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2004 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 9, No. 3
April 2004

Collaboration in Action: A Success Story

Collaboration between Work First and child welfare takes a variety of forms. Many of these are described on the following pages. However, to fully appreciate the power of collaboration, it helps to view it in terms of specific interventions with specific families. For this reason we present the following example. Although names and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality, this story is closely based on the success a real North Carolina family experienced when it was served by a collaborative department of social services.

Natalie’s Story

When she came to town for a job six months ago, Natalie was excited by the prospect of a better life for herself and her eight-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, her employer soon went under. Her family lived off her savings while she looked for work. By the time her money ran out she had no car, no job, and they were living in a homeless shelter.

One day Tiffany, her daughter, woke up after the shelter’s kitchen stopped serving breakfast. After a long, hungry morning, the shelter staff refused to give Tiffany lunch because Natalie’s son had taken two lunches with him when he left for school that day.

That was the last straw. When Tiffany began to cry, Natalie gave up. She had no job, no friends, no hope. She couldn’t even feed her baby girl! Natalie called CPS and asked them to come for her kids. She imagined DSS would place them in a decent home that very same day. There, she thought, they could be together and get everything she could not give them.


Sandra was a Work First worker at the local DSS. By the time her supervisor told her about the situation, Natalie and Tiffany were already at the agency, talking with Sidney, a CPS worker. Sandra’s supervisor suggested she join them.

Sandra saw right away that Natalie was distraught. Yet gradually Sandra and Sidney calmed and comforted her. Every time Natalie brought up an issue she thought couldn’t be solved, Sandra or Sidney had an idea, and Natalie brightened. For example, Natalie was having trouble finding a job because she couldn’t find daycare, in part because Tiffany had behavior problems. When Sandra explained her program could help find and pay for appropriate daycare for Tiffany, Natalie’s whole outlook improved.

Sidney also dispelled Natalie’s assumptions about foster care: in particular, he described the negative impact that separation and loss can have on children, and the fact that if they were placed in foster care, Natalie’s access to her children would probably be limited to one visit a week. After this dose of reality—and some reflection—Natalie admitted her decision to give up her children had been a big mistake.

By the end of the meeting Natalie had signed a safety plan and agreed she could continue caring for her children. Over the course of the next few months, with support from the agency, Natalie overcame many of the concerns threatening her family:

  • Child Safety. The agency responded to Natalie’s call using the Multiple Response System’s family assessment approach. Due to low risk, CPS recommended services for the family, but did not require them.

  • Education. Natalie had been a licensed paraprofessional in another state. Work First helped her navigate the process of transferring that license to North Carolina. It also paid for a community college course that was part of the licensure process.

  • Child Care. DSS arranged for an evaluation of Tiffany. Because Natalie was enrolled in Work First, the agency provided daycare vouchers. Child welfare staff found her a place in a therapeutic daycare.

  • Transportation. Work First provided Natalie with transportation assistance so she could pursue employment and additional education, which she eagerly did.

  • Speech Therapy. Once in daycare, Tiffany, who had serious speech difficulties, had access to a speech pathologist. Her speech soon improved.

  • Employment. When Natalie could not find a job in her field, Work First helped her find a factory job.

  • Housing. With encouragement from the agency, Natalie and her family moved to a more family-friendly shelter. Both she and the agency believe it won’t be long before she can afford an apartment.

Collaboration is no magic cure. At the end of the story, Natalie and her kids are still living in a shelter and still economically at risk. But they are on the road to recovery. Natalie again sees herself as a good mother and as someone with a real future in the world of work. What’s more, she readily acknowledges that she and her family are stronger and better off for having been involved with DSS.