Serving Children and Families through the Welfare System: Challenges and Opportunities
Suppose a welfare agency decides to take up the challenge described in the first chapter: to do better for children and families on welfare. In order to meet that challenge, the agency has to figure out what its staff are capable of, what resources are available, and what political support or controversy might arise from a new role. That is, the agency has to assess its own organizational capacity and political environment in order to decide what kinds of services it can, in fact, provide or arrange. Second, the agency will probably have to learn about the capacity of other agencies in the community to cooperate in providing services to children and families. The reason is that few welfare agencies have staff who are expert in the range of services that families and children might need. Third, the agency has to learn about the needs of the children and families who make up its caseload and assess the implications of those needs for service provision.
This chapter analyzes evidence from a variety of sources about all three of these issues: the capacity and limits of the welfare agency, the capacity and limits of the rest of the service system for children, and the needs of families and children on welfare. It argues that important common circumstances across welfare agencies lead to five predictable challenges for those agencies when they try to deliver high-quality services to families and children. For example, the job of the welfare agency (dispensing large amounts of money in accordance with detailed regulations) and the job of the welfare eligibility worker (determining, under great time pressure, whether a family's circumstances are consistent with the regulations) are difficult to reconcile with a broad, responsive, and flexible family services mission. The challenge is particularly great because the needs of some,