November 1, 2014
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Widespread survey seeks feedback on health care, employment
Jennifer Rodrigues

The Rhode Island Community Action Association (RICAA) is asking Rhode Island residents who receive a needs assessment survey from the organization to please complete it and help the organization better understand the needs of the state.

Beginning Sept. 18, 10,000 Rhode Island households will receive the survey, which will look at the needs of the state as it relates to areas such as health care, transportation, nutrition, employment, childcare, activities for teens, independent living, educational services, housing and debt.

Which households receive the survey is completely random and one’s participation with RICAA agencies and programs does not have any bearing on if they will or will not receive a survey. Individual survey results will be kept confidential, and no personal information such as name, salary or place of employment will be asked.

“We decided Rhode Island, because of our size, was the perfect place to do a statewide needs assessment,” said Paula McFarland, spokesperson for RICAA. McFarland said in addition to the surveys mailed to residents, a separate survey will be available at Community Action agencies such as Warwick’s Westbay Community Action Program, Cranston’s Comprehensive Community Action Program and Tri-Town Community Action Program in Johnston. RICAA will also be hosting focus groups to discuss the needs of the state and how the various programs offered can better suit those needs.

McFarland explained that using both surveys and focus groups allows for qualitative and quantitative data to be collected and included in the study.

“They are looking to develop or enhance programs they do have,” explained McFarland, adding that a report will be created from the surveys and given to federal, state and local leaders to consider when creating public policy. “It could also show a need for something new.”

McFarland said needs assessment surveys often show that current programs need to be tweaked in their delivery so they better serve the communities that need them. For example, McFarland expects increased transportation needs in Woonsocket to be featured in the report.

“It builds a platform for policy changes in our state,” said McFarland, who pointed out that since the pool of funding has decreased due to the sequester, many states are conducting assessments such as this to determine which programs need the most support.

Also, it is a requirement of the Community Service Block Grant that needs assessment surveys, whether statewide or community-based, are conducted every three years. McFarland said those grants are issued through the Office of Community Service and drive the funding mechanism for the organization.

The surveys will also look at the general public’s knowledge of Community Action programs and agencies.

“[Questions could include] what kind of services are they using, what services do they need and do they understand,” said McFarland, pointing out that some people may be in need of a program but not realize that it is offered through a RICAA agency.

“It’s not personal information,” added McFarland, pointing out that RICAA is interested in knowing what programs are lacking in the communities, whether it is health care assistance, transportation help, access to GED programs or even after-school activities for teenagers to keep them off the streets.

The survey is being sent to a large number of households because RICAA hopes to find out the needs of the state from a very broad group of the population.

“We would like to see 30 percent [of the surveys] sent back,” said McFarland. “That would be a really fantastic return.”

While all surveys will be mailed in English, information written in Spanish will be included with the survey explaining how to obtain a Spanish language survey if necessary.


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