Research & Evaluation
Iowa Center for Evaluation & Research
DMC Resource Center

patch approach

A Neighborhood, a Center, and Families
"The Brownstone" is a three-story brick walk-up on the corner of 1st Avenue N.E. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It sits on a tree-lined street on the edge of an urban commercial district. The Brownstone, a Family Resource Center named by a site council composed of family members and community representatives, houses the first of a series of Patch teams which are changing the way children and families know and use the service system in Cedar Rapids. Through the Patch approach, the Brownstone has become a place to access an array of family and children services on the near east side of Cedar Rapids. The atmosphere at the Brownstone is comfortable, friendly, busy. It's a place to plan and to do things with other families and neighbors; a potluck supper, a bicycle safety class, or a clothes closet, to name a few. People walking in off the street gather information on community services and events. A "skills exchange" lets people share talents such as carpentry, auto repair, or sewing. Families take some stress out of their day at the Brownstone's "family center." There they can use emergency laundry facilities, make a phone call, grab a loaf of bread from the free bread pantry, or just sit and talk for a while.

Changing Services to Families
The Patch approach at the Brownstone demonstrates the best kind of service center emerging from a national interest in transforming children and family services. It's putting services into the neighborhood, replacing the lengthy trip to a central office downtown with a short one to a familiar place with familiar faces. It's mixing services with family support-- recognizing that for services to work they must be offered in a community setting that can sustain a family's progress. The Patch approach goes further, bringing public child welfare, income maintenance, and health services into a family support environment. Through the Patch approach, services emphasize participation and empowerment, not simply the transfer of resources.

Patch Means Neighborhood
The Patch in Cedar Rapids is a neighborhood with about 10,000 residents. The Patch approach spreading across Linn County is a community-centered practice model initiating dramatic change in social services and community development. Going Patch describes the process of creating interagency teams of community residents, advocates, professionals, volunteers and others in combinations as diverse as their neighborhoods. They work in those neighborhoods in a vital and innovative way. By establishing a Patch team in a local neighborhood, the Patch approach decentralizes services while making them more comprehensive, more accessible, and less fragmented. The Patch team services a specific geographical area and provides a shared neighborhood entry point for a wide array of services, supports, and opportunities to contribute to the neighborhood. The Patch team has a strong orientation to the local neighborhood and involves residents of the neighborhood in planning and providing services.

Goals of the Patch Approach
The goals of the Patch approach operate at the level of the family, the neighborhood, and service system. These goals include; Identify family strengths and needs early, Strengthen family's neighborhood social support network, Discover and create neighborhood assets and resources, Build partnerships with families, neighborhood groups, businesses, and service organizations, Provide neighborhood access to necessary services, Coordinate services with informal supports and developmental activities, Locate service gaps and plan comprehensive services, Develop policy that supports a neighborhood-based service system, Increase satisfaction with the service system,

Looking Back
The terms Patch, the Patch approach, and going Patch derive from the project's past. The Patch approach originated in Great Britain, in response to reports dating to 1968, which found social services to be too bureaucratic, too specialized, and too fragmented. In the 1980's, going Patch gained momentum as line workers and managers looked for ways to promote reform and respond to budget cuts.

The Patch project was seeded in Cedar Rapids in 1991 through an innovations transfer project sponsored by Linn County. The University of Iowa, and the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. It developed through Linn County Decategorization. "Decat". legislated by the State of Iowa, pools social service funds and uses them in flexible ways to meet the needs of families in new and resourceful ways. Through these origins, the Patch approach continues to grow in Linn County.

Making the Patch Approach Work
Making the Patch approach work is the achievement of many people-- from neighborhood parents who watch children walk home from school, to high-ranking administrators with the skills to translate a vision into policy, to front-line staff accepting the challenge of a new form of practice. These people, among many others, discover that the Patch approach is not a new agency or program, but a Change Process, depending on a commitment to building partnerships and changing relationships at all levels of the service system.

Community Centered Practice
Working as a team in the neighborhood has positive effects on workers' practice. Team members develop their own distinctive Patch approach. Team members develop a rich base of information about the neighborhood and the people who live there. The team joins with families when "a little bit of help" can make the difference in a family's support system. It takes a creative approach to developing local resources and informal neighborhood supports. And it advocates for families within the system. The team experiences the fact that their relationships with other team members, with neighborhood residents, and with the broader human service community enhance their ability to achieve improved outcomes with families.

The Future of Patch
Patch has grown. It has become a key ingredient in the progress of systems change in Cedar Rapids. In the early 1993 a group of service providers gathered to form the Family Resource Development Association (FRDA) in Linn County. The FRDA is a broadly based collaborative intended to act as a planning/governance entity for a series of Family Resource Centers. The Patch approach, through its team structure, community centered practice, and its vision of partnership within communities, was a key to establishing the Centers. Now Patch teams will be developed in four Family Resource Centers in other neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids and north Linn County. Each team, and the activities of each Center, will be tailored to the neighborhood through the work of its Neighborhood Site Council.

Patch continues to attract national attention. Patch, and Linn County Decategorization, have been selected as finalists by the Innovations in American Government program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Ford Foundation.

Creating the Team

The team is the heart of the Patch approach. A Patch team is diverse. At the Brownstone, the Patch team includes: Child Protective Service Investigators and Assessors, Income Maintenance Workers, A representative of Harambee House, a community program associated with Jane Boyd Community House, A homemaker from the Linn County Home Health, A juvenile court officer, A nurse from the Linn County Health Department, Family support workers, Americorps workers, A domestic violence advocate from the Domestic Violence Program at the YWCA, Student interns from area colleges, The Patch team adapts to its circumstances. The team changes as it negotiates an evolving policy and program environment, as it develops a deepening understanding of neighborhood assets and needs, and as it reflects the increased resourcefulness of its members. This creates the opportunity to adapt the Patch approach. Patch teams might include: Team coordinators, Supervisors from agencies serving the neighborhood, Head Start Teachers and Aides, Family Development Workers, Neighborhood residents, Child care workers, Community law enforcement officers, vHousing inspectors, Business people, Community artists, Teachers.

The team works by including diverse participants capable of making positive contributions to their community. In addition to refocusing traditional social services within the neighborhood, the Patch team responds to other concerns of families. The availability of housing, skills and materials for household maintenance, resources for effective parenting under stressful conditions, and emergency assistance all challenge the team to discover and develop resources. The team also works with residents to develop activities that families want in their neighborhood. Classes such as Tae Kwon Do or cooking, peer support groups, or summer recreation programs are just a few of the activities the Patch team may initiate.

Other Patch Articles:

  • Patch Named Finalist in 1996 Innovations Awards Program
  • Unruly Process of Systems Change: How the Patch Approach is Leading Reform by John Zalenski

For more information on patch consultation, please contact:
Brad Richardson
Associate Research Scientist (319) 335-4924


NRCFCP - 319.335.4965

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