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2004 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 9, No. 3
April 2004

The Benefits of Work First (TANF)/Child Welfare Collaboration

Webster’s 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:

  • Walking Your Talk. Especially in child welfare, we expect families to develop strong support networks and to be an active part of the team. Yet, as one person asked: “How can we ever expect families to develop strong support networks if we don't have these internally? If we can't play together on the same team, what right do we have to ask this of them?”

  • Being Open when someone questions our intentions, open to changing our ideas, and open to the possibility that stereotypes and assumptions we have about each other might be wrong.

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 clients—and ourselves—to try.

Benefits for Families
The Right Service at the Right Time. Nationally, Work First and child welfare serve many of the same families:

  • Needell and colleagues (1999) found that in California, one in four new welfare recipients had been reported for abuse and neglect within the past five years.

  • Goerge and colleagues (2000) found that 60% of the children in foster care came from families receiving cash assistance.

  • Between 70% and 90% of families receiving in-home services through child welfare also receive welfare (Geen, et al., 2001).

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 easier—not harder—for 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.

Benefits for Workers
Better Assessments. When information about families is shared across program lines, workers may get a more accurate understanding of a family’s strengths and needs.

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 other’s 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.

Benefits for Agencies
Improved Relationships. When people understand each other and work together across program lines, there is a greater sense of community among agency employees.

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.

References for this and other articles in this issue