The California Linkages project promotes collaboration between California's county-administered child welfare services (CWS) and CalWORKs, the State's program for administering Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Linkages' goal is to decrease child maltreatment and improve outcomes for children and families by providing necessary services and supports through increased collaboration. The project is coordinated by the Child and Family Policy Institute of California, which is under contract with the California Department of Social Services (DSS). Linkages began in 1999 with philanthropic funding from the Stuart Foundation and expanded its work in 2006 upon receiving a Children's Bureau grant. That grant ended in 2011, and Linkages currently is funded through a California DSS grant. More than 30 California counties are currently implementing Linkages strategies.
In many California counties, there is a significant overlap of children and families involved with CWS, whose primary mission is to keep children safe from maltreatment, and CalWORKs, which is responsible for providing income assistance and employment preparation services to help parents achieve financial self-sufficiency. For example, nearly half the children in Los Angeles County served through the county's Department of Children and Family Services also have received support through CalWORKs at some point. Furthermore, research has shown that parental stress, including stress from economic factors, can result in child welfare involvement (Paxson & Waldfogel, 1999; Shook, 1999; Courtney, Piliavin, & Power, 2001) and that increased poverty rates correspond to a rise in child maltreatment rates (Paxson & Waldfogel, 2001).
Parents who are faced with economic hardships and the potential or actual removal of their children from their care must then navigate two separate, complex systems. Each of these systems has its own timelines, requirements, and goals. In many counties, they are housed in different locations, which may increase families' transportation challenges. Families separately involved in both systems have at least one worker in each system, and those workers often do not communicate with one another. They may even set incompatible goals for the family, leaving the family in an untenable position.
Linkages assists counties in developing CalWORKs and CWS collaborations by providing a suite of planning and implementation tools. The Linkages Planning Guide and Linkages Tool Box provide counties with the tools they need to plan, develop, implement, and evaluate Linkages in their communities. The project also has a State Linkages Oversight Committee that monitors county planning and implementation efforts, reviews relevant State policy to help counties remain compliant with any changes, and oversees the statewide evaluation. Another key component is the initiative's biannual convenings, which provide county staff with opportunities to share best practices, receive help and support for challenging issues, and share tools, such as county policies and guidelines.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: TANF and Child Welfare Collaboration in California" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).