granville, North Dakota, (population 238) or Fargo (population 93,531).
The number of adoptions in North Dakota has been declining since the late 1970s. By collaborating, Lutheran Social Services of ND and The Village Family Service Center are each able to maintain a foothold in the adoption industry which formed their roots, while expanding other programs to meet community needs.
The Adoption Option, a collaborative partnership between The Village Family Service Center and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, offers pregnancy counseling, adoption services and post-adoption search support. The 1999 collaboration is a testament to the resolve and dedication of these two long-standing organizations to serve the needs of North Dakotans in the most efficient and effective manner possible. The Village Family Service Center (The Village) had a few part-time employees providing pregnancy counseling and adoption services from offices across the state. All of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND) counseling originated from a single location in Fargo. It was costly for both agencies to accommodate clients beyond the state’s population corridor which is mainly North Dakota’s eastern border. However, economic efficiencies were secondary to the desire to provide services where needed.
Both agencies recognized that duplication of services in such a rural environment was too costly, yet pregnancy and adoption counseling was a demonstrated community need. The Adoption Option collaboration cured a number of ills experienced by each agency. Personnel costs are the largest line item for most program budgets. The initial joining of the two programs resulted in the elimination of one management position—a program director—an economically sound consequence right from the start. The collaboration plan included placing staff in key quadrants across the state, allowing them to serve clients in a broad area with reduced travel expense. Part-time counselor positions within the two agencies were transformed to a smaller number of primarily, full-time positions.
Full-time employees are more likely to stay, reducing turnover and its inherent costs. The pregnancy and adoption counselors are better trained and more fully vested in the program.
Program delivery and timeliness increased with the creation of the Adoption Option. Before the collaboration, if a 20-hour-per-week counselor was going to efficiently use her time, travel was kept to a bare minimum. So, if a young woman in Crary, North Dakota, (population 149) requested services, the counselor might wait until the client traveled to Grand Forks for a doctor’s appointment before meeting with her. This delay of services was not in the best interest of the client. Most Adoption Option counselors are full-time, providing services from four separate quadrants of the state. This results in more time available to travel to rural clients and meet their needs in a timely manner.
The Adoption Option’s quantitative benefits to the community are tremendous. The Adoption Option was responsible for 80% of the domestic infant adoptions in North Dakota in 2009. Without the collaboration, it is likely each agency would have eventually suspended pregnancy counseling and adoption services. In a mostly rural state with few providers, this would be devastating. Or, in the absence of the collaboration, the agencies may have considered changing to a fee-based system. Pregnancy counseling is currently provided at no charge. Clients are often under intense pressure from family and friends to seek assistance. Many do not have the financial resources to pay for services. Program revenue is generated on the adoption side. When a woman decides to make a plan of adoption for her baby, the adoptive family covers some of the costs associated with pregnancy counseling. The program also relies on United Way funding and revenue generated from grants and donors. In the current economic climate, foundations look favorably on collaborations and it has certainly been an asset to the Adoption Option when being considered for grant funding. The ability to generate adequate program funding allows the Adoption Option to maintain counselors across the state and continue providing vital services in a timely manner.
The Adoption Option developed out of economic necessity. Because of the foresight of two extremely dedicated human service organizations, and their willingness to collaborate, pregnancy counseling and adoption services are available across the state of North Dakota today.
Both The Village Family Service Center and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota have their roots in adoption. The agencies have a combined 210-year history serving children and families in North Dakota. The Adoption Option collaboration was developed to overcome increasing costs of service provision and maintain vital pregnancy and adoption services in North Dakota.
The management structure of the Adoption Option was designed to create a balance of power between the two agencies while maintaining each agency’s well-established identity within the community. The CEOs of The Village and LSSND have program input; a vice-president from LSSND oversees the Adoption Option; and the supervising program director is a Village employee. Counselors are divided between the two agencies. The Village acts as the fiscal agent for the Adoption Option. All revenue and expenses are divided and shared equally.
Equal input and collaborative decision-making contribute to the success of the Adoption Option partnership. The program functions under a single procedural manual, unified marketing campaign and a shared vision for the future. The efficiencies achieved by the program allow the agencies to continue to provide services amid a declining number of adoptions statewide.
The collaboration has encountered a few obstacles. North Dakota had three nonprofit service providers of adoption and pregnancy counseling back in 1999: The Village, LSSND and Catholic Charities. All three agencies participated in the initial conversations concerning collaboration. Catholic Charities chose not to join the collaboration because of conflicting philosophies regarding client discussion and use of birth control. This has been a detriment in a few instances. For example, the state had an opportunity to pursue federal funding for pregnancy and adoption services and the argument likely would have been strengthened by a collaboration among all service providers in the state. Additionally, the collaboration has devoted its limited resources to the pursuit of public education and outreach that will ultimately benefit both The Adoption Option and Catholic Charities, yet Catholic Charities has contributed nothing to the process. These minor obstacles have been easily overcome.
A more significant challenge of the collaboration, in its developmental stages, was how to create a single identity for the program while maintaining the separate identities of each well-established agency. The Adoption Option is billed as a program of The Village Family Service Center and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. In this way, the program benefits from the excellent reputations of both agencies, yet has its own name. This single identity unifies the staff, also. Some counselors are employees of The Village and some are employees of LSSND. Program Director, Sue Grundysen (a Village employee) is an integral part of the success of the collaboration. Sue is responsible for hiring staff for both agencies. She attends LSSND leadership, supervisor and visioning meetings to stay current and invested in the agency. She participates in Village meetings as well. Outstate employees of each agency make a point of visiting the partner agency’s offices to touch base and maintain relationships. Team-building is paramount to the success of the program. There is a conscious effort to continually communicate and keep the partnership valuable to both partners.
The Adoption Option collaboration produces a number of measureable benefits. Statewide provision of services is manageable under this model. Any client, regardless of where they live in North Dakota, can be served. In addition, a singular marketing program uses limited dollars in the most effective manner. Program human resources, finances and training expenses are unified, reducing overall costs. If each agency tried to provide these services in the current economic environment, it would be incredibly wasteful and likely, unsustainable over time.
The success of the Adoption Option partnership is simple to measure: pregnancy counseling, adoption services and post-adoption search support are still available in both rural and urban areas of North Dakota. The Village and LSSND identified the impact to be achieved from working together and understood that, through the Adoption Option, they could create opportunities out of challenges.