Many children in foster care experience behavioral health and trauma-related needs, which negatively affect their well-being and permanency (Ai et al., 2013). As part of a federal initiative to integrate trauma-informed care into child welfare practices, this project formed a multi-agency, public-private steering committee (SC) to collaborate on the development, implementation, evaluation, and sustainment of statewide effort. Prior research on public-private collaborations to implement and sustain evidence-based interventions (EBIs) in child welfare systems has found that effective collaboration contributed to successful implementation and sustainability of EBIs (Green et al., 2016). However, research also highlights that collaboration is complex, particularly in a privatized child welfare system. This study’s objective was to assess the evolvement of collaboration among public-private child welfare entities and university researchers integrating trauma-informed services into a child welfare system over a five-year period.
Researchers collected quantitative and qualitative data about collaboration from SC members. In 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, all members were invited to complete the Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory (WCFI), which is comprised of 40 questions that focus on 20 research-tested success factors of collaboration (Mattessich, Murray-Close, & Monsey, 2001). Between 13 and 17 SC members responded each year, with response rates above 80% all four years. Surveys were entered into REDCap and exported to Stata for descriptive analyses. Researchers followed WCFI developers’ guidelines for calculating average factor scores and categorizing factors to describe the evolvement of collaboration within this leadership group over time. In addition to administering the WCFI, four SC members participated in a focus group or interview in 2018 to reflect upon their experiences as part of this collaborative.
The 20 success factors were grouped into six categories: environment, membership characteristics, process and structure, communication, purpose, and resources. Average scores for the 6 successful collaboration factor categories increased from 2015 to 2018, where all were strengths (>=4.0). The environment and resources categories consistently had the lowest average scores. In the environment category, scores for favorable political and social climate warranted continued discussion (<4.0). Likewise, in the resources category, average scores for sufficient funds, staff, materials, & time (2.8 in 2015 to 3.7 in 2018) indicated this may be a continued concern. Qualitative data supported these findings, highlighting strengths in membership characteristics, purpose, communication, and process and structure as well as how the social and political environment and resources have influenced the collaborative group over time.
This study contributes to the child welfare and implementation literature by sharing an example of how successful collaboration was assessed in one public-private-university collaborative group focused on implementing and sustaining trauma-informed child welfare practices. Project leaders’ perceptions about collaboration were measured and discussed annually to identify strengths and prompt a data-driven discussion of potential areas of concern. This iterative process enabled targeted strategizing to improve collaboration. Further, asking collaborative members to reflect upon what supported or strained collaboration provided narrative accounts that helped improve understanding of the complexity of developing and sustaining a successful collaborative group.