National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care.
Implications for Administrators and Stakeholders
The work of the nine grant communities indicates that formalizing interagency collaboration is a foundational element for systems change. Given the fiscal challenges, the multi-system needs of children and families, and increased focus on outcomes, child welfare driven systems of care must resolve policy issues, identify community resources, reduce duplication and gaps in services, and improve access to effective services and supports from other organizations. For collaboration to be effective, all partner agencies must understand and agree that they will relinquish some control over processes, procedures, and resources in order to provide enhanced services to children and families and fulfill their mandates. Working within collaborative governance and interagency case planning environments, agencies and families can make tremendous strides in formulating and implementing more comprehensive care plans, as well as resolving policy issues and creating new policies that reflect the collaborative relationships developed within their systems of care.
Collaborative relationships not only promote improved child and family outcomes but also strengthen partner agencies through blended funding to support care plans, coordinated data systems, and cross-agency staff training. Agencies can also better leverage State and local funds with Federal resources to sustain appropriate services. Stakeholders in communities across the country have recognized that no organization can be truly effective working in isolation and that collaborative governance, collaborative case plan development, knowledgeable leadership, strategic planning, timely implementation strategies, and accountability offer the greatest promise for improving outcomes for children and families, achieving system reform, and improving communities.
The experiences of the nine communities involved in the demonstration initiative suggest several implications for action related to the development of new interagency collaboratives or the strengthening of existing collaboratives:
- Consistent leadership that focuses on building the necessary partnerships and processes to unify the interagency collaborative is critical for success.
- Buy-in to the vision and goals are essential for initiating and sustaining collaborations. If child welfare administrators initiate a collaborative process, the process must answer the "what's in it for me" questions for each potential partner. At the outset, this may require identifying a common population and/or demonstrating the potential for increased effectiveness and efficiency in meeting service mandates. Over time, partners can use data to assess effectiveness and promote deeper commitment.
- Buy-in of frontline staff often is overlooked. Caseworkers in grantee communities noted that mandates for interagency collaboration often compound existing demands for time and policy compliance. A collaborative process must consider and make allowances for the impact on frontline staff.
- Collaboration among organizations must take place at multiple levels. While interagency collaboration may begin at governance or frontline practice levels, the process must actively involve management and supervisory levels to ensure collaborative policies are embedded in procedures and frontline staff are enabled and supported in their efforts to work with other organizations.