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Thinking about triage and assessment tools for communities

February 11, 2021 - 12:15 am / Blog

When OrgCode Consulting announced the discontinuation of the VI-SPDAT by the end of 2022, it left many communities asking, “What now?” Below is helpful information on tools, next steps, and considerations for communities as they chart a path forward.

 

The Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), first released in 2013 and most recently updated in 2020, evolved over time to become a suite of triage tools aligned with the full SPDAT assessment tools including versions for single adults, youth, families, prevention/diversion, and corrections discharge (see this Backgrounder for more information).

Over the past few months, OrgCode has published information about discontinuing support for the VI-SPDAT suite of tools which are currently in use by many communities across Canada:

In these blogs, OrgCode identifies they will no longer be supporting the VI-SPDAT suite of tools as of the end of 2022. OrgCode has clarified that they will continue to support communities with the most recent version (VI-SPDAT V3) and the conversion from V2 to V3 until that time. No one has yet released any tool that would replace this suite of triage tools that connect to full assessment tools, and are tailored across all populations (e.g., can be used for single adults, families, youth) and that includes prevention/diversion, and justice discharge options.

Communities need person-centred, trauma-informed approaches to end homelessness through a coordinated community response. CAEH recognizes the discontinuation of the VI-SPDAT suite of tools creates the opportunity for the beginning of a new conversation on tools. This work is going to require collaboration and a willingness to work together towards a common goal of creating an accessible suite of tools that meets the needs of Canadian communities.

We want to meet with stakeholders to ensure communities have appropriate, effective, equity-based triage and assessment tools that would benefit clients, service providers, and communities across the country. CAEH will be reaching out to partners to explore options and alternatives. Watch for further information.

What Communities Can Do Right Now

With the coming discontinuation of the VI-SPDAT, CAEH encourages communities to consider the following:

  • The choice is yours. Communities can continue to choose tools and approaches that work best for them with consideration for best and promising practices. (see resources below).
  • You don’t need to stop. Communities can keep using their existing tools and would need to weigh the risk and benefit of making a change without a viable alternative. At minimum, communities need some way to ask people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness a common set of questions across the community to both add people to their By-Name List and to support referrals and resource prioritization and matching efforts as part of Coordinated Access.
  • Addressing systemic bias. Systemic bias likely exists in all tools, and even how they are delivered, by who, and how the information is used. There is a lot of work to be done in decolonizing, reconciling, and ensuring a just homelessness serving system is delivered across Canada. Addressing systemic bias in tools is an important area that needs to be addressed.
  • Compare apples to apples. It is important to note that a triage/screening tool can’t be compared to a full assessment tool (e.g., the VI-SPDAT cannot be compared to the VAT). Assessment tools should only be compared to assessment tools (e.g., the full SPDAT compared to the VAT).
  • Triage/screening tools are helpful but are not enough. They allow for quicker initial information gathering to inform service provision and referrals – similar to the initial triage that takes place at the emergency department of a hospital. They can also be an important source of data to identify community needs and trends. But, triage/screening tools are not assessment tools, and should be followed by a full assessment, as needed, using a progressive engagement approach (see Reaching Home Coordinated Access Guide 47-48 and this OrgCode document for further information on progressive engagement).
  • Support for the full SPDAT continues. OrgCode continues to support the SPDAT assessment tools and has indicated that a revamped version of the SPDAT will be released in the second half of 2021. Given VI-SPDAT support is ending in 2022, communities should begin to lean into full assessment tools if they have not done so already.
  • Ask additional questions and consider other factors. Communities are reminded that they can and should always ask additional questions beyond the triage/screening tool(s) they are using and can and should be considering factors for resource prioritization and matching beyond triage/screening and assessment scores.
Further Information on Common Assessment Tools

If you want to learn more about common assessment tools, check out the information below.

In 2018, CAEH released the following information regarding common assessment tools:

In 2019, the federal government’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy Directives were released and included a requirement for Designated Communities to utilize a common assessment tool.  Further direction and information on common assessment tools from Reaching Home is included here:

At the end of 2019, CAEH provided training on common assessment tools through this Assessment Webinar – Recording and PowerPoint PDF.

Further Information and resources related to common assessment in the context of Coordinated Access is included in the CAEH Coordinated Access Scorecard Guide.