Case Management for Refugee Services: Facilitating Care Coordination


As unprecedented numbers of migrants arrive at the southern US border, many of whom are refugees or asylees, cities and states are scrambling to fulfill their needs. Consequently, the need for increased coordination in communities is increasing as well. For providers of refugee services, it’s more important than ever to adopt modern, sophisticated case management solutions, especially when they tend to compete for the same funding resources.

So how should communities coordinate care and provide case management for refugee resettlement? The answer is two-fold:

  1. Partnering with organizations that share similar missions
  2. Sharing data with compliant, efficient database management

Partnerships: Coordinating Refugee Care with Competitors

Refugee-service agencies are rightly focused on advocacy, language and social support, legal services, education and family services, and medical or cash assistance, but it’s important to keep in mind that all of these services cannot be effectively delivered without good case management.

Without strong case management, agencies can inadvertently duplicate work and create confusion by enrolling individuals in multiple, overlapping programs, reducing efficacy and leaving unaddressed gaps in the overall social determinants of health of the clients. And when you have multiple agencies in a community with overlapping services that aren’t effectively coordinating with each other, the likelihood increases.

As one researcher put it:

For nonprofits, the threat of extinction is less about being taken over by a competing organization and more about competing for limited resources, especially funding and staffing. The nonprofit sector is resource-scarce and has notoriously low staff retention rates. Nonprofits cobble together funding through government dollars, grants, contracts, and donations; nonprofits working toward similar goals or in a similar region are likely to be competing for funding and highly qualified staff members (Bunger,2013; Curley et al.,2021). Competition has also led to a phenomenon known as mission drift, where nonprofits expand, distort, or shift their services and beneficiaries to make themselves more competitive for funding.

Source: Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs.

The article adds, “While relationships with staff at partnering organizations can be helpful, there is a significant drawback to building partnerships on interpersonal relationships: sustainability.” It’s easy to infer from here that, because staff turnover is high at nonprofit refugee services agencies in general, a partnership can be fragile when one or more partners leave the organization.

That’s why community care networks have to be established based on a shared mission, not on individuals.

For example, if a refugee agency offers support or referrals for mental health services, but a competing agency offers those services directly but only for a specific population subset, the referring agency needs a way to coordinate between the service providers.

Do More with Data: Case Management

Case management is the process of assessing appropriate services, coordinating them, and monitoring outcomes for clients seeking health and human services. However, processes can vary wildly within communities, especially when not every individual agency is equipped to handle a case management system on its own—some agencies may be working off of spreadsheets on individual PCs while others rely on a centralized database.

When data is not shared between organizations for referral, several things can occur:

  • Frustration and distress for clients who answer the same questions multiple times for similar services
  • Loss of essential client information when data is not collected uniformly across the network
  • Loss of trust from clients when they experience confusion searching for services
  • Duplicate client records, redundant services, and gaps in social determinants of health

However, some communities have managed to coordinate care among their networks of services. To illustrate, one case study found enormous positive benefit for refugees whose psychiatric or primary care providers coordinated social services with the community, compared to those whose healthcare providers did not.

Even more encouraging are examples like the Kentucky Office for Refugees, which utilizes ClientTrack to coordinate services across the state, much to the benefit of individuals and families in a way that is uniform across the entire referral network. Another network is facilitated by Physicians CareConnection, which, while not focused solely on refugee populations, seamlessly connects social service providers with healthcare providers.

How Is Our Case Management? A Questionnaire

How healthy and effective is your case management? Ask yourself:

  • Are our refugee clients’ needs being addressed for all social determinants of health?
  • Are we partnering with multiple service providers, even when they overlap with us?
  • Is our data quality being degraded by different intake methods? Or do we have a uniform way of collecting data?
  • Do service providers have secure, compliant ways of sharing case notes when relevant? Do we have a way of capturing consent from clients?

If you’re uncertain on any of these questions, we’d love to connect you with one of our refugee experts to discuss ways to better serve your community.

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