2004 Jordan Institute
9, No. 3
The Benefits of Work First (TANF)/Child Welfare Collaboration
Websters defines collaboration as working together. Although technically this is accurate, the people we consulted in the writing of this issue helped us understand that collaboration in a DSS context also means:
Collaboration requires some degree of personal risk. It also takes guts and perseverance. But, given the potential benefits it offers, we owe it to our clientsand ourselvesto try.
The substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health concerns, low levels of education, and other issues these dual-system families struggle with often are barriers to securing employment and to effective parenting (Andrews, et al., 2002). By working together, Work First and child welfare can do a better job getting families the support they need, when they need it, thereby enhancing child safety and economic self-sufficiency.
Fewer Conflicting Demands. Anecdotal evidence suggests that dual-system families are often overwhelmed by the two systems multiple, sometimes mutually exclusive, requirements (Geen et al., 2001). For example, Work First work requirements often conflict with services mandated by child welfare, such as attending court hearings or visiting children in foster care. Thus, it is not surprising that some dual-system families have difficulty meeting reunification case plans (Geen, 2002).
When workers from different programs communicate with each other and understand each others roles and mandates, they can be sure all their efforts make it easiernot harderfor families to become safer and economically stronger.
Better Experiences with DSS. When workers are on the same page, families interactions with the agency are less confusing. They get a clear and consistent idea of what is expected of them. If professionals manage to coordinate intake procedures, families may even be asked to tell their story fewer times, to fewer people.
The cumulative effect of collaboration is the message: we see your family as a unit and we care about its success. When this message is expressed through effective, supportive services, families begin to see even involuntary services as valuable, and the agency as an important ally.
Better Use of Time. Timely and coordinated provision of services helps families avoid protracted involvement with the agency. This saves families time and frees up workers to serve other clients. Collaborative strategies, such as including people from other programs in child and family team meetings, also give workers the opportunity to develop plans simultaneously, and to ensure their plans are not in conflict.
Better Support. When workers understand each others needs and mandates they are better equipped to help and support each other.
Better Solutions. Workers from Work First and CPS sometimes see problems in very different ways. Strong collaborative relationships enable them to use this difference to develop better solutions with families.
Better Use of Resources. Collaboration can translate into cost savings. For example, if programs can help families meet urgent material needs that might otherwise lead to their children coming into foster care, they may avoid the higher costs of out-of-home placement.
For a discussion of how collaboration produces these benefits, see the other articles in this issue.