The Importance of Capacity Building for Autism Advocates and Professionals
By Carol Tatom, BA.HSE, CHW
Capacity building for autism advocates and professionals working in the field is essential to meet the community's needs. One agency or organization alone cannot meet 100% of an individual's or family's needs, so collaborating with other community partners helps build a stronger support network for those impacted by autism. "Although the field of autism research has made great strides in identifying and establishing evidence-based interventions, dissemination, and implementation of these interventions have been reported as inequitable" (Lee & et al., 2022). Families living in rural areas or lacking insurance coverage will need additional services and support from various agencies to help fill the gaps in service and healthcare management. Human services practitioners and social workers can help strengthen the services they provide to their clients by collaborating with other agencies and building professional networks that strengthen the field and quality of care.
Organizations and human services practitioners can benefit from capacity building in a variety of ways. "Capacity-building interventions can enhance knowledge, skill, self-efficacy (including confidence), changes in practice or policies, behavior change, application, and system-level capacity" (DeCorby-Watson & et al., 2018). Different areas with different demographic needs may benefit from different approaches from what is used in other regions. Agencies and organizations that serve at the national level will have different challenges and needs to address when working with clients in different regions. Collaborating with local human services agencies and nonprofit organizations can help ensure you're aware of any services or support in that area that may benefit your client and their family.
Capacity building can also help increase sustainability to meet the future needs of clients and the agency. "Belief in the resource-saving and service-enhancing potential of inter-organizational collaboration has become virtually an article of faith among resource providers, client advocates, and service planners" (Lynn & Hill, 2001). The field of human services and the needs of individuals impacted by autism is constantly evolving. To meet the growing demand for services and support in a quickly changing field, collaboration with stakeholders and other agencies can benefit all parties involved.
Some ways to help increase capacity building include creating a plan that provides long-term support. The type of support should be sustainable so that families benefit from the support and assistance they receive. Creating solutions can help strengthen partnerships as you collaborate to work on a common goal. Supporting each other's technical and adaptive needs can also help to foster sustainable relationships that strengthen over time. Lastly, create successful partnerships by learning about what each partner does and how your families or clients can benefit from those services or support. It's hard to serve a family with limited resources. Creating an environment full of resources created by community partners who work together for a common goal can have a lasting positive impact on the community and the individuals they serve. Autism families often have co-occurring conditions that make it necessary for them to receive a wide range of support. Capacity building helps to strengthen the support and resources we can provide to autism families and ensure that the support they receive is sustainable for years to come.
DeCorby-Watson, K., & et al. (2018). Effectiveness of capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice: a systematic review. BMC Public Health (18)684. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5591-6
Lee, J. D., & et al. (2022). Strategies for capacity building in a low-resource setting: Stakeholders' voices. Autism, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613221127077
Lynn, Jr, L. & Hill, C. (2001). Producing Human Services: Why Do Agencies Collaborate? Public Management Review. 5. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461667022000028861.
Carol Tatom has a bachelor's degree in human services and is a licensed community health worker in Texas. She is also an autism parent, advocate, and professional. Carol currently works at Life Skills Autism Academy and has served on the executive board for the Texas Society of Public Health Education and has volunteered for the Dallas Chapter of Autism Speaks. Carol enjoys working with other autism families to help connect them to services, support, and resources in their region and to help bridge the gap that many families struggle with after receiving their initial autism diagnosis. You can connect with Carol.