WORTHINGTON -- She's been in her new role as director of the Pipestone and Nobles county Family Service agencies for just two months, but already Nicole Names is learning that collaboration is the buzz word in southwest Minnesota.
While there is some collaboration in the northwest part of the state, where she spent the past dozen years working in social services, it isn't as extensive as in southwest Minnesota.
Hired by Pipestone County in early July, Names divides her time between offices in Pipestone and Worthington. The two counties do not have a joint powers agreement for Family Services, and she said there has been no talk of establishing one.
The shared arrangement and work schedule for Names has been going "very well," she said. Though still learning the ropes, she's spent a lot of time these past two months getting to know the agencies and providers that serve southwest Minnesota. She's also spent considerable time collecting information and compiling data for a potential merger with Nobles County's public health and community corrections agencies.
As counties look for more efficiencies, Names said she is also focusing on streamlining and identifying additional efficiencies in the family services agencies. In addition to her position being shared between two counties, three supervisory positions within the Nobles County Family Service Agency also spent a portion of their time working in Pipestone County.
Names oversees a staff of 42 in Nobles County, along with five supervisors, while there are 21 staff members and one supervisor based in Pipestone County.
In her first role as an agency director, Names said she has been appreciative of the help offered by fellow cohorts in the Regional Directors Group.
"That's very nice to have a group of directors who will mentor me," she added.
Though clients served by the agency vary from county to county -- especially between Pipestone and Nobles -- Family Services' core programs are the same. They provide people in need with food, financial and medical assistance, offer child protection, mental health and welfare programming, and assist in child support issues including paternity establishment and enforcement of child support petitions. The agency also does child and adult foster care licensing, as well as daycare licensing.
"One of the goals of Family Service is to help families live as safely and independently as possible by providing support and services," Names said.
Family Service agencies across the state may take on a new look in the future. Gov. Tim Pawlenty called for a Minnesota Redesign, which outlines the establishment of 13 regional centers around the state to deliver family services to the public.
"That isn't being developed, but what is happening is collaboration," Names said. "Around the state you see multi-county collaboration. My perception is that will continue to happen."
A native of Crookston, Names and her family -- husband Mitch and daughters Grace, 9, and Gretta, 6 -- now live in Luverne. Mitch works for CRC Seamless in Sioux Falls, while the girls are students at Luverne Elementary School.
After graduating from Concordia-Moorhead, she worked with children and adults with disabilities briefly, and then worked two years with Anoka-Hennepin Schools with student services. The past 12 years were spent with Clay County Social Services, doing child protection, case management and adoptions for the first six years, and then supervision of child protection and licensing for the last six years.