Case Study: Clark County, WA

School districts in Clark County often refer youth who are the subject of a filed truancy petition to a community based program – the Clark County Truancy Project -- for case management services. The Juvenile Court and all nine school districts in Clark County contract with this agency to offer truancy interventions for youth.  The program’s goal is to increase school attendance by providing education and support services as part of a graduated response plan developed for the youth.  The program substantially reduces the need for the court to invoke contempt proceedings, which is limited to those exceptional cases in which alternative interventions have failed to address persistent truant behavior.

Clark County has a strong history of agency collaboration to support youth who touch multiple systems. However, agency staff across different service systems are often confused about what information can be shared, with who and when. Agencies may share similar responsibilities to support the same youth and families, yet they may feel intimidated by their legal obligations to protect confidentiality. In some circumstances state law (Revised Code of Washington – RCW) and federal law (HIPAA, FERPA, and CFR) actually allow and support the exchange of information between systems much more readily than is generally understood.

Clark County gathered a large of key stakeholders who set as a goal an increased understanding of what information can and must be shared between youth-serving systems, including how and when, in order to successfully serve youth who are manifesting their life challenges through truancy.  The collaborative worked to increase communication between child serving agencies through information sharing protocols and agreements.  The stakeholders include:  

·       Clark County Juvenile Court

·       Clark County Indigent Defense Counsel

·       Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

·       Washington State Attorney General’s Office

·       Evergreen Public Schools

·       Vancouver Public Schools

·       Battle Ground Public Schools

·       Educational Service District 112

·       Clark County Truancy Project

·       Washington State Children’s Administration, Region 3

·       Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration

·       Clark County Youth House

·       Clark County Regional Support Network

·       Clark County Community Network Board

·       Columbia River Mental Health Services

·       Lifeline Connections

·       Vancouver Police Department

·       Washington State University Vancouver

·       YWCA of Clark County - CASA

The Clark County Truancy Project is neither a court nor a school agency, which made it difficult for project staff to access historical and current information regarding the student’s school status or about previous court interventions for case assessment, planning and integrated service delivery.  At the same time, school and court staff wanted access to Truancy Project information.  For example, the Truancy Project began using a screening tool to identify mental health and drug and alcohol issues in order to fast-track youth to needed services.  On occasion, school staff wanted access to this information for the student.  Consequently, the collaborative had to address whether and when mental health and drug and alcohol related information should be disclosed to schools and courts

The collaborative engaged the assistance of legal counsel from schools, court, and other child serving agencies to help craft solutions.  Specifically, the collaborative identified and assembled legal counsel for key stakeholders to examine federal and state laws and regulations (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Revised Code of Washington), formal agency policies and existing interagency agreements that affect interagency and multi-system information sharing.  The legal counsel group provided consistent direction and guidelines through the development of numerous information sharing tools. They also participated in a multiagency information sharing training and fielded questions from agency line staff.

To date, the Clark County information sharing initiative has made the following advances in support of its goals:

·       Uniform Consent Form: An Authorization for Disclosure/Release of Information for Protected Health Information form was developed incorporating the required elements for a valid authorization. A sample of the form was made available in the Information Sharing Resource Guide and explained in detail at the local information sharing training.

·       Automated Case Management System: The system, called C3MS,  provides the Juvenile Court with centralized collection and management of data, as well as the ability to generate customized reports eliminating the need to hand pull and aggregate data from multiple systems or paper files. The Truancy Project staff have been provided with secure access to a domain specific module within C3MS which replaced their existing system, File Maker, and provided real time information sharing with the Juvenile Court. C3MS functions include recording and monitoring assessments, case plans, social service agency referrals, appointments, and a journal to record notes and activities. With assistance from Clark County’s Civil Department, an interagency agreement to authorize access and share information through C3MS was written and approved by administrators from the Clark County Juvenile Court and ESD #112.

·       School Software System: The Truancy Project staff were provided access to Skyward, the school software system used by Clark County school districts, to access real time information related to attendance, discipline, and grades.

·       Clark County Information Sharing Resource Guide: Created a document that provides information for legal, policy, and practice matters regarding the exchange of case-related information necessary for joint case assessment, planning and integrated service delivery.

·       Data Sharing Agreements and MOUs: Agreements and MOUs needed to support youth as they move through the truancy process were developed between the Juvenile Court and the Truancy Project and between each of the school districts and the Truancy Project. The agreements with each school district are derived from a general template with little variance. The focus is on providing a seamless transition as youth navigate through systems by removing barriers to information sharing and encouraging integrated case planning.