2004 Jordan Institute
9, No. 3
FamilyNet: A Framework for Collaboration
As we hope this issue of Practice Notes has made clear, you dont need special tools or funding to work effectively across program lines: all you need is the desire and energy to collaborate. That said, it is hard to talk about collaboration in social services agencies in North Carolina without talking about FamilyNet.
Although it started out as a collaborative initiative between Work First (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and child welfare programs, FamilyNet quickly became an agency-wide system reform effort grounded in the beliefs that:
FamilyNet emerged into an unconventional philosophy for change that continues to be developed by and applied in 14 counties: Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Durham, Edgecombe, Guilford, Halifax, Lincoln, Rockingham, Swain, Union, Wilson, Yadkin.
Thus, although the FamilyNet counties share a common visioncommunities where families achieve well-beingand a common missionto partner with families and communities to achieve well-being through prosperity, permanence, support, and safetyindividual counties are free to articulate and pursue their own unique visions.
In Buncombe, Eby says, were trying to build a culture in our agency where strengths are acknowledged, and where there is a real sense of community among our employees. Were doing this because we are convinced that if we have respectful, strong relationships among ourselves, well do a better job of developing these kinds of relationships with families.
This FamilyNet vision has reinforced Buncombes preexisting collaborative efforts and inspired new ones. For example, the agency is developing infrastructure that will make safety plans and other information available to all DSS employees working with a family.
FamilyNet enhances a countys ability to respond not just to individual families, but to crises faced by entire communities. For instance, when the Pillowtex plant in Cabarrus County closed down in July 2003, it laid off 4,300 people.
As the Pillowtex crisis unfolded, the collaborative lessons Cabarrus DSS learned through its participation in FamilyNet paid off. Staff responded to families by putting aside narrow programmatic definitions of need, eligibility, and job function and focused on mitigating the crisis at hand and getting families back on a path to economic self-sufficiency and well-being.
Our traditional default settingdespite protestations to the contraryoften sees reform efforts as dueling initiatives. Choose one or the other, not both or all.
FamilyNet would have us recognize that, just as a county DSS cannot single-handedly guarantee child safety, no single initiative can achieve all the reform we need. In the FamilyNet vision, no one initiative has all the answers, but together they point us in a new and better direction.