A Guide to Providing High-Quality Consumer Education and Referral Services (for CCR&R Specialists) Answering The Call

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1 A Guide to Providing High-Quality Consumer Education and Referral Services (for CCR&R Specialists) Answering The Call

2 A Guide to Providing High-Quality Consumer Education and Referral Services (for CCR&R Specialists) Answering The Call

3 About NACCRRA: NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, is our nation s leading voice for child care. We work with more than 800 state and local Child Care Resource & Referral agencies to ensure that families in every local community have access to high-quality, affordable child care. To achieve our mission, we lead projects that increase the quality and availability of child care, offer comprehensive training to child care professionals, undertake groundbreaking research, and advocate child care policies that positively impact the lives of children and families. To learn more about NACCRRA and how you can join us in ensuring access to high-quality child care for all families, visit us at NACCRRA 2006 Acknowledgments This booklet was developed by Debra Foulks using a variety of sources. Some adaptations are included from Making It Count, a NACCRRA publication developed by Work/Family Directions of Boston (1994). Appendix B: Sample Referral Intake Form is taken directly, with permission, from the Better Baby Care Indiana Enhanced Referral Materials of the Indiana Association for Child Care Resource and Referral (IACCRR) of Indianapolis. The child care referral process as discussed in this guide follows the recommended steps defined by Child Care Aware s Consumer Education and Referral Quality Assurance Program (a program of NACCRRA). It is based on the Best Practices Criteria used to evaluate and validate programs participating in the Quality Assurance program.

4 Introduction Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies are the only child carerelated services that work with all parts of the child care system: families, child care providers, and communities. Their role is critical to monitoring and building the supply of high-quality child care, as well as maintaining comprehensive databases of available child care programs in the geographic areas they serve. A referral is one of the critical services that CCR&Rs provide. A referral is more than just using a checklist and giving information. It is a process that involves interacting with families, helping them to know what high-quality child care is, and helping them find it. Your role as Referral Specialist is crucial to families seeking child care. You are the first point of contact, the face of your agency. You are the consummate multitasker employing a bevy of skills and strategies. During the referral process, you are wearing many hats. Being a Referral Specialist means being a: n child development expert, n financial advisor, n problem-solver, n negotiator, n counselor, n database specialist, n confidant, and n community resource expert. It takes training, effective skills and strategies, and guided practice to be able to provide a seamless referral while wearing your many hats. Answering the Call is a basic overview of what should occur in a high-quality referral. It reviews the elements of a referral and how they should be carried out. Although your agency s procedures and written policies may differ from others, the intended outcome is the same to supply high-quality referrals based on the individual needs of each family and to Your role as Referral Specialist is crucial to families seeking child care. You are the first point of contact, the face of your agency. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

5 inform families about the importance of high-quality child care. This guide follows referral call standards as identified in NACCRRA s Second Edition, Criteria for Best Practices in Consumer Education and Referral of the Child Care Aware Consumer Education Quality Assurance (Quality Assurance) program. Quality Assurance is a national, voluntary, program that assesses the quality of services CCR&Rs provide. The Guide has five chapters: 1. Overview of Referrals 2. What is the Referral Process? 3. What is an Enhanced Referral? 4. Your Role as Referral Specialist 5. Using Checklists and Scripts Appendices include checklists, forms, and guidelines Although your agency s procedures and written policies may differ from others, the intended outcome is the same to supply highquality referrals based on the individual needs of each family and to inform families about the importance of highquality child care. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

6 Chapter 1: Overview of Referrals The referral is a multifaceted process. To complete a high-quality referral, you need to be able collect information, share information (such as resources in your community), and effectively support families. Because a referral is customized for each family, even though the basic steps are the same, a one-size-fits-all approach is not possible. Definition of a Referral The term referral is used in various ways. In this guide, we define the referral as the overall process that you follow to give parents options on child care choices that are available, based upon their identified needs. The referral has several steps which start with the greeting and end with, in most cases, a referral list. A referral is NOT a recommendation. Recommending one child care option over another is not what CCR&Rs should do. One of your program s policies should be that any referrals provided are not to be considered as recommendations or endorsements of any of the child care programs or providers. Types of Referrals Most referrals provided by CCR&Rs are Standard Referrals (see next page). They require parents* to investigate the child care options offered. Another type of referral is the Enhanced Referral. Enhanced Referrals are typically provided by CCR&Rs that contract with organizations or companies to provide additional services for their employees or the populations they serve. These referrals are typically free to the parents because they are paid for by the organization or company. * The words parents and families are used interchangeably throughout this guide and represent any family member or persons who contact CCR&R for information or referrals. A referral is NOT a recommendation. Recommending one child care option over another is not what CCR&Rs should do. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

7 Your agency s website should have information that identifies your services so that parents doing a search for child care will be able to locate your agency. Goals of Referrals The goals and outcomes of CCR&R referral services are that families will: n demonstrate increased knowledge about the characteristics of high-quality child care; n have increased access to appropriate community resources; n consider quality indicators when choosing child care; n find licensed or legally exempt child care programs as a result of agency referrals; n select care meeting measurable higher quality standards; and n have increased continuity of care. Access to Referrals Families should be able to receive consumer education and child care options through the following five channels: n Telephone; n Internet; n Mail; n Face-to-face n Fax. The Internet and Referrals Can you recall the last time you needed to make travel reservations or find a restaurant? Most likely, you used the internet. When searching for child care information and resources, parents also use the internet. Your agency s website should have information that identifies your services so that parents doing a search for child care will be able to locate your agency. Try doing a Google search for child care in your area and see if your agency is listed. If it is not, this indicates that your website needs to be updated. Referral Type Elements Standard Referral Enhanced Referral u Family-focused services u Data collection u Individualized information u Consumer education, resources u Parents investigate child care options fees, availability u Evaluation u Family-focused services u Data collection u Individualized information u Consumer education, resources u Referral Specialist investigates available child care options based on intake: fees, availability, and so on. u Referral Specialist provides referral options only and until openings are confirmed u Conduit between family and child care programs u Follow-up with parent within designated timeframes u Ongoing follow-up until child care is chosen by parent u Evaluation NACCRRA: Answering the Call

8 Your agency s website should, at a minimum, have its: n address, n phone number, n address, n hours of operation, and n explaination all of your services n agency policies (confidentiality, disclaimers, fees if applicable), n basic child care consumer education information, and n online referral request form that you can use to follow-up. If your website has a searchable database of child care programs, you still want to have an online form (or form that parents can print out and fill out) that can help you capture data on the people using your website and track the types and conditions of child care services they are seeking. Voice Mail Your agency should have a user-friendly voice mail system that is easy for callers to use. Voice mail should have a friendly, welcoming tone that lets callers know they are important and valued as customers. Voice mail should let callers know the name of the agency, hours of operation, street and/or mailing address, fax number, and what types of services and resources are available. Depending on the set up of the phone system, callers could be given several choices to access more information, such as what they should be looking for when searching for child care. The phone message should also ask callers to leave their name, phone number, and best time to call them back, and let them know their call will be returned within one business day. Returning Calls All phone messages should be returned within one business day. Sooner is better than later. Families most likely will not call back after leaving one message. It is important to have procedures in place for returning calls. A missed call is a missed chance to help a family and provide a critical service. All phone messages should be returned within one business day. Sooner is better than later. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

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10 Chapter 2: What Happens in the Referral Process? The referral is a comprehensive process, starting with the incoming call or request from a parent, and ending with the follow-up after a referral list is provided. It is a dynamic exchange between the parent and the Referral Specialist. It is a standardized process, but it has to be focused on providing individualized information. Diagram A outlines the recommended steps in the referral process. Diagram B (see next page) breaks down the content of each of the recommended steps. Diagram A: CCR&R Referral Process Referral Request Parent Intake Referral Specialist General Referral Enhanced Referral The referral is a comprehensive process, starting with the incoming call or request. 1. Greeting 2. Clarification of needs 3. Individualized information provided during the call 4. Referral list 5. Next steps/what to expect 1. Greeting 2. Clarification of needs 3. Individualized information provided during the call 4. Next steps/what to expect 5. Vacancy/wait list checks 6. Referral list Follow-Up (for enhanced referrals can take place over several months) Evaluation of Services Parent s Needs Met NACCRRA: Answering the Call

11 Tell them what you will do on the call: assess their needs, collect information, state your CCR&R s policies The following are elements of a highquality referral and what should occur during the process. 1. Availability of Consumer Education and Referral Services u There are multiple ways to reach your agency: phone, internet, fax, mail, . u Phones are answered live and on the first ring. u Calls are not placed on hold for more than five minutes (but ideally not placed on hold at all). u Voice mail is easily understood by parent easy to navigate, using language easily understood by callers. u All messages are returned within one business day. u All services are provided in the primary and secondary language of the community you serve. 2. The Greeting by the Specialist u Answer calls in a courteous and polite manner. u Maintain a positive conversational tone for the call (even though you may have a checklist you re using). u Ask about the parent s time constraints before you start. Don t assume the parent is in a hurry, however, follow the parent s lead for the time and availability of the call. u Tell them what you will do on the call: assess their needs, collect information, state your CCR&R s policies (fees, confidentiality statement, and disclaimer), and provide information based on their needs and preferences. 3. Clarification of Needs u Collect information in a sensitive manner, never making assumptions about the parent s needs. u Use effective communication techniques (such as restating, questioning, validating, and focusing) to clarify parent s needs and preferences. 4. Individualized Information Provided u Explain the available child care options, clearly and understandably to the parent. u Cover the basics of your state s regulatory requirements. u Talk about accreditation and what that means. u Provide information for your general area on: licensing requirements, average cost of care, subsidy, or other forms of financial assistance. u Provide consumer education by talking about quality indicators for child care (caregiver training, health and safety indicators, group size, ratio, turnover rates, and family involvement). u Discuss licensing information and how to get more information on licensing status of child care programs and providers. u Offer written materials in the first two primary languages of the community that is served. 5. Referrals u Give a disclaimer about the referrals before providing them. Clarify that referrals are not recommendations and it is up to the caller to decide what is best for them. u Provide customized referrals based on parents needs (free of your personal biases). u Be prepared to direct parents to where they can access complaint information on child care programs/ providers. u Provide referrals by fax, , or mail. 6. Next Steps/What to Expect u Discuss next steps in the child care search with parents. Summarize the conversation you just had, then review the recommended process of screening, interviewing, and visiting child care programs they may choose to pursue. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

12 Diagram B: Elements of the Referral Process (1) Availability of Consumer Education & Referral Services Phone Call/Face to Face Internet/Mail/Fax Use of communication techniques throughout > Restating > Questioning > Validating > Focusing (2) The Greeting > Courteous & polite > Expectations are explained > Time constraints assessed > Conservational tone set Service policies discussed (typically in statement form) > Disclaimers > Confidentiality > Fees (3) Clarification of Needs > Relevant information collected > Questions asked with sensitivity (2) Services & Policies > Services provided > Disclaimers > Confidentiality > Fees (if any) (3) Consumer Education > Quality indicators > Licensing requirements > Types of care > Average costs of child care > Quality rating scale (if available) (4) Individualized Information Provided (Consumer Education) > Child care options > Types of care > Regulations, licensing info > Average cost by location, care type, age of child > Financial assistance options Quality Indicators Given > Accreditation > Group size > Staff to child ratio > Health and safety > Provider qualifications/staff turnover > Family involvement (5) Referrals Names of caregivers offered by phone, fax, or mail (4) Referral Intake > Online request form > Individualized information collected Follow Up: > Within one business day > Phone > > Mail > Fax (5) Referrals Offered > Consumer education > Names, phones, addresses of child care programs (6) Follow Up/Evaluation Evaluation is part of the referral process because Referral Specialists must follow-up with parents by either mailing a feedback form or doing a callback. (6) Next Steps/What to Expect > Discuss what will be in referral packet/info > Discuss plan for child care search > Give actual program names > Materials are in language of community > Mention follow up to take place (evaluation) > CCR&R complaint policy > Give provider complaint policy/procedures > Regulatory contacts u Mention the referral packet you will send them and what will be inside the packet: referrals, information on quality indicators, specific resources for their assessed needs. u Ask for evaluation of your services. Ask that they participate in evaluating the referral services by returning a form or participating in a follow-up phone call. u Send the referral packet, including a summary of what was discussed. Packet should include customized resources and information and feedback/evaluation form. The accompanying letter should be personalized. NACCRRA: Answering the Call

13 Evaluation of Services Evaluation is part of the referral process because Referral Specialists must follow-up with parents by either mailing a feedback form or doing a callback. Feedback will verify whether parents located child care or if they need further assistance. You can ask parents: n Was the assistance that was given to them by you or another Referral Specialist helpful in their search? n What specific resources did they use to choose child care? n How would they rate their child care search experience? n Is there anything they feel they needed from you but didn t get? By obtaining feedback after sending a referral packet, you not only get better information for data collection purposes, but you can use the information to improve or expand your services. 10 NACCRRA: Answering the Call

14 Chapter 3: What is an Enhanced Referral? Enhanced Referral services provide parents with additional services beyond the Standard Referral. Enhanced referrals may be offered through grants or special programs. Many companies and organizations contract with CCR&Rs to provide enhanced child care referral services to their employees. When the employee/parent calls, the Referral Specialist will initiate an intake process that includes questions about their children, schedule, location, and other information that will be used to customize the referral information and materials. What is most noticeably different about Enhanced Referrals is that the Referral Specialist performs searches and confirms vacancies in child care programs BEFORE a referral is offered to a parent. The enhanced referral also involves: n Providing an in-depth consultation, capturing detailed information on the parent s needs, the child s needs, and other issues of concern; n Performing vacancy/wait list checks; n Following-up and supporting a parent until a program is chosen (this could take several months); and n Acting as the conduit between families and the child care program, speaking with child care programs and providers about services, parents needs, and perhaps helping to resolve issues that may arise in securing placement in a program. The Enhanced Referral Process The process of an Enhanced Referral is inline with that of a Standard Referral. At a minimum, the following information will be provided in referral given to families: n Name, address, phone number of the child care provider; n Type of care requested; n License or registration status; n Accreditation or credential status; n Financial arrangements accepted, including fees and payment assistance available; n Provider experience or training in working with children with special needs; n Hours and days of operation and other relevant schedule information; n Availability of other services, such as drop-in and sick care, transportation, bilingual services, meals; and n Any other helpful information as determined by the referral agency. What is most noticeably different about Enhanced Referrals is that the Referral Specialist performs searches and confirms vacancies in child care programs BEFORE a referral is offered to a parent. NACCRRA: Answering the Call 11

15 An Example Of The Steps In An Enhanced Referral: From the Indiana Association for CCR&R (IACCRR) (Enhanced Referrals for different contracts may involve more or fewer steps than this one) u Paper Intake Gather all information that is at the top of the IACCRR Enhanced Referral Intake Sheet (data input into NACCRRAware) u Vacancy Check at the time of the referral u Send out, via parent-preferred method, a minimum of three provider profiles with consumer education materials, within 48 hours (document in NACCRRAware) u Conduct follow-up activities with 20 percent (or 15 families) of the current month s parent Enhanced Referrals for each project u Conduct the following two-week check-in/follow-up activities with families: n Ask follow-up questions if they have made final child care decision, if not n Continue to follow-up until they have made a final decision (Must input into NACCRRAware) n Then, the referral process is complete. n But, a follow-up is only counted if you make actual contact with the family. u Send out Provider packet (must input into NACCRRAware) u Send out 3, 6, 9, & 12 month packets (must input into NACCRRAware) u Conduct 9-month contact with family to determine continuity of care (actual contact has to be made with the family, must input into NACCRRAware) All services are provided in the primary and secondary language of the community you serve. 12 NACCRRA: Answering the Call

16 Chapter 4: Your Role as Referral Specialist Learning how to be an effective communicator should occur in the context of trainings, such as workshops or ongoing professional development. In this chapter we cover some recommended communication techniques and strategies for Referral Specialists to use during referral calls. Using Phone Etiquette Your first contact with families will mostly likely be on the phone. Professional conduct should always be used when on the phone. Basic phone skills and manners are needed. 1. Beready: have checklist, intake form, and database available before picking up the phone. 2. Answerpromptly and greet with warmth and enthusiasm. 3. Identify your agency and yourself immediately upon answering the phone. 4. Listenand respond with full attention. Be respectful of the parents and their privacy. 5. Beattentive and focus on the caller s need without judgment, jumping to conclusions, or tuning out on an issue. Be prepared to spend time with parent let him or her determine the pace of call, not you. 6. Usebest practices and counseling skills in providing support. Repeat back information you heard to the parent. Ask probing questions to clarify the parent s needs (see Appendices for samples of probing techniques to help with getting more information to inform your referral). 7. Useopen-ended questions and I Messages to provide feedback to parents. ( Tell me more about your child s needs. I feel I will be able to give you better assistance by having more information about your work schedule. ) Be attentive and focus on the caller s need without judgment, jumping to conclusions, or tuning out on an issue. NACCRRA: Answering the Call 13

17 Following Goals and Strategies Best practices for the referral process recommend employing the following competencies, components, goals and strategies: The ABCs of a Referral Call u Ask the right questions u Be conscious of what parents are asking and telling you (listen) u Client s needs drive the contact Call Tips To Remember: 1. You are the face of your agency; smile and be ready to listen when answering the phone! 3. The goal is to give parents useful, relevant information. 4. Don t assume every parent is in a hurry to get off the phone with you. Most do want to take the time. They will appreciate being treated as an individual. 5. Get the child(ren s) names during information collection and use the child s name throughout the conversation and on printed follow-up materials. 2. Use the checklist and a script as a guide. They are not meant for rote delivery. You are the face of your agency; smile and be ready to listen when answering the phone! 14 NACCRRA: Answering the Call

18 Competencies Components Strategies/Skills Rapport Building u Understand, interpret, respond u Validate parents experience u Maintain positive expectations u Empower parents to handle situation u Be aware of cultural differences and sensitivities Interpersonal Understanding Telephone Helping u Be able to empathize and relate to callers situations ( I receive calls from many parents who have expressed similar feelings. ) u Use affirming and reassuring language ( I understand what you are saying, That sounds like a difficult situation to be in. ) u Allow parents to express frustrations but maintain focus on how you can assist. ( I hear your frustration, but I hope that I can give you some resources that may be able to help you. ) u Listen to parents ideas and solutions when possible. ( You seem to have a handle on what your child s needs are and how to meet them. ) u Know the cultural and linguistic makeup of the community you serve. Be open to differences and do not judge. u Develop relationship u Ask probing questions u Listen u Explain u Process challenging calls u Manage personal stress u Personalize the discussion (use names of children). u Be easy to reach. Recognizing Own Needs u Ask open-ended questions ( What kinds of experiences do you want your child to have in a child care program? ) u Clarify and summarize what you discussed. Try not to use professional jargon. u Review each call immediately upon completion. Process any difficulties with colleagues. Maintain confidentiality of parents. u Know your strengths and limitations. Develop a reasonable workload with your supervisor. Always discuss quality indicators of child care. Let them know what high-quality child care looks like for the age group of their child/children. Clarification Of Needs u Focus on the parent/caller u Provide quality service u Give callers tools to make informed decisions Customer Orientation Family Context u Determine parents timeline for services needed. u During call, frequently check in with customers as to what would be helpful. u Determine what services should be provided according to parents needs. u Ask parents if services given will meet their needs. u Always discuss quality indicators of child care. Let them know what high-quality child care looks like for the age group of their child/children. u Determine family support u Identify daily routines u Inquire if family has current support system. u Get complete information on needs, including daily routines, hours of care needed and if there is any flexibility. NACCRRA: Answering the Call 15

19 Competencies Components Strategies/Skills Make plans and follow through to check back with parent to see how issues were resolved, or not. Clarification Of Needs Customized Information and Resources Next Steps/What To Expect u View broad spectrum of needs u Investigate recent changes and transitions u Look at underlying needs u Relate typical life patterns u Come up with creative solutions u Work with colleagues and other professionals as a team u Develop expertise u Ask for help when needed u Locate information as needed u Have a current list of community referrals u Have a plan of action u Follow through u Anticipate future issues Problem Solving u Communicate your ability to help. u Look into what prompted parent to call, and any recent changes. u Confirm that life changes and other stresses are part of life that will change. u Break down problems into manageable pieces. u Try to work with family s current support systems in place to determine if they can be used as part of solution; but also use other community supports as needed. Teamwork and Cooperation to Meet Parents Needs Information Seeking Initiative u Remain up-to-date on best practices, community services, and other issues in child care field. u Use expertise of colleagues, and continue to develop your own knowledge base. u Review cases with colleagues to improve your skills and strategies. u Continually update resource lists and publications. u View research as part of normal job responsibilities. u Help identify needs and next steps with each parent. u Explain the range of services and how they work. u Stay with parents until issue has been resolved or steps have been discussed to reach solutions. u Get additional assistance if required. u Think through and anticipate next steps and possible future needs. u Make plans and follow through to check back with parent to see how issues were resolved, or not. 16 NACCRRA: Answering the Call

20 Using Effective Communication Strategies There are many effective communication strategies that Referral Specialists may use throughout the entire referral call. Because parents needs are the focus of a referral, it takes a conscientious effort to manage the call in a way that is sensitive, supportive, and strategically focused to gather and note important information. Here are four ways to help: n Focus: u Check with parents and follow their lead on issues and concerns they have. When conversations stray, which they will at times, try to refocus on parents goals as needed to realign the conversation. n Question: u Use open-ended and probing questions to get as much information in a sensitive manner to clarify needs, and to guide parents to come up with solutions as well. n Restate: u Repeat what is said and check in frequently with parents to make sure you are both operating under the same assumptions and goals. n Validate: u Use language that lets parents know that you listening and understand their needs and concerns. Assure them that you will assist them as much as possible. Understanding Families It is important to understand the families you serve. Providing individualized referrals means being aware that all families and all their needs can and will vary. Start each referral with a clean slate and allow the caller to fill in the pieces and guide the process. When you are speaking with families, remember that: u Experience and knowledge with child care varies. Families who call for child care referrals may be new parents seeking care for the first time, or have just moved to the area and need to know where to find child care. Perhaps parents also need assistance with paying for child care, or want to find out about available summer school-age care. There are many reasons why parents decide to call, visit, or go to your website. u Each family is different and has unique needs. Be mindful that people of different cultures may have preferences that are different than your own. Do not make assumptions or judgments, or think you know what is best for families. u Everyone has stressors, changes, and transitions, at some point in their lives. Everyone handles stress in different ways. If you get a parent who is in a particularly stressful situation, try to be understanding and assist in any way you can to help them manage. Providing individualized referrals means being aware that all families and all their needs can and will vary. Sources of Stress for Today s Families u First child u Single parenting u Financial worries u New job/change in work u Family illness/health concerns u Natural disasters u Caring for parents/grandparents u Separation/divorce u Children leaving home u New child in family u Caring for child with special needs u Spouse in military; deployed u Layoffs u Death u Moving into new community/location u Nontraditional work hours u Selecting school u Grandparents caring for a grandchild NACCRRA: Answering the Call 17

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