Abstract: It Takes Some of the Burden Off of Us: Facilitators and Barriers in CWS Collaboration (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

304P It Takes Some of the Burden Off of Us: Facilitators and Barriers in CWS Collaboration

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rong Bai, MSSA/MNO, Doctoral Student, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Cyleste Collins, PhD, Assistant Professor, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH
Robert Fischer, PhD, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University
David Crampton, PhD, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background: Housing instability is a common experience for low-income families who are also involved in the child welfare system (CWS). In addition to housing instability, these families are also are commonly affected by issues related to mental health, substance abuse, interpersonal violence, and poverty. Housing instability, however, in particular, can hinder parents’ progress in completing their child welfare case plans and in turn, their efforts at regaining custody of their children. Due to limited funding streams and high caseloads, CWS staff often have difficulty adequately addressing these families’ housing and other complex needs. Thus, interagency collaborations between CWS and community agencies with housing expertise are necessary to achieve optimal child welfare outcomes. However, factors influencing effective collaboration that targets this specific population are relatively understudied.

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.