The intake process is just one of the many challenging and important aspects of case management services or any other human service program. The intake can be a challenging process for both the client/family and the clinician. There is often a high level of anxiety for families that are unfamiliar with the mental health/social services system. The clinician also needs to be prepared to answer questions and be able to explain services in a way that is easy to understand. Depending on the service and agency, the intake process can take several hours to complete. We will discuss some of the keys to making the intake process as painless as possible.
Gathering information is perhaps the most time consuming portion of the intake process. The intake process usually begins with a phone call from the client or family member requesting services. Basic information is gathered such as name, addresses, etc. The next step is to obtain more specific information such as mental health diagnosis as well as information on the client’s current situation. Obtaining information on the current situation can determine what immediate steps need to be taken. A major crisis may be able to be handled over the phone or referred to emergency services. If there is a need for long term services, then an intake appointment to case management services is scheduled. Case management services provide ongoing monitoring and linkage to community resources as opposed to short term crisis intervention.
Gathering as much information as possible before the initial meeting can make the intake process easier. For mental health professionals, this means gathering documentation such as psychological reports, social history, school reports, and medical reports. Gathering enough information in advance can speed up the process and determine the appropriate services before the face to face meeting. It’s also a good practice to fill out as much paperwork before the meeting to make the process move a little faster.
The Face to Face Meeting
Additional assessments may also be conducted at the scheduled intake meeting to determine eligibility for additional services. These may include functional assessments, mental health screenings, and determination for placement on statewide waiting lists. Financial assessments may also be completed to determine if there should be a fee charged for services. In most cases, Medicaid pays for case management services and there is no cost to the client.
In addition to assessments, the face to face meeting is also the time to get agency documentation signed such as consent forms. Consent forms allow the agency to share client information with other agencies for referral purposes and to monitor progress. This is also the time where the client is informed of their human rights and the appeals/complaint process in their particular jurisdiction.
The treatment plan is also developed during the face to face appointment. The clinician gathers information on specific goals and objectives that the client wants to accomplish. The case manager also provides interventions to help the client achieve their goals.
Gathering information on client preferences is also important. This helps the agency match the client to the case manager that best fits their needs. Some situations may be more suitable for a male case manager while others may be more appropriate for a female case manager. Cases are often assigned to cases based on expertise. For example, case managers who have a background with children’s services may be a better fit for a younger client. Case managers with a background in gerontology may work better with an older client.
Knowledge of Resources
It is critical to have knowledge of community resources and service providers. Families often have very little information and they depend on you to be knowledgeable about services that can provide some relief. In some cases, it is determined during the intake process that the client is not eligible for the service that is requested. When this occurs, it’s important to have knowledge of resources to make the appropriate referral. Of course the best way to avoid that is to determine eligibility and make the referral before the intake.
Every industry has their own language that they use to communicate. They include acronyms phrases and terms that only someone that is familiar with that field would understand. The mental health/human services field is full of jargon and it’s important to not talk over the heads of the clients and make them more confused. If you have to use specific terminology, be sure to follow that up with a detailed description and repeat things as much as needed. Remember, the intake process may be the first exposure to any type of services and all of this may be foreign to them. The key is to make things as simple as possible.
Patience is also needed during the intake process. Depending on the type of intake, the process can take several hours to complete in one setting. In addition, families usually have many questions and need and may need things explained several times. The long intake process may also have a negative impact on behaviors during the office visit. Children and some adults with a history of agitation and behavioral problems might have a difficult time sitting for an extended period of time. It’s also appropriate to offer a break or have family complete paperwork if possible.
Body Language/Voice Tone
Two subtle but important aspects of the intake process are body language and voice tone. Clients and their families are often in a crisis or an extremely difficult situation at the time of the intake. They need to know that you have the knowledge and ability to help them. Confident body language and a calm voice tone can help ease anxiety. As the first point of contact, it’s important to make a good impression. If the client and family have a negative experience, it may reflect poorly on the entire agency. This is not always the case but it is always good to ensure that the client and family have a positive experience and leave knowing that their situation will get better.