Magazine article Policy & Practice

Valuable Lessons in Cross-Organizational Collaboration

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Valuable Lessons in Cross-Organizational Collaboration

Article excerpt

Nowhere is the adage of "together everyone achieves more" as accurate as in the field of child welfare

When it comes to combating abuse and neglect, it absolutely takes a village-or in our U.S. vernacular, a community. And that requires individuals, experts, leaders, and community organizations to work together, collaborating strategically on what is best for children.

But as most people in our field know, forming and maintain collaborations between and across separate entities is difficult. A lot of factors can interfere with the best-laid plans.

In fact, Indiana's Department of Child Services (DCS) attempted a critical collaboration years ago that self-destructed.

In the 1980s, the Department of Public Welfare, a predecessor to today's stand-alone DCS agency, entered into a contract with the Indiana University School of Social Work (IUSSW) to collaboratively develop and deliver training for new child welfare employees.

Even though the training back then was very different than it is today, it seemed to be a huge success when it started.

A Failed Attempt

Over the years, however, things began to change. Key people left their positions, and new people came on who weren't aware of the previous collaborative work. Communication began to break down, and memories of what had been planned or committed to became fuzzy or contradictory.

People from the university complained that the welfare agency had stopped giving them any feedback.

Conversely, people from the agency expressed frustration that the university had, in their view, commandeered the endeavor and was unresponsive to the agency's input, leaving them with no choice but to end the relationship if they wanted any control over their own agency curriculum.

What began as something very well intended and well planned, ended in rather a mess ten years later. It was a long time before our two organizations attempted to work together again.

Resurrecting a Good Idea

Nearly a decade later, Indiana's child welfare division and Indiana University decided to give their once-failed collaboration another try.

Once again we worked together to start a Title IV-E-funded program that would send existing agency employees back to school to complete a master's degree in social work (MSW). The program was designed as a tool to increase the leadership skills of promising agency employees.

The program required employees who completed an MSW at the expense of the child welfare agency to agree to continue working for the agency for the same number of months their degrees were funded.

To date, more than 150 state employees have completed their degree and have begun the payback process.

But the success story of round two of this collaboration doesn't end there. Big change was coming, and the collaboration was once again at risk of heading back down the slope it had slid down before.

In 2005, Indiana's newly elected governor, Mitch Daniels, made a huge change: He pulled the child-protection division out of an existing agency, where it had to fight for relevancy and resources, and established a new government agency solely dedicated to protecting children.

"It was an act that sent a clear message that the battle against child abuse and neglect was a very high priority for Indiana," said James Payne, who served as the new agency's director from 2005 through 2012.

And that meant ensuring the newly created agency had the best professionals available to care for those children also became a priority.

One year after its establishment, the agency embarked on a larger endeavor with the university, replicating the existing program-but with a new twist.

The IUSSW reached out to public Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs throughout Indiana to recruit and train outstanding BSW students to become part of the child welfare workforce.

The BSW students became eligible to receive financial support from DCS during their senior year, enabling them to complete the equivalent of new DCS caseworker training while in school, and graduate ready to start work immediately. …

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