I&R and the I&R/A Network
Information and Referral
As defined by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), Information and Referral/Assistance (I&R/A) is the art, science, and practice of bringing people and services together. When individuals, families, and communities have questions about human service resources such as home care and housing options; obtaining adaptive equipment for their home or office; or how they can sign up for public benefits, I&R is there for them.
The Older Americans Act (OAA) as amended in 2016 defines Information and Assistance services as:
A service for older individuals that— (A) provides the individuals with current information on opportunities and services available to the individuals within their communities, including information relating to assistive technology; (B) assesses the problems and capacities of the individuals; (C) links the individuals to the opportunities and services that are available; (D) to the maximum extent practicable, ensures that the individuals receive the services needed by the individuals, and are aware of the opportunities available to the individuals, by establishing adequate follow-up procedures; and (E) serves the entire community of older individuals, particularly— (i) older individuals with greatest social need; (ii) older individuals with greatest economic need; and (iii) older individuals at risk for institutional placement.
Information and Referral/Assistance
In practice, I&R/A is generally less population specific, expanding to all people who require assistance with accessing services, and their caregivers. In comparison to traditional I&R, I&A (or I&R/A) denotes a more in-depth process and more enhanced service than traditional I&R, including individualized access assistance, extensive follow-up, and individual advocacy if necessary and requested (for example, assistance with completing and submitting an application, or providing a warm transfer for a consumer in need of supportive assistance to connect to a resource). I&R/A is also associated with self-direction and the flexibility to provide I&A in a variety of settings and communication avenues based on consumer preference (for example, at home, via email/e-chat or video conferencing i.e., Skype).
I&R/A services can be delivered through a variety of organizations and can be comprehensive in nature, serving everyone within a geographic community; or specialized, serving a particular target population (i.e., older adults and people with disabilities). I&R services work with individuals, facilitate community planning by tracking requests for service and identifying gaps and duplications in services, and work with other human services organizations to make them a more effective resource for their clients. Professional I&R specialists help people better understand their problems and range of options to assist clients in making the most informed decisions. Specialists may advocate on behalf of those who need special support, and encourage self-reliance and empowerment of individuals through education, affirmation, collaborative planning and problem solving (AIRS Standards, 2013). Examples of I&R/A services include information giving; appropriate service referral; advocacy on behalf of an individual; crisis intervention; conducting follow-up contacts; maintaining an accurate and up-to-date community resource database; data collection, analysis and reporting to measure the service needs of a community; developing cooperative community programming; community outreach; and emergency preparedness and disaster response.
The Aging and Disability I&R/A Networks are comprised of several different agency types that provide and coordinate services for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers, including but not limited to: state agencies on aging and disability (state agencies), Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), 2-1-1 Call Centers (2-1-1s), Centers for Independent Living (CILs), and other non-profit human service organizations. Each organization type follows policies and procedures for delivering I&R/A services through a semi-structured, person-centered interview process that supports and empowers clients’ access to health and social support services. Though the delivery of I&R/A services varies slightly from organization to organization, all I&R/A agencies strive to link people with quality services, to empower individuals to make their own decisions, and to assist people in living as independently as possible within their communities.