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Kandiyohi County readying for family services redesign

WILLMAR -- Starting now, and continuing through 2012, county family service departments will be taking on a new shape as part of the Legislature's efforts to create a more efficient statewide system.

The process won't be easy but it's hoped the end results will be positive, said Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft.

Over the next couple years, "we'll be taking steps toward the implementation of the redesign," Kieft said last week during the Kandiyohi County Board meeting. It's an opportunity to make "good changes."

Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed eliminating most individual county family service departments and replacing them with 15 regional systems. Counties made a counter-proposal that was approved this spring by legislators in the omnibus bill.

Despite "lukewarm support" of the counter-proposal, Kieft said Pawlenty signed the omnibus bill and put into motion efforts that could streamline how counties provide family services.

Commissioner Harlan Ma-dsen said it's vital for counties to work hard to help create a new system that will meet the goals or risk having a system designed for them by the state.

"If we screw this up," said Madsen, counties won't have a say in how the system will be re-designed. "It'll be forced up us by others."

A state-wide steering committee, that will include a commissioner and family service director from rural communities, will help create the new system. Madsen said he would be interested in serving on that committee.

Madsen challenged Kieft and the other family services staff to become as educated and involved with the process as possible and to remain positive and pro-active.

"We'd better not take this lightly," said Madsen. It'll take "some very hard work" to move this ahead.

Preliminary plans for the new system includes creating "service delivery authorities."

These authorities could include multiple counties forming joint power relationships to provide family services to a region, or several counties could share and cooperate with some programs.

Each authority is to have a population of 55,000.

With a population of 42,000 and a well-run family services department, Kieft said the argument could be made for Kandiyohi County to remain as a stand-alone county rather than being paired up with a neighboring county.

Kandiyohi County could also cooperate with other counties on specific programs, which could also qualify as a service delivery authority.

Because it would be difficult to find 55,000 people even by combining numerous counties in western Minnesota, a group of four counties would be allowed to create a service delivery authority, said Kieft.

The goals of the new plan are to be client-focused, out-come based, have adequate resources, have a simplified administrative process and be locally defined.

Kieft said most of the changes will be implemented by 2012. "This is our future," he said.

"We've got to be moving right along," said Commissioner Richard Larson.

Commissioner Richard Falk agreed. "We've got to jump in with all our feet to get our voices heard."

Madsen said the work involved with creating a new system to replace the regional treatment centers will be "minor" compared to the work that will be required to change how the state delivers family services through county departments.

He said family services won't be the only department that will have to undergo restructuring as the state looks for creating economic efficiencies. Oher departments, like law enforcement, are also on the list, Madsen said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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