January 27, 2023
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Savannah Farmer, a social worker with the Golden Valley Police Department, said her day starts with a roll call with department officers.

She receives referrals from officers who have come across people in need of social assistance the night before or over the weekend. When Farmer receives a call from the office, she sometimes joins the officers and shows up at the scene to immediately contact people, including the homeless.

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“Sometimes the calls tend to be directed to the homeless, so traditional phone or mail work isn’t effective,” she said. “So I go to the scene and provide these resources in real time – either take them to the Center for Mental Health and Wellbeing, call to see if there is an open shelter bed, or connect them to food assistance and the like. stabilization in the long run.

Starting next year, more Hennepin County residents will have access to this kind of response as the county expands its built-in social worker program. Starting with just five social workers three years ago, the program will now have nearly 10 times as many social workers working alongside officers in all 45 county towns to provide resources to residents in need more quickly.

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This program is one of several pilot programs the district hopes to implement to better connect people with social services.

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It is also an attempt to limit armed police response to every emergency call and prevent deeper intervention in the criminal justice system, an approach that more residents have been calling for since the killing of George Floyd by the then Minneapolis cop.

Improving results

The Embedded Social Worker program is one of many initiatives developed by county health and human service officials, as well as stakeholders from various public safety agencies, including law enforcement, corrections officers, judges, district attorneys, and public defenders. The aim of the strategy is to improve outcomes for individuals with mental health problems and substance abuse disorders who come into contact with the police and end up entangled in the criminal justice system.

From here came the built-in social worker program, which puts a social worker in the police station to reduce contact with law enforcement, connect people to services, and prevent people from needlessly participating in courts. The program began in 2019 with just five social workers, a number that has steadily increased every year. In 2023, police departments in each city in the county will have access to 45 social workers.

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Leah Kaiser, director of mental health programs for Hennepin County, said the county decided to expand the program because it had positive results. She said the expansion of the program was also due to county residents asking for alternate responses to calls that traditionally involved law enforcement.

“After George Floyd, there is growing awareness and a growing desire on the part of communities to bring services like an embedded social worker closer to emergency response,” she said. “This is really a response to the community and is really focused on the current residents experience and what we can do in collaboration with others to improve that experience.”

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In the wake of the global outrage sparked by the killing of Floyd at the hands of a then-police officer, city and police departments across the country are exploring alternative responses to armed law enforcement.

Minneapolis launched several pilot programs including the Behavioral Crisis Response Team, which includes unarmed mental health professionals who answer calls from people in crisis. Mayor Jacob Frey’s budget, which was passed by City Council earlier this month, provides for $1.45 million in 2023 and $2.9 million in 2024 to expand the response team.

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Embedded Social Worker Day

Golden Valley is home to many seniors who live alone, so Farmer’s job is often to connect them with county services to help keep them safe and independent.

But each department has different needs, and the experience of social workers in these communities is tailored to meet those needs. In Bloomington, for example, an inline social worker was able to help a child with behavioral problems at school, as well as help their parents find support and ultimately prevent the situation from escalating, said Adesola Jayemi, regional manager for the county’s Justice and Behavior Department. Health Initiative.

“We have social workers who are dedicated to making sure people are equipped — be it skills, information, connecting to resources available in their community, supporting them in that way,” she said. “Then it diverts calls to law enforcement. and really allows for a “right person at the right time” approach.

Other efforts in the future

Kaiser said that while the built-in social worker program has been successful so far, it won’t solve every problem with the current 911 response machine due to the diversity of needs of residents who call. That’s why the county is developing and testing other pilot programs to create even more customized responses to meet the needs of residents.

One of those pilot programs began this month in Brooklyn Park, where a local paramedic is paired with a social worker to respond to mental health calls to help people experiencing behavioral crises before they escalate into an emergency. requiring the police. An alternate response team, modeled after a similar program in Denver, will handle calls that a 911 dispatcher flags as urgent but not related to violence or weapons, including welfare checks, self-harm, lewd exposure, boundary violations, and low mental disorders. health problems and substance abuse, among others.

“It’s not just ‘yes, we did it, we arrived, ticked the box and move on’, we are constantly looking back on what else we can do to improve results, what best national practice is telling us and what our data is showing us,” Kaiser said. “We are going to continue to adapt our systems in a way that we believe will achieve these results and make efficient use of our resources.”

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