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A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. Goldman, J., Salus, M. K., Wolcott, D., Kennedy, K. Y.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Chapter Eleven: How Can Organizations Work Together to Protect Children?
National, State, and local movements to integrate services and improve collaboration have been among the most significant trends in human services over the last decade.141 Catalysts supporting this trend toward increased collaboration include changes in Federal funding programs that now encourage collaborative efforts and the desire to enhance service delivery to clients who exhibit multifaceted problems.142 Likewise, many communities are experimenting with a new approach to child protection and family well-being by broadening the commitment and responsibility from a single public agency to the community.143
This chapter examines the essential elements of a well-coordinated child protection system. Other manuals in the series include more detailed information regarding community collaboration and integrated service systems.
Principles to Guide Collaboration
Collaboration is grounded in interdependent relationships. There are several basic guidelines to foster collaborative efforts:
- Build and maintain trust. Trust enables people to share information, perceptions, and feedback. Professionals and nonprofessionals working together must trust each other, respect each other, view each other as an important contributor, and value the uniqueness of their colleagues. Collaborators can build trust by:
- Reaching agreement regarding norms for behavior for working together;
- Developing mutual respect, which enables them to be creative, take risks, and openly explore difficult issues;
- Correcting common misconceptions and learning up-to-date information regarding other agencies;
- Developing an informal, relaxed atmosphere, for example, by getting to know team members outside of the work setting;
- Viewing all participants as equal members in designing and implementing the collaborative efforts.144
- Reach agreement on core values. All the parties must reach consensus on a core set of values for the collaborative effort. Each of the parties must honor the importance of the values and their implementation in practice.
- Reach agreement and stay focused on common goals. A well-coordinated system is based on agreement between all of the parties on common goals, such as the prevention of child abuse, the safety of children, and the permanency for children. In spite of the fact that the professionals or agencies involved in child welfare have differences in philosophy, focus, mission, and perceptions, which may sometimes come into conflict with one another, it is possible to agree on common goals. This requires that all parties:
- Set aside or merge their vested interests;
- Believe that by developing and maintaining common goals children and families will attain more positive outcomes.
- Develop a common language. Each profession and agency has its own terminology, jargon, and acronyms. It is important to help the parties overcome language barriers. Each of the parties should:
- Explain the technical language, words, and phrases they use;
- Refrain from using acronyms and professional jargon;
- Achieve a common understanding of what terms mean, for example, "strengths-based" or "family involvement."
- Demonstrate respect for the knowledge and experience of each person. Respect is a fundamental starting point for understanding and action. Effective collaboration requires the expertise and knowledge of all parties, who should listen to and be respectful of each person's opinions and ideas. Any misunderstandings, unreasonable expectations, myths, previous problems, or other issues must be worked through.
- Assume positive intentions of the parties. When a variety of professionals, as well as nonprofessionals, comes together to develop and implement a collaborative effort, they bring with them different ideas, perspectives, and approaches. It is important to believe that each of the parties is genuinely interested in working toward the agreed upon goals and positive outcomes for children and families.
- Recognize the strengths, needs, and limitations of all of the parties. Each person and agency comes to the collaborative process with strengths, needs, and limitations. For example, community agencies bring with them specific resources needed to build an effective community response to child maltreatment. They also bring with them limitations, such as differing missions, goals, policies, and procedures. Capitalizing on the strengths and being aware of and addressing any barriers to participation are essential. It may require being open to and exploring alternative ways individuals can contribute to the collaborative effort.
- Work through conflict. Conflict is healthy and inevitable when people work together collaboratively. The extent to which people feel comfortable with conflict and airing differences affects reaching consensus or an acceptable conclusion. Since communication is a significant part of one's culture, great care must be taken to encourage the equal participation of all members.
- Share decision-making, risk taking, and accountability. A true collaborative effort means that decisions are made and risks are taken as a team. Members participate in planning and decision-making and openly collaborate with others. All members feel a professional responsibility for the performance of the partnership. This means the entire team is accountable for achieving the outcomes and goals.145
Effective Leadership—An Essential Component of Successful Collaboration
Leadership is a key to successful collaboration. The leader:
- Assures that all of the stakeholders are represented on the team;
- Is able to search for and discover opportunities, benefits, and resources;
- Can build trust across agencies, professionals, and nonprofessionals;
- Is responsive to the needs of the group;
- Is flexible and can flow with the dynamics of the group;
- Understands the dynamics of power, authority, and influence and uses this knowledge to facilitate collaboration;
- Is able to manage conflict effectively;
- Does not promote his or her own agenda to the exclusion of others;
- Understands and responds appropriately to people from diverse cultures;
- Treats all members with respect;
- Facilitates group discussions effectively;
- Frames needs, problems, and opportunities for the group.146
The following models demonstrate the effectiveness of collaboration.
Fatality Review Team
In the event of a child's death due to abuse or neglect, a child fatality review team provides a systemic and multidisciplinary means to identify discrepancies between policy and practice and gaps in communication systems. Child fatality review teams typically consist of representatives from pertinent agencies or offices, such as CPS, law enforcement, and the coroner or medical examiner.
The outcomes achieved through child fatality review teams include: the improvement of child protection through better coordination and collection of information; the protection of siblings in at-risk families; a decrease in the number of child deaths; and an enhanced collection of evidence, which improves the prosecution of abusers.147
Child Advocacy Centers
Child advocacy centers (CAC) are community-based facilities designed to coordinate services to victims of nonfatal abuse and neglect, especially in cases of child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse. The key goal of these centers is to reduce the trauma to victims that may result from agency intervention. CACs seek to improve the handling of cases at key points in the child protection process—investigation, prosecution, and treatment—by assuring the collaboration of the key professionals and agencies involved.148
The Child Advocacy Center is a child-friendly facility where all of the key professionals—child protective services (CPS), law enforcement, prosecutors, mental health professionals, and child advocates-are co-located. Also, CACs typically work closely with medical personnel who specialize in child sexual abuse. CACs enhance coordination and achievement of positive outcomes by the close proximity of professionals, the assignment of a child advocate who monitors the case through the various systems, and the case review, which promotes formal and informal discussion of cases.
Integrated Service Delivery Systems
Many communities throughout the United States are attempting to create integrated service delivery systems that honor the unique strengths, needs, and culture of each child and family. One example is the six sites implementing "Partnerships in Action," which brings together families and child welfare, mental health, and other related systems.
- The program in Branch County, Michigan, assessed and redesigned community-based services to develop a seamless, integrated system of care for pregnant women and their families with newborn children (up to 6 years of age).
- The program in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico, created a single point of entry among tribal agencies for families experiencing domestic violence and child abuse. Also, the program strengthened domestic violence codes and created a state-of-the-art shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children.
- The program in Lorain County, Ohio, developed an infrastructure to provide the strongest possible community safety net for adolescents who "fell through the cracks" because their needs were not severe enough to require immediate, crisis, or intensive services from child welfare or mental health agencies. An essential part of the program was the development of a written operational interagency agreement.
- The Rhode Island program provided seed money to communities to develop a specialized team approach for transition planning for youth with multiple agency needs who are incarcerated in a training school.
- The program in Sedgwick County, Kansas, collaborated with a private contractor providing foster care to develop individualized plans of care for children diagnosed with serious emotional disturbances in need of mental health services. They also provided training to staff regarding family involvement.
- The program in Maryland identified the individual and collective effects of multiple reform efforts in the State and identified ways the efforts could reinforce each other.149
Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of children are reported to be victims of child abuse and neglect each year.150 An untold number of other children are maltreated but not reported to responding agencies. As outlined in this manual, a number of practitioners and professionals assume different roles and responsibilities in identifying and responding to reported cases of child abuse and neglect. Child maltreatment, however, is so widespread and, thus, such a significant issue that every citizen and organization shares in the responsibility for responding to this problem.
Interventions are designed to strengthen families as an integral part of ensuring child safety, permanency, and well-being. This includes promoting responsible parenting, fostering families' support networks, and providing comprehensive services customized to meet the circumstances, strengths, and needs of each family.
This manual is intended as a foundation for understanding child maltreatment issues and responses. Interested parties are encouraged to read the accompanying profession-specific and special-issue publications contained in the User Manual Series.
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.