Leadership Interview: Matthew Dodson, Director, Archuleta County Department of Human Services

With 20 years of experience in human services, Dodson is a leader in efforts to provide financial services and protective/prevention services to assist individuals and families. Dodson was honored as the Colorado Human Services Director Association’s first Director of the Year in 2017, and, under his direction, Archuleta County Department of Human Services received a Distinguished Performance Award from the State of Colorado. He is a member of the Colorado Human Services Directors Association, Best Practices Court Team, Axis Mental Health Board of Directors and Colorado's Human Trafficking Council. Dodson represents Southwest Colorado in numerous committees and work groups that influence policy development and reform. In 2017, he was accepted as an Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow. Dodson is a licensed clinical social worker and earned his master’s degree in social work from New Mexico Highlands University-Farmington.
Ascent: How have things changed in the past five years in Archuleta County in the way families and children are served?
Dodson: In Archuleta County, we’ve implemented several major changes in the way we deliver services to children and families. Most important is our goal at ACDHS to always remember the importance of customer service, an integral part of our job, and the experience we deliver to those we serve.   
We use a two-generational approach that considers the needs of both children and their caregivers. These programs are designed to assure that services support the whole family in reaching self-sufficiency, so that opportunity becomes a family tradition. It’s a concerted effort from leadership to case managers—it’s probably the most significant change we’ve made. When we’re working to help someone become more employable, for example, it becomes a work ethic tradition for the entire family.
In many ways, Colorado is at the forefront when we talk about our child welfare system. The Title IV-E waiver [which expands flexibility in use of federal funds] allowed Colorado to develop interventions that provide an opportunity for our case managers and families to work toward child and family safety goals in a more transparent and supportive manner. We’ve implemented the Differential Response model, which allows us to use a less severe family assessment response, when it’s appropriate, after receiving a call for concern about child welfare. When that perceived threat from social services intervention is removed, it helps case managers better connect with families to offer help and support. 
Another example: We’re using family engagement meetings to provide a common framework for sharing information. They allow parents to have a voice and a choice in decisions regarding their families—which they’re more likely to implement because they were involved in making the decisions. 
We’ve also taken strides to become a trauma-informed department and community. Trauma-informed care is a multi-step process that aims to understand, and effectively translate, the impact of trauma on children, and is meant to build resiliency for the child and family.
Ascent: How are you making connections for families between health and social services?
Dodson: The answer really goes back to that intentional use of a two-generational approach. Health and human services are intrinsically linked. We are very proud of the relationships we have across sectors, including those with our local health department, community mental health providers, business and non-profit community, school district and the citizens of Archuleta County. We’re highly engaged in developing and maintaining these relationships, recognizing that each sector has a role to play in helping individuals succeed.  
One example is the Medical Coverage Collaborative, a group that meets at least quarterly to discuss Medicaid enrollment and outreach activities to connect families needing health coverage to the Connect for Health Colorado insurance exchange, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Plan. We don’t have many brokers for Connect for Health in our region, so we host open enrollment events; we’re doing one on Dec. 8. We invite brokers, nonprofit partners and Connect for Health folks to our department. We do it outside of our traditional business hours--on a Saturday—because we realize it’s hard for people with work schedules to come during work hours and get the help they need. 
We also work with Meg Taylor of RMHP and the Region 1 RAE [Regional Accountable Entities, which manage clinical and behavioral health care for Colorado’s Medicaid enrollees].. They’re open to our ideas and how we can be successful together. One goal where we’re aligned is supporting opportunities for expanding the behavioral health provider network. I’ve done outreach in our community with mental health providers and connected with them to help guide them through the contracting process. 
When people have access to options and adequate health care coverage, it lends itself to a thriving community. One up-and-coming discussion I’ll be having with RMHP is exploring innovations like the use of tele-mental health, locating sites where people can access those services regardless of where they might be located.
It’s important that we stay in close communication with RMHP and our community partners to coordinate activities and priorities around effective and accessible provision of Medicaid-covered services. The success of the child welfare system is highly dependent on provision of evidence-based behavioral health and substance use treatment services. 
Ascent: What's next? What's your vision to further advance social health and well-being?
Dodson: Given the recent election and anticipated changes in the federal and state Human Services administration, it’s paramount that we are mindful about the transition planning process and sharing our vision for making Archuleta and, in general, Colorado, the best place to raise a child. We need to continue on the road to:
  • Invest in prevention and early intervention child welfare strategies; 
  • Ensure at-risk and aging adults are healthy, safe and thriving in our communities through integrated, community-based services;
  • Do our best to provide employment and economic opportunities for the entire family and break the cycle of crisis and poverty; 
  • Increase access to adequate child care and access to high-quality early childhood programs and services; and 
  • Develop deeper coordination with our public health partners to support activities for physical, emotional and behavioral health. The further we can get upstream with prevention, the less likely the person will cross over the threshold into crisis.