This qualitative paper examines the experiences of workers in a collaborative program, Partnering for Family Success (PFS), focused on supporting housing-unstable CWS involved families with children in foster care. Specifically, we sought to identify facilitators and barriers of interagency collaboration between CWS and a community agency that provides a wide array of community services.
Methods: Focus group and individual Interviews were conducted with 23 participants from both agencies over a two-year period. Interview times ranged from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. All interviews were recorded using a digital recording device, were transcribed by a professional transcriptionist, and were coded thematically by three research team members. Safeguards for trustworthiness were established for the handling of the interview data, including peer debriefing, member checks, and triangulation.
Findings: Facilitators of and barriers to effective collaboration were identified at both the individual and agency levels. Community agency caseworkers acted as a bridge connecting CWS workers and clients, smoothing communication channels on both sides, allowing all parties to work together to move the clients’ cases forward. Another facilitator was supervision. Supervisors from the community agency and CWS not only oversaw daily program operations but also participated in biweekly meetings in which they communicated about issues and developed solutions. Other partnerships with housing authorities and flexible program resources enabled community caseworkers to intervene in helping clients quickly access permanent housing and connect them with needed resources.
In terms of barriers, we found CWS workers lacked knowledge regarding the community caseworkers’ roles as well as the overall program philosophy of prioritizing housing before meeting other needs. We also learned that the different agencies’ foci meant that workers emphasized different case factors, which sometimes led to frustrations and misunderstandings.
Implications: The findings illustrate the experiences of different agency workers working the same families. Ensuring effective collaboration across agencies is vital for adequately serving these vulnerable families. Enhancing and supporting factors that facilitate collaboration, and addressing factors that serve as barriers will ultimately lead to enhancing both workers’ and clients’ experiences, and potentially, positive outcomes. In particular, ensuring professionals have the same or closely aligned goals and clear roles are essential ingredients to strong collaboration. The findings also suggest avenues for promoting more collaborative practices in CWS and implementing pro-collaboration program or policies.