Institutional Embeddedness and the Diversity of Private Child Welfare Service Delivery
Over the last decade, traditional resource-based views of the organization have expanded to include a relational perspective that suggests organizational strategy and performance are not simply market-given or internally-driven but affected by the networks of relationships in which agencies are embedded (Gulati, Nohria, & Zaheer, 2000). This literature is based on studies of for-profit manufacturing and service organizations; few studies have examined whether these business-oriented models are applicable to the human service sector, which relies heavily on private nonprofit agencies for delivery of client services (Hasenfeld, 2010). The current study examines how the embeddedness of private human service agencies within different interorganizational networks relates to the diversity of services they provide.
Data were drawn from directors of 446 agencies within 38 states that participated in the National Survey of Private Child and Family Serving Agencies (NSPCFSA) between May-June 2011. Dependent variables included the diversity of child welfare services ((CWS); range 0-7) and of health, behavioral health, and social services (range 0-17) directly provided by agencies. Embeddedness was operationalized as the multiplexity of private agency ties (i.e., the extent to which directors reported ‘Frequent’ or ‘Constant’ collaboration in four operational areas) with eight different entities as well as whether agencies were members of national associations or accredited by a national entity. Multivariate Poisson regression models with robust standard errors examined isolated net effects of individual ties on service array, controlling for agency and director characteristics as well as the within-state clustering of agencies. Fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) (Ragin, 2008) was separately applied to identify configural relationships associated with highly diverse service arrays.
Poisson regression analyses indicated that the diversity of CWS provided by agencies was positively associated with agency size, accreditation, and multiplex ties with public child welfare agencies ((CWA); IRR=1.10, p<0.01). Diversity of other services was positively associated with agency size and ties with behavioral health providers (IRR=1.03, p<0.05) but negatively associated with ties with other private agencies (IRR=0.97, p<0.05).
FsQCA determined that large agency size, ties with public CWA, and ties with courts were necessary but not sufficient for provision of diverse CWS unless agencies maintained ties with other entities as well. In general, results suggest that agencies provide diverse services when they are large, accredited, and connected to other public or private child welfare agencies. Small agencies lacking strong ties with public CWA may still provide diverse health and social services if they maintain multiple ties with other entities (e.g. other private agencies, courts, behavioral health providers, state associations).
Conclusions and Implications:
Findings support the relational perspective drawn from the for-profit business literature, which suggests that private human service agencies’ relationships with other entities can both affect and be affected by organizational strategy. Results also have practical managerial implications for the seamlessness of services provided to clients with complex needs. Future research could further explore this topic by examining the essential links between agency embeddedness related to financial pressures and service array, organizational performance, and client outcomes.