Many efforts to improve child welfare services or reform child welfare systems involve collaboration to enhance service delivery and ultimately improve outcomes for the children and families being served. Collaboration may occur among public agencies or between public and private agencies, communities, or families. Serving children involved in the child welfare system calls for services and support from a variety of human service and community organizations, which is often a challenging aspect of child welfare casework.
Interagency collaboration, a core principle in systems of care, focuses on bringing together and engaging critical stakeholders, such as juvenile justice, mental health, education, law enforcement, and Tribal authorities, in a coordinated and integrated effort to serve children whose needs cross multiple systems. This issue of A Closer Look considers the challenges and strategies associated with building and sustaining interagency collaboration in a child welfare driven system of care.
The report draws on current research in the field as well as the knowledge and experiences of nine grant communities currently in the fifth year of a 5-year demonstration grant. Sometimes interagency linkages emerge spontaneously as a result of local conditions, but generally someone needs to take the lead in developing them. There are some problems that are best handled by a single agency, but there are many problems that an agency acting singly cannot solve (or cannot solve as effectively) (Bruner 1991).
A favorable environment exists for the development of interagency linkages whenever there are problems or issues that require the attention of multiple agencies. Unless a perceived need exists for interagency partnerships, they are unlikely to materialize. There may be circumstances in which a problem is not clearly recognized or in which potential partners are distracted by other concerns or have preexisting negative relationships. The time is right for collaborative efforts when the factors of human needs, public sentiment, legislative priorities, and institutional readiness converge (Melaville and Blank 1991).
In the absence of an optimal environment for linkages, the time may be used to begin or improve communication with potential partners as well as to work with other agencies on achieving internal objectives, waiting for a more opportune time to tackle broad-based joint problems (ibid. ). Developing or strengthening interagency linkages is a systematic process consisting of a series of steps. Like most planning activities, it may not be feasible or desirable to follow the steps in a linear fashion but each step needs to be considered in the process of interagency linkage development.