Children in the child welfare (CW) system are at higher risk for developmental delays and emotional and behavioral problems (Ward et al., 2009) and experience higher rates of mental health disorders (Bronsard et al., 2016), relative to general population youth. Despite these needs, rates of Evidence-Based Intervention (EBI) utilization tend to be lower overall for this population of children (Horwitz et al., 2012). This low EBI utilization is partially attributable to low interagency collaboration in community service systems (Barth et al., 2020). The extent of interagency collaboration among agencies serving this population depends on numerous factors, including adequate training provided to CW caseworkers (Corr & Santos, 2017; Allen et al., 2012). The purpose of this study is to examine whether the amount of training and information provided to CW caseworkers on the mental health and developmental needs of the children on their caseloads influenced the degree to which workers engaged in interagency collaboration.
This study leveraged survey data (N=339) from The Cutler Institute for Child and Family Policy (Ward et al., 2009) that examined the degree to which Colorado CW agencies and other related agencies collaborated to address children’s needs. The dependent variable—caseworkers’ degree of interagency collaboration—was measured by summing 5-point Likert responses (where 0=no collaboration; 4=daily collaboration) about collaboration within eight distinct types of professionals and/or agencies, resulting in a continuous variable with responses ranging from 0-26 (where higher scores indicated more collaboration). Independent variables included continuous measures of caseworkers’ indications of receiving job-provided (1) trainings about identifying children’s needs [M=6.5; SD=3.55]; (2) information regarding agencies in their service systems (i.e., Early Headstart, Headstart, Colorado preschool program, childcare or daycare in general); [M=1.99; SD=1.21]; and (3) information regarding how related agencies (i.e., early childhood connections, local child development clinics, child find, medical providers) could provide early interventions and specialized services to meet the needs of children on their caseloads [M=1.78; SD=1.0]. The final analytic sample included 162 participants. Relationships were examined through multiple linear regression models using SPSS (v. 22.214.171.124).
Findings indicated the degrees of information received about other agencies in their service systems significantly predicted caseworkers’ higher degrees of interagency collaboration (ß=0.48; p=0.03). Neither the degrees of information received on how related agencies could provide early intervention and specialized services nor the degrees of trainings on identifying children’s needs significantly predicted caseworkers’ degrees of interagency collaboration (p=0.13; p=0.58). However, caseworkers’ trainings on identifying developmental delays in children significantly predicted caseworkers’ higher degrees of interagency collaboration (ß=0.87; p=0.03).
These findings suggest several implications for practice, research, and policy, including the need to further explore and develop contextually specific evidence-informed trainings and information for CW workers, and how these impact interagency collaboration practices. Research across a greater variety of contexts should investigate the relative influence of specific evidence-informed trainings on caseworkers’ participation in interagency collaboration. Additionally, policymakers may consider enhanced trainings and interagency collaboration strategies within new legislation addressing the significant social justice problem of low EBI implementation for this at-risk population of youth.