Community Asset Mapping Toolkit – Overview
Outcomes & Products for 2013 updates
Community Asset Mapping (CAM) is a project that evolved from work of the Washington State Autism Advisory Council. The Washington State Autism Advisory Council began in 2009 to guide the work of two competitive federal grants awarded by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services under the Combating Autism Act of 2006 to:
The CAM process has proven to be a successful tool for igniting community coalitions and improving services for children with special health care needs, specifically children with autism and their families. We are proud to be part of a growing network of communities in Washington who have ‘mapped’ or identified their assets, or used these materials informally in their community to identify strengths and gaps in services for children with autism and their families. We hope to expand the use of CAM in more Washington communities.
Community asset mapping is based on the identification of existing strengths and capacities. Successful community asset mapping takes place when the community is committed to investing shared resources, knowledge, time, and expertise to meet a need. In Washington State we decided to pilot the community asset mapping process to address an identified need. This was the need to assure that children in rural and underserved communities with suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or other developmental delays, have equitable and timely access to services for early identification and diagnosis in locations as close to their homes as possible. The majority of the autism diagnostic centers in our state are located in urban areas, largely in Western Washington. These diagnostic centers are not readily accessible for children and families in rural communities throughout the state. Many diagnostic centers have a long waiting list. Eight rural Washington State communities participated in a pilot CAM project from February 2009 – August 2011.
These communities were selected based on the following criteria:
- Represent a rural community with geographic and ethnic diversity
- Located at some distance from an existing Washington State autism diagnostic center
- Self-identified as having fragmented community systems of communication and services for children with ASD and their families, and a desire to make improvements
- Identified one or more individuals within the community who is a passionate champion for children with developmental disabilities and their families, and willing to serve as the community project coordinator
- Identified as having the capacity to bring together community members from a variety of service areas such as: families, primary medical care, mental health, child care, early intervention, education, public health, Head Start/Early Head Start, community colleges, and others
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Goals of the pilot CAM project:
- Build community-based coalitions of families, schools, and medical professionals committed to working together to improve local systems and services for children with ASD and their families
- Stimulate locally-based training and information sharing for families and professionals regarding evidence-based ASD screening, assessment and intervention strategies
- Improve local community capacity for more timely identification, referral and access to appropriate early intervention services
- Ultimately increase the number of ASD diagnostic centers in Washington State and reduce the waitlist for diagnostic services
- Increase the number of referral sources for children with ASD across the state
- Demystify and smooth out the referral process for families and providers
- Increase the connection between local providers (community) and state resources
It all started when your CAM facilitation team came over…The way that you pulled information out of all the community professionals and the people that were there…was very, very influential in getting us going…It is helpful to have a neutral party do some of that, too; so often times there are agendas. –Local community participant
Methodology for the pilot CAM project:
Within each pilot community, key stakeholders including families participated in a local onsite community half-day meeting. Meetings were facilitated by staff and faculty from the Washington State Department of Health—CSHCN Program and the University of Washington LEND Program for the purpose of establishing a community-based coalition dedicated to making changes in systems for children with ASD and their families.
The “Tiers to Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Pyramid” was used as an organizing tool to facilitate discussion and brainstorming among the community stakeholders. Each level of the pyramid helped to identify community-based assets, capacity and gaps from which specific needs and priorities were identified.
At the end of these half-day meetings communities developed a plan of action based on two self-identified key priorities.
Each of the pilot communities established their own unique work plan. Technical assistance was made available to the communities by staff from the Department of Health and UW LEND Programs via email, telephone, and in-person visits to the community sites. The pilot communities continue their work today. Community coalitions have been developed with stronger interdisciplinary relationships and collaborations established. See the Products Section for a description of outcomes and products.
If [the technical assistance] didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be doing it … You need someone who has a bigger picture that you are able to bounce things off of. But at the same time, what’s been wonderful is that … it has been an equal conversation, versus someone saying “this is what we think you should do.” That has been nice. –Local community participant
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In the process of piloting the community asset mapping process we have learned many valuable lessons. Some of these include:
- Communities are hungry for the opportunity to bring together community stakeholders from various backgrounds, agencies, and practices for collaborative dialogue about coordinating services and resources for children with developmental disabilities, including ASD.
- It is beneficial to have skilled facilitators provide technical assistance to the community leaders in planning and carrying out the first community meeting and asset mapping dialogue.
- Communities appreciated using the “Tiers to Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Pyramid” tool as a way of generating the first round of community-based dialogue and brainstorming
- To be successful over time, continued technical assistance from skilled facilitators is ideal. The amount and degree of technical assistance will vary in each community. Making time and opportunity for face-to-face exchanges between skilled facilitators and community stakeholders is important for launching the community action plan and sustaining systems change in the first few years.
- Communities that experienced the greatest success carrying out their action plan for community change built on existing programs or established a new infrastructure to support their work. This included such things as a hired community facilitator, a small work committee of committed individuals, endorsement and support from an existing agency/program, and a schedule of regular community meetings.
- It is vital to include family members as ongoing participants in the community discussions and action planning. Family members are empowered partners when: 1) there is clear communication to the families why their voice in community discussions is valuable and necessary, 2) support is offered to help families acquire and utilize their leadership skills, and 3) the family perspective is truly honored and heard.
- Identifying dedicated funding to support regular community meetings and other activities further supports the success of sustainability over time. This may be in the form of funding support from a community agency or program, or a successful grant application. Funding can be tiny, but it leverages a lot of progress.
- Consider ways to foster evidence-based credibility and expertise to the community-based activities. For the pilot communities this included inviting content experts in medicine, mental health, and early intervention from WA state diagnostic centers or universities to participate in community-based discussions and offer trainings within the local community. Particular success was gained when skilled developmental pediatricians from diagnostic centers came into the community to offer training to a range of families and professionals, as well as conduct discussions with local primary care physicians. This dialogue encouraged partnerships to form between physicians both across the state and in the local community.
The CAM structure was helpful as it allowed input from all who chose to participate…It allowed time for discussion but the facilitation kept the session flowing toward results …The ability to narrow down what seems like an endless topic into a few priority actions was very helpful and I’ve applied the process to meetings since then. –Local community provider
The helpfulness [of the coalition structure] was that we are building connections with other people in the state–at the universities, institutions, and other organizations…It helps me access resources for the folks in my community. It is fabulous. This has been such an energizing structure and experience in terms of helping us get outside our little silos. –Local community provider
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