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Vol. 9, No. 3
April 2004

Enhancing Collaboration Between Child Welfare and Work First (TANF)

From a common sense perspective, the connection between the self-sufficiency of families and the safety, permanence, and well-being of children is obvious. It stands to reason that if parents have jobs that enable them to have a home, transportation, and ample food, they are in a better position to resist the stresses of life and take better care of their children.

It’s a perspective supported by research. According to a 1996 study, children living in families earning less than $15,000 annually are more than 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children whose families earn at least $30,000 (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). We also know that more than half of all foster children come from families eligible for economic assistance (Comittee on Ways and Means, 2000).

This makes it all the more puzzling that, historically, there has been a clear separation in social service agencies between efforts to prevent and address child abuse and neglect and efforts to promote economic self-sufficiency. Indeed, the separation has been so complete that families are sometimes pulled in different directions by the requirements of child welfare and economic programs, which may not even know of each other’s involvement with the family.

When a family is already struggling, this lack of communication only makes it harder for them to stay together.

Today social service agencies across the country are trying to break down the wall between child welfare and other programs (Andrews, et al., 2002). As part of this effort, in May 2003 the Children’s Services Section of the North Carolina Division of Social Services merged with Family Support Services Section to become the “Family Support and Child Welfare Services Section.”

This move is significant: it represents the coming together within the same administrative unit of the state’s Work First (TANF) and child welfare programs. The name itself—“Family Support and Child Welfare Services Section”—signals a desire for greater understanding and collaboration.

  Of course, an administrative change counts for only so much in a state-administered, county-run system. Because of the autonomy of county DSS’s, it is really up to the people on the local level to make collaboration between these two programs a reality.

Fortunately, in many counties—particularly those implementing the Multiple Response System (MRS) and FamilyNet—this is just what’s happening. For the sake of the families and children they serve, line workers, supervisors, and administrators in child welfare and Work First today are finding better ways to work together.

This process is not always easy or harmonious. But, as this issue of Practice Notes will make clear, the struggle is worth it. We are eager to share with you some of the lessons our counties have learned.


The Benefits of Work First/Child Welfare Collaboration

Collaboration in Action: A Success Story

Overcoming Barriers to Collaboration

A Key to Success

North Carolina's Multiple Response System and Collaboration between Work First and Child Welfare

What Child Welfare Workers Need to Know about Work First

FamilyNet: A Framework for Collaboration

Key Points from this Issue

References for this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file

Additional resources related to this topic:

  • What are the Connections Between Child Welfare and TANF? A handout describing the connection between these two program areas.

  • Child-Only TANF Payments for Kinship Care Families in States Served by Casey Family Programs <>

  • Providing Comprehensive, Integrated Social Services to Vulnerable Children and Families: Are There Legal Barriers at the Federal Level to Moving Forward? by Rutledge Q. Hutson, Center for Law and Social Policy. February 2004. <>

  • Trends in Parents' Economic Hardship, by Sandi Nelson. Urban Institute. (March 18, 2004).
    Data from the 2002 round of the National Survey of America's Families show that food hardship affected 51 percent of low-income parents in 2002. Housing hardship among single low-income parents increased from 32 percent in 1997 to 35 percent in 2002. < >

  • The Road Not Taken? Changes in Welfare Entry during the 1990s, by Gregory Acs , Katherin Ross Phillips , Sandi Nelson. Urban Institute. (December 23, 2003). This paper uses data from the 1990 and 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation to assess whether changes in welfare policy affected welfare entry rates. It also assesses whether changes in entry rates are accompanied by improvements in the circumstances of families that choose not to receive welfare. The authors conclude that policy shifts and changes in attitudes toward work and welfare are the most likely explanations for the drop in welfare entry rates. The bulk of the change came after the implementation of welfare reform. Declining entry rates are not accompanied by substantial improvements in the well-being of low-income single mothers who are not on welfare. < >

  • How Much Do Welfare Recipients Know about Time Limits? by Sheila R. Zedlewski , Jennifer Holland. Urban Institute. (December 18, 2003). Data from the 2002 round of the National Survey of America's Families show that 37 percent of welfare recipients lack information about when their welfare benefits will end. Half of welfare recipients with two or more barriers to employment lack information about time limits. Three out of four Spanish-speaking recipients are not aware of when their welfare benefits will end. < >
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