The Little Collaboration that Could

For those who have been following the series of collaboration start-ups, you may be wondering what’s on the other end. How does a partnership move from an idea to a fully realized and functional project? This month, you’ll hear the story of an idea that germinated between several people and grew over the span of five years into a multi-organizational collaboration that has found statewide success and is sprouting roots in the national community.

 Just over five years ago, Lynne Brehm of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and Jen Gerdes had just completed a Circle of Security Facilitator Training (COSP) for 114 individuals, a national program focused on helping caregivers promote secure attachments.

The reflective nature of the training, which encouraged “caregivers’ developing specific relationship capacities rather than learning techniques to manage behavior, spoke to the two, who then became interested in formalizing the process in Nebraska. Circle’s national organization had not yet created, however, a support system for trainees that allowed for a formal model. Once training was complete, there was no follow-up or recourse for more sessions.

After some research, the pair discovered Linda Gilkerson’s work around Reflective Practice (RP) at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. The Institute offered a model of reflective practice called Facilitating Attuned Interactions (FAN). Initially, Linda was invited to Nebraska to ascertain how interested agencies might incorporate FAN training to support the work of Circle of Security in Nebraska and bolster work already undertaken by Rooted in Relationships (provision of RP for coaches).

As Jen focused on working with the developers of COSP to use RP as support for facilitators, Lynne, Betty Medinger (Nebraska Children), and other partners who had attended the initial training began exploring how to build the capacity of this model in Nebraska. Since Nebraska Resource Project for Vulnerable Young Children (NRPVYC) had already been utilizing Reflective Practice in its juvenile court projects, a natural partnership formed.

But thinking you can, having an idea, doing some research, and beginning training is one thing. The hard work of implementation is another. In ensuing conversations, Betty and Lynne joined with Kelli Hauptman of University of Nebraska’s Center on Children, Families, and the Law (the parent organization housing NRPVYC) to present their idea to interested groups. A great deal of discussion and thought around building something that served the various systems serving children and families occurred.

When you think you can, things happen. Jolene Johnson of the Munroe-Meyer Institute happened to see a presentation and contacted Kelli. Munroe-Meyer had money from a Buffett Acceleration Grant to invest, and saw potential for Reflective Practice to be beneficial to the work they did in infant care and early childhood developmental milestones.

Hauptman also reached out to the Nebraska Department of Education and found allies in Melody Hobson and Lauri Cimino in the Office of Early Childhood. Melody and Lauri thought the Reflective Practice approach worked well with their Step Up to Quality program and the coaching work they were engaged in.

And then you know you can. Organizations come together, and you make the decision to invest. The process wasn’t always easy. As Lynne Brehm noted, “It was difficult working with the needs of multiple agencies and putting together funding from various sources.” Ultimately, the collaborative decided to fund the trainer education of five individuals, each from a partnering organization, in the Erikson Institute’s FAN model.

Sami Bradley had been hired by Rooted in Relationships after she was trained herself in the FAN model to support COSP Facilitators in the state. When Jen left to pursue other interests, Sami stepped in to continue the vision.

She had seen the great impact that reflective consultation had on facilitators and knew of the tremendous impact it could have. Sami stated that, “It was exciting to have the opportunity to move from a level of providing it individually to trying to figure out how we could make it available to everyone that would benefit.”

An important moment occurred when NRPVYC appointed Jamie Bahm as Project Manager, thus formalizing the Nebraska Center on Reflective Practice. Previously, Jamie had worked as a casework supervisor in the Lancaster County Family Treatment Drug Court, where she and her team had benefitted from receiving ongoing reflective consultation through Jennie Cole-Mossman (then with NRPVYC). In her new role, Jamie became one of the original five to be trained by the Erikson Institute to train others in Reflective Practice in the State of Nebraska.

What had been nearly two years of preparation had finally become a reality. There were obstacles, of course, to overcome.

First, training was expensive, so the collaborative agreed to pay for their chosen trainee to go through two of the sessions and share their knowledge with the rest of the group.

Even training itself was a challenge at times because training was an evolving model, which meant trainees had to constantly adapt to the shifting model.

Finally, because of the multiorganizational structure of the collaborative, there was the need to navigate multiple demands from the various agencies. As Jolene put it, “Not everybody is going to agree all the time. But because we had a common goal, we were able to make it happen.”

A perfect example comes from the varying needs for data. While some involved agencies needed hard data for research purposes, others worried that data collection might burden the process of putting work into action. This could have been a stalling point, but as Jolene stated, “You don’t have to agree on everything and can still get things done.” The result was a compromise where the group built a basic evaluation tool that could be used by all and then added a more in-depth addendum to be used for research needs.

This spirit of collaboration and compromise has bolstered building the program every step of the way. In another instance, Munroe-Meyer Institute, Step Up to Quality, and Rooted in Relationships worked together with the Reflective Practice Center to host and support training of Early Childhood Coaches and Directors.

Each initiative had their own coaches or directors to train, but each training was costly. Sami described how the groups came together to work out a plan and schedule with the three early childhood trainers; Lynne Cook, Kari Price and Carrie Gottschalk; the collaboration is currently working on planning their seventh training. Sami stated that by “Working together, they were able to maximize the strengths and resources that each entity had available to them to have the greatest impact.”

It is that kind of compromise that has made the collaborative work. Lynne made it clear that “You have to be in it for the long haul; it takes a long time and the building of relationships to make it happen.”

As several of those involved pointed out, you have to remember that everyone involved is trying to serve the needs of the people they represent and that you have to respect the capacities of the organizations involved.

Melody said it takes “patience in the collaborative process. It’s hard to build a relationship in only three months.”

But Lynne may have summed it up best when she said, “There is greater value in doing the work together than in creating separate systems.”

Challenges aside, the collaboration that has become the Nebraska Center on Reflective Practice has been a great success. In fact, one of their most recent struggles has been how to meet demand.

Sami points out that Rooted in Relationships alone has “received multiple requests from communities [for training],” but can’t support them all.

That’s a good problem to have, particularly since Jamie has recently been given authority by the Erikson Institute to instruct more trainers without having to go through the Institute.

This has solved not only the demand question, but also the bigger question of how to imbed training in the system statewide in a cost-effective manner. Moving the process internally has certainly defrayed costs and allowed for greater efficiency and flexibility.

Jamie’s release to instruct trainers and mentors in-state has been a notable moment as has the program’s quick spread across the state. Reflective consultation, where individuals receive reflective practice from someone who has been trained in the FAN model, has helped people see how the different systems can and do connect and what they share as common goals.

Lauri of Step Up to Quality also points out the impact it has had at the ground level: Reflective Practice has “built a lot of confidence with our coaches. They appreciate the investment we’ve made in them.” Ultimately, the collaboration may have an even bigger reach than the confines of Nebraska. Munroe-Meyer has used reflective consultation with Educare within the state who wants to expand its use to its national organization.

For those of you who are just starting up that hill of building connections with another organization and are wondering whether you’ll get there, take inspiration from Jamie, who now oversees an initiative that didn’t exist only a few years ago, “While the Center on Reflective Practice has a home at the Center on Children, Families, and the Law, it really has been a true collaboration of the partners. Without them we wouldn’t have had the far reach that we do.”

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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