An Information and Referral System for Independent Living Programs


Providing information about community resources and service organizations is one of the most vital services offered by independent living programs and other human service agencies.

Purpose and Anticipated Benefits

Because consumers’ needs rarely are met by a single agency, agency staff need information about what services are offered by other organizations. This community-based information and referral system may be an effective resource for information sharing.


Mark Mathews analyzed an agency referral system for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Kansas and adapted and expanded his findings with the assistance of Janice Pittman for the independent living field.


This system has three features: a social service directory, an interagency feedback procedure, and a staff training procedure. The social service directory discussed here used a loose-leaf binder format and was alphabetized, so information was easily arranged, retrieved, updated, and photocopied.

The social service directory consisted of three sections: index, listings of available services, and agency information. These sections made labeling the consumer’s service needs easier, and they help staff find information about available services and identify an agency to provide them. The index cross-referenced each problem and service category in the directory. For example, the entry for “accessibility” directs the user to equipment, housing, home improvement, and transportation categories. Categories were developed from the United Way of America’s National Standards, a review of available directories, and thorough interviews with service providers.

The second section of the directory listed available services. These listings identify what services are offered in the community, any restrictions on them, and which agency or agencies offer them. The section was divided into 23 major categories (for example, counseling, employment, housing, recreation, transportation). Each category contained listings of specific services. For example, the housing category included information about emergency housing for victims of abuse and neglect, accessible housing, group homes for persons with developmental disabilities, and residential rehabilitation facilities for alcoholics.

The third section of the directory contained information about each service agency. A separate page for each agency listed the name, address, phone number, office hours, eligibility requirements, accessibility, availability of interpreters, policies regarding appointments, name of a contact person in the agency (if available), and date the directory information was obtained from the agency.


To maintain high quality referral services, feedback is required from participating organizations. Without feedback from the helping agency, that is, the agency to which the consumer is referred, there is little chance for the referring agency to find out if the consumer arrived for assistance or received services.

An interagency referral form was used in this study to monitor the quality of the referring agency’s referrals. An example is a multiple-copy form that provides a permanent record of referrals for the referring agency, the consumer, and the helping agency. One copy of the form contains a request for the helping agency to provide feedback on whether the consumer kept the appointment and, if so, what services were provided. An alternative is a single-copy form that contains prompts for the staff member making the referral to complete a follow-up check. In addition, the form provides space for follow up results and outcome of the referral.      

If it appears that services were not provided, the referral agent should contact the consumer to determine whether the problem has been solved. Spot-check phone calls to consumers regarding their satisfaction with services received also might be conducted. These follow-up procedures help ensure that the referral services are actually helping consumers.


Much of the research in peer counseling suggests that consumers’ problems are best handled by persons who have direct experience with similar problems. With expanded use of nonprofessionals and volunteers, training in helping skills needs to be relevant to consumer needs as well as appropriate for community service workers.


Mathews, R. M., & Pittman, J. L. (1985). Model human services directory. Lawrence, KS:  Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas.

Mathews, R. M. (1983). Community resources and information referral. Invited workshop. Kansas Head Start Training Conference, Lawrence, KS.

Mathews, R. M. (1983). Program evaluation in information and referral. Invited address. Midwestern Information and Referral Services Alliance, Kansas City, MO.

Mathews, R. M., & Pittman, J. L. (1984). An information and referral system for IL programs. Research and Training Center onIndependent Living Forum 2(1).