Academic journal article Social Work

Building a Neighborhood Network: Interorganizational Collaboration to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Academic journal article Social Work

Building a Neighborhood Network: Interorganizational Collaboration to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Article excerpt

A growing tension in health and human services organizations concerns the most effective way to help strengthen families who live in poverty (Kahn & Kamerman, 1996). The intertwined issues of substance abuse, mental illness, youth gang violence, substandard housing, poverty, economic disinvestment, infant mortality, and child abuse and neglect call for comprehensive planning; neighborhood-based initiatives; and interventions from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors (Halpern, 1996; Weiner, 1990). Since the 1960s federal demonstration grants and private foundations have attempted to find innovative solutions, and recent attempts have used comprehensive neighborhood-based initiatives to implement systemic change. However, despite their strengths, the effect of neighborhood initiatives on individual and collective well-being has been modest (Halpern, 1996).

Interorganizational collaboration has been perceived as a strategy of choice for those interested in community building, civic culture, local-level problem resolution, and renewal of democratic citizen participation (Austin, 1991; Gates, 1991; Gray, 1989). The growing number of cooperative ventures such as partnerships, alliances, and networks suggests that organizations are learning to work together and are benefiting from the new institutional arrangements. However, interorganizational collaboration is complex, takes many forms, and is difficult to do (Alter & Hage, 1993; Glisson & James, 1992; Kanter, 1994).

Child abuse and neglect is one area in which systemic change has been sought through neighborhood-based demonstration grants. A report of the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect (1991) declared that child maltreatment represented a national emergency: "The United States spends millions of dollars on programs that deal with the results of the nation's failure to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect . . . societal and personal costs of substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, adolescent pregnancy, suicide, juvenile delinquency, prostitution, pornography, and violent crime, all of which may have 'substantial roots in childhood abuse and neglect'" (p. x). Recommendations included strengthening poor neighborhoods and families by improving coordination among intergovernmental organizations and private child-serving agencies and implementing federal initiatives aimed at preventing child maltreatment by piloting universal, voluntary neonatal home health visiting. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has funded demonstration grants to serve as catalysts for systemic change in child welfare.

Although the literature on interorganizational collaboration in the human services is growing, less is known about how local-serving organizations work together toward far-reaching goals. The study reported in this article is intended to help fill that gap. This article reports findings from an organizational analysis of Dorchester CARES, one of the nine NCCAN-funded demonstration projects. By project completion, seven nonprofit health and human services organizations had collaborated to develop a community-based model to prevent and reduce child abuse in a poor neighborhood of Boston. This article discusses the factors that facilitated the collaboration and the characteristics of the service system.

Literature Review

Collaboration in the Social Services

The literature on interorganizational relationships in the human services has concentrated either on the organizational level or on community studies. Management studies have examined large, visible, and usually public bureaucracies that come together to coordinate and integrate services in a specific field, such as corrections, child welfare, mental health, or education (Alter, 1990; Beatrice, 1990; Glisson & James, 1992; Weiss, 1987). Community-oriented researchers have examined collaboration as coalitions and consortia development (Bailey & Koney, 1992; Rosenthal & Mizrahi, 1994; Sink & Stowers, 1989). …

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