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MRWS Warm Handoff

Snapshot View of Practice

Warm Handoff is a method of communication to help make shelter services trauma-informed and client-centred. A warm handoff happens between any two members of the MRWSA staff and the client/supported person. It includes the supported person as a team member so that they can participate in the conversation about their current case plan and the next steps to reach their goals.

Name of Shelter
Mountain Rose Women’s Shelter’s Association (MRWSA)
Type of Shelter
Emergency Shelter
Location
Rocky Mountain House, Alberta
Category
Wrap around client services
Budget
Less than $50,000
Time Investment
Moderate
Prep Time
Three months to prepare and launch
What is MRWS Warm Handoff

Warm Handoff is a method of communication to help make shelter services trauma-informed and client-centred. A warm handoff happens between any two members of the MRWSA staff team, including shelter crisis workers, outreach workers, housing support workers, community engagement coordinators, mentors, and program supervisors, with an emphasis on including the client/supported person in the process. Including the supported person as a team member ensures that they can participate in the conversation about their current case plan and the next steps to reach their goals.

In a warm handoff, responsible staff members accompany the client for the first few meetings instead of just referring the client to another staff member or service provider. The staff member introduces the services and explains the needs of the client to the referred service provider in the presence of the client. This ensures that the client is informed about the referral services, they don’t have to repeat their traumatic stories, and communication between staff members is clear. Depending on how comfortable and independent the client feels, the first staff member gradually withdraws from the meetings.

Background

MRWSA recognized that clients were being asked to share their stories multiple times. This process often re-traumatized them, making them less likely to access shelter services and creating more barriers. MRWSA’s research helped them select the “warm handoff” method that is often used in retail services between customers and salespeople and in medical services between nurses and doctors. This method has shown positive outcomes in relationship building in both fields. The shelter staff team adopted this practice for client support on a pilot basis. The staff team roleplayed, practising this method with each other. They then revised it after receiving feedback from each other about what felt forced and what felt natural. The staff team values the warm handoff method and always uses this method while referring clients internally. For external service providers, the team adopts a version of this method to support their clients as well. They have received positive feedback from clients.

How does the program work

The crisis worker completing intake develops a rapport with the person coming into the shelter. The crisis worker then encourages discussion around future plans and goals on day three or four. Often, these goals need further support from other staff members, such as the housing coordinator. The crisis worker then explains to the client how the other staff member can help them achieve their goals. The selected staff member then accompanies the client on their first meeting with other new staff members. The appointed staff member introduces the client, their situation, and goals, with permission from the client, to the new staff member. They also explain how the new staff member can assist the client. This support continues for three to four meetings, depending on the comfort level of the client. The appointed staff member then gradually reduces their support after checking with the client about how confident they feel taking things forward with the new staff member.

When space is not available for crisis line callers, MRWSA adopts a version of the warm handoff to find an alternative solution. Instead of referring a caller to another shelter by giving them more phone numbers, they ask for their permission to inquire about availability on their behalf. They make calls to other shelters to see if they have space and share the story callers have shared. This way, the person in crisis is not forced to repeat their story multiple times. MRWSA ensures that it is safe to return the call before phoning back with an available option of a safe space. For other external services like Alberta Works, shelter staff offer to be physically present while clients make the calls that are often long and frustrating.

What is the impact of this program

MRWSA has been using this method for over five years. They have received very positive feedback from their clients, including feeling supported by staff members and feeling grateful because they don’t have to constantly repeat their stories. Clients have also felt more in control of their situation because they are encouraged to participate in the meetings. They have appreciated the additional support.

MRWSA also feels the warm handoff method has improved communication between staff members. It helps them support clients better because they work as a team. As an emergency shelter, clients often leave the space before they can fully resolve their situations. Because of this method, staff are often still in contact with clients even after they leave the shelter. It allows the MRWSA team to witness clients’ success and celebrate them over time. And it acknowledges shelter staff’s hard work and motivates them to continue.

One of the biggest things in our society today is communication failure. If we’re all on the same page, then you can’t come back later and say, ‘oh well, I didn’t know.’ So, it is keeping people accountable, but it’s also helping us keep the person we’re supporting accountable because it’s her goal… it helps with a smooth transition for the client but also for the staff.”

Challenges in Implementing
  • This method requires more staff time. Often, staff handle multiple crises at the same time and this method demands more time and attention. The shelter has also experienced staff shortages. Warm handoffs require time to build relationships when the referral could be done more quickly. Every time a new staff member is hired, additional training and orientation, involving roleplay, is required to ensure they can use the method effectively.
Tips for those who wish to do something similar
  • Get your team on board. Because the warm handoff requires more time and extra work for staff, your staff must believe in the method and find it useful for this to be successful.
Guideline to use this practice
Contact Name
Cindy Easton
Contact Designation
Executive Director
Contact Email
ceaston@mrwsa.net
Contact Website