Making Good Referrals

When people look to addiction counselors for help, they come with a wide variety of needs. These include:

  • food, clothing and shelter
  • job counseling and training
  • legal assistance
  • literacy training and other educational skills
  • parenting skills training
  • family and couples counseling
  • medical care and family planning services
  • social support services
  • child care during treatment
  • psychiatric assessment and mental health services
  • help to move into permanent housing

No program has staff with expertise in all of these areas Also, when there is simply no more room in the facility to take additional clients, it is time to make referrals. And, even if a program participant is dismissed for using alcohol or drugs or other disciplinary reasons, making an appropriate referral is a great way to minister to them. Therefore, program workers need to understand the principles of making good referrals.

A. Knowing When to Make a Referral – Referrals are most commonly made when a client has a need and there are not resources in-house to handle it. Therefore is important to develop an inventory of in-house resources and expertise. Do this by listing the various problems and needs of the people who look to the program for help. For each area noted, determine who can best assist clients with that particular need. Are their staff members or volunteers who have experience or expertise in financial counseling, for instance?

B. Identifying Referral Resources – People become homeless when they don’t know how to access the resources that are available to them. So, we need to teach our clients how to access needed resources when they encounter problems in their lives. If they learn to do this while staying at the program, they are more likely to access needed resources once they complete the program.

A community referral directory or computer database – complete with phone numbers and contact persons – should be available to program workers who work directly with program participants. This should include social service agencies, along with churches that are receptive toward program clients, local professionals, and support groups. It is always good to list specific individuals at various agencies with whom your ministry has had a favorable contact in the past. Often, asking for a person at the agency by name can help the staff member making the referral to cut through the “red tape” encountered at some agencies.

Other programs are important referral resources that are often underutilized. This is especially true for new and smaller programs without established residential recovery programs, other member organizations offer specialized help to people struggling with addiction or families in need of long-term assistance. Using the online directory at the Association of Gospel Programs web site – – is one way to become familiar with some of the innovative programs offered at member programs.

Developing an effective referral directory – and keeping it up-to-date can be time-consuming. Therefore, it should be a responsibility assigned to one staff member who will add new resources and confirm the accuracy of current listings.

C. Following Up on Referrals – When referrals are made, there should always be a follow-up contact to the agency. This helps build relationships with referral resources and gives us a direct line on the services that were provided instead of relying on information from the clients themselves. This also keeps clients from being dishonest or manipulative, playing the referral against the program (and vice versa).

For the sake of confidentiality and to comply with privacy laws, clients will usually need to sign “release of information” forms that grants the referral source perprogram to share information with workers at the program program. To make this sort of arrangement work, all parties involved must have an understanding ahead of time. Tell the individual to whom you are making the referral that you expect the client to grant you this perprogram. And, tell the client you will be asking them to give it to the program staff, as well.

These types of arrangements have be benefit of giving program workers important information about the services clients receive in order to better assist them. It also helps to further develop relationships with other agencies and organizations in the community.