The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Collaboration and Competition: Inter-Organizational Dynamics Between Private Child Welfare Agencies and Child Serving Sectors

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Alicia C. Bunger, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Bowen McBeath, PhD, Associate Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Crystal E. Collins-Camargo, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Emmeline Chuang, PhD, Assistant Professor, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA

Private child welfare agencies often collaborate across diverse public and private child-serving service sectors yet also compete with their partners to secure funding, qualified staff and clientele which may undermine collaboration (Pfeffer and Salancik, 2003; Tsasis, 2009).  However, little is known about these complex interagency dynamics, especially whether competition for different types of resources shapes all forms of collaboration similarly, and how private agencies’ collaboration vary across sectors. Understanding the nature of these interagency dynamics is needed to inform strategies for developing sustainable relationships among child-serving agencies. This study addressed two questions about private child welfare agencies: 1) What is the influence of competition for resources on different forms of collaborative activity? and 2) Does collaboration vary by type of service sector partner?


Data were gathered from directors of 446 private agencies from 38 states who participated in the National Survey of Private Child and Family Serving Agencies.  Participants reported on their interorganizational relationships with 10 child-serving sectors, and we examined collaboration and competition at the dyadic (pair-wise) unit of analysis. Focal variables included four types of collaborative activities (information sharing, cross-training, joint service delivery, and joint budgeting; dichotomized), and competition for four resources (public and private funds, staff and clients), measured with 5-point Likert scales. We conducted logistic regression analyses with jackknife estimation (clustered by agency) to account for multiple observations from each agency to test relationships between collaboration, competition, sector type, relational qualities (e.g. perceived quality, contract), and organizational setting (e.g. size, age, location).


Competition positively predicted collaboration.  Competition for staff predicted all collaborative activities except data/information sharing.  Agencies were more likely to share information (OR=1.46, SE=.23) and deliver joint services (OR=1.46, SE=.26) when they competed for public funding.  Agencies were also more likely to deliver joint services when they compete for clients (OR=1.61, SE=.28).  Competition for private funding was the only type associated with joint budgeting (OR=1.05, SE=.07).  

Collaboration also varied by service sector.  Compared to public child welfare partners, agencies were less likely to deliver joint services with other private agencies within (OR=.58, SE=.15) and outside (OR=.10.57, SE=) their region, and less likely to budget with others except juvenile justice and schools.  Relationship quality and contractual relationships positively predicted collaboration. Rural location was positively associated (OR=1.59 , SE=.34) while location in a metropolitan region (OR=.55 , SE=.23 ) was negatively associated with data/information sharing. 

 Conclusions and Implications:

The more private child welfare agencies compete with other child serving sectors, the more they collaborate; however, this relationship varies depending on the type of competition, collaboration, and partner under examination.  These findings suggest that most forms of competition between child-serving sectors are likely to influence collaboration around core service delivery functions including programing, staff training and information sharing.  This is not surprising since public agencies depend on their partners across sectors to provide a wide array of services to their clients. However competition around private funding may stimulate collaboration of administrative functions, especially with their public child welfare counterparts, thus potentially enhancing efficiency.