Academic journal article Family Relations

Collaboration of Services for Children and Families: A Synthesis of Recent Research and Recommendations

Academic journal article Family Relations

Collaboration of Services for Children and Families: A Synthesis of Recent Research and Recommendations

Article excerpt

Various human services are essential to meet families' and children's diverse, and often complex, needs. Although at-risk families are generally the focus of deliberations regarding human services, the needs of all families and children should be considered as effective systems are planned and implemented. For example, the most appropriate location in a community for assessment, coordination, and delivery of services may be a school, where all children -- not just those who are particularly at risk -- can be reached.

Families and children at risk often present a complex array of needs that can only be met by the provision of multiple services (Golden, 1992; Swick, 1992). It has been found that effective delivery of human and educational services improves the lives of families who are most vulnerable. However, it is generally agreed that the present fragmented social and health services systems are inadequate (Boyd et al., 1992; Kagan, 1991; Nelson & Pearson, 1991; Raack, Kunesh, & Shulman, 1992).

Not only the multiplicity of problems facing families, but also the interrelationships among the various settings -- home, school, and community, as well as public and private agencies -- affecting the well-being of children and their families are increasingly being recognized (Imel, 1992; Useem, 1991). Communities must collectively accept the challenge of developing prevention programs, as well as remediation and intervention programs, to effectively meet the ever increasing needs of today's families. There are indications that the probability of meeting this "domestic challenge," as Kagan (1991) calls it, improves with collaboration (Thornburg, Hoffman, & Remeika, 1991; Useem, 1991).

National groups are currently discussing the potential of collaborative efforts, and communities around the country are attempting to form workable arrangements among various human service agencies. This article is a synthesis of the recommendations relating to collaboration made by 58 national panels, commissions, and task forces. The purpose of this article is to review the 70 recommendations that relate to collaboration made by these panels over the past five years, and offer some practical guidance for persons embarking upon collaborative endeavors. Additionally, literature that defines and outlines the necessity, composition, and function of collaboration is reviewed, and several case studies are given.


A common view of collaboration that is emerging in the literature differentiates among cooperation, coordination, and collaboration, suggesting that the three constitute a hierarchy (Kagan, 1991). That is, interorganizational relationships become more sophisticated, complex, and effective for problem solving through progression from cooperation to coordination to collaboration.

Cooperation may be described as organizations or people simply working together (Boyd et al., 1992; Hord, 1986; Lieberman, 1986a, 1986b). Coordination, which is somewhat more complex than cooperation, involves the sharing of information between two or more organizations, and involves joint planning (Trutko, 1991). Collaborative settings are defined as "organizational and interorganizational structures where resources, power, and authority are shared and where people are brought together to achieve common goals that could not be accomplished by a single individual or organization independently" (Kagan, 1991, p. 3). Bruner (1991) lists three elements that are a part of collaboration: (a) jointly developing and agreeing to a set of common goals and directions; (b) sharing responsibility for obtaining those goals; and (c) working together to achieve those goals, using the expertise of each collaborator.

Collaboration is seen as promising because it facilitates a holistic approach and appears to be more effective in achieving goals than are noncollaborative efforts (Boyd et al., 1992; Golden, 1992; Lieberman, 1986b). …

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