verticalDuring County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 14 award-winning programs from 10 counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.

Los Angeles County is home to more than 10.4 million residents, more than a quarter of California’s population.  As the state’s most populace county, it follows that the number of its citizens who need county services, such as mental health interventions, immunizations and child welfare assistance, are in the tens of thousands. How can a small change or new program make a noticeable impact in such a vast infrastructure? How can you communicate effectively when you are trying to reach so many?  Three programs in Los Angeles County demonstrate how and do so in a way that, no matter the size of county, can be replicated with success.

South County Family Visitation Centers

When a child in crisis is removed from his or her home and reunification is deemed to be a viable option, the number one way for reunification to succeed is by having successfully monitored visitations between the child and family. Until two years ago, these visitations occurred either in a office, park, or at worst, a fast-food restaurant.  None of theses locations offered a home-like environment that allowed the parents and child to learn and experience being with each other in a comfortable setting.  In response, the South County Department of Children and Family Services developed an ingenious plan. Staff knew that churches in the area had empty meeting space and were a source of volunteers who could serve as visitation monitors.  For less than $5,000 the county was able to turn a former church meeting room and kitchen into a visitation center, complete with a living room and dining area. Parishioners are trained to serve as monitors, and families have a safe environment to cook a meal, help with homework, practice parenting skills and spend time together prior to reunification.  Parents are more motivated to comply with court orders, and those who have been through the centers have  a higher percentage of children returning successfully – and safely – to their parents.

Simply Speaking – Plain Language Initiative

Plain language is communication that everyone can easily understand the first time you read or hear it. It’s a simple concept that seems to get lost the second a government employee or attorney gets involved communicating in simple, easy terms when explaining a process or program. Staff at the county’s Consumer Affairs Department began a push for plain language as a way to reduce the number of calls it received.  By creating and distributing materials and Web content in easy-to-read and understandable language, they were able to reduce the number of call center inquiries by 30 percent. The County of Los Angeles’ Quality and Productivity Commission took it to the next level, deploying the initiative across the county, along with a campaign to promote it internally.  The program came to be a huge help during the H1N1 crisis when the public health department needed to put out plain, simple but vital instructions regarding the flu and vaccinations.

Full Service Partnership for Mental Health Clients

Funded by the Mental Health Services Act, the Full Service Partnership programs developed by Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health provide comprehensive mental health and supportive services to the most challenging clients. By having a staff to client ratio of 1:15, intensive case management, medication, and support services are provided to clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once a client is stabilized, permanent housing and even education and job development can take place.  There is also less reliance on public assistance  for clients who are successful in this program. However, real success lies in the reduction in the number of days for either psychiatric hospitalization or incarceration and  associated costs. To date, the Full Service Partnership has been able to avoid nearly $40 million in hospitalization and incarceration costs.

See a video featuring all three programs

County Government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level.  The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2010 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2011 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.

Erin Treadwell is CSAC’s Communication Coordinator. She can be reached at etreadwell(at)