Establishing a Governance Board

Your governance board will set the tone and direction for your system of care work. Members should be considered the “power brokers” of the agencies/organizations and have the authority, capacity, and credibility to make decisions and to encourage others to participate in the system of care. It is also essential that family members and youth are among the leaders at the governance table and that larger family and youth groups have mechanisms to provide feedback on the governance body’s efforts.

Members should be considered the “power brokers” of the agencies/organizations

Many communities strive for families to represent more than  50 percent  of the governance membership. Typical governance boards range from six to fifteen community members and reflect the diversity of the entire community with respect to race, age, religion, economic status, culture, etc.

The chair/co-chairs of the governance body should be your community’s most dynamic and highly regarded individuals, with the social capital and personal influence to catalyze energy from participating agencies/organizations and to lead the community’s efforts towards transformational change on behalf of children and youth with mental health needs.

In their Governance Toolkit, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers a list of activities to consider when establishing a governance board for a system of care.

To-Do List1
  • Identify processes that need to be followed to receive administrative or policy approval for the body;
  • Develop materials to present to officials authorized to approve creation of the governance body;
  • Identify members (decision-makers and policy makers from public and private service delivery sectors), family members, youth, and service providers;
  • Contact member agencies and individuals to determine commitment and availability to participate;
  • Determine the process for authorizing agency staff to represent their agency on the governance body;
  • Identify interagency resources available to support development of the governance body;
  • Provide orientation and training to members;
  • Develop a memorandum of understanding/memorandum of agreement to formalize interagency relationships, roles, and responsibilities;
  • Develop bylaws;
  • Provide members with the MOU/MOA to present to their agencies for approval and authorization of their involvement;
  • Seek signatures for the MOU/MOA from individuals who can authorize and approve the work of the governance body;
  • Send copies of the signed MOU/MOA to all agencies, individual members, and interested parties; and
  • Identify meeting location, administrative support, officers, retention of meeting minutes, communication plan, reporting mechanisms, financial oversight, committee structures, needed policies, procedures, or practices.

Potential Challenges

As is typical in the initiation of new partnerships, your community may experience some challenges as you seek to establish your new governance structure. Typical roadblocks include long-standing turf issues among agencies or the influence of past unsuccessful partnerships. Some communities have had long histories of funding shortages for competing service providers or funding imbalances across agencies. Other communities have faced challenges when attempting to transform an existing interagency group dominated by professionals or community members with positional power to a more inclusive governance structure. While these concerns may seem weighty, establishing and articulating a commitment to a common mission, prioritizing clear and direct communication, shared liability and accountability, and strong relationships on behalf of children, youth, and families  will enable your governance board to overcome these issues. 

Choosing Not to Recreate the Wheel

Are the same community leaders and professionals getting together for a variety of meetings? Your community may decide creating another board is unwise, but rather choose to adapt an existing council or workgroup to serve as a governance body for your system of care. Some strong options include community impact initiatives, mayor’s taskforces, behavioral health leadership teams.

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, Children’s Bureau. Governance. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
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