Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground. Building Collaborative Working Relationships


The first step toward improved services and ultimately better outcomes for these families is to begin working together more effectively.  Partnerships are essential for progress.  No single agency's services are adequate.  Until agencies work together to assist families move toward healthy lifestyles, they risk an expensive and futile tug of war in which families are torn apart between conflicting imperatives as staff argue over whose problem it is.  In order to build relationships successfully that can address the complex needs of substance abusing parents with children in the child welfare system, ongoing interdisciplinary training is required as well as training in effective parenting, family support and family skills training models.  Cross disciplinary training is a powerful vehicle for sharing values, skills and knowledge.  Such training is necessary to reach the common goals implicit in partnership building.

HHS intends to lead the field toward improving communications and developing common ground between the child welfare and substance abuse treatment fields.  We began by sponsoring, through ACF's Child Maltreatment Resource Center, a conference in June of 1998 focusing on the nexus between these fields and models of collaborative professional activities.  In addition, we are increasing the collaborative activity between ACF and SAMHSA, as well as with NIDA, NIAAA and HCFA, beginning with the production of this report.  We expect further joint activities among these agencies over the next several years, including:

  • Developing a framework for cross system collaboration and conducting leadership meetings that will convene national and regional discussions among agency leaders, service providers, and consumers of our services to begin the process of working through our different perspectives to build common ground.
  • Preparing and disseminating information regarding substance abuse screening and assessment tools that can be used in child protective services contexts, and child safety assessments that may be useful for substance abuse treatment providers.
  • Funding a series of small grants to States and communities that will support the planning and implementation of joint strategies for service delivery, staff development and training in effective parenting and family interventions, treatment retention, relapse management and post-treatment support.
  • Exploring ways in which improved interagency cooperation can result in more effective substance abuse assessment and treatment referrals.

We challenge State and community leaders in the child welfare and substance abuse fields, in consultation with the juvenile and family courts, to initiate discussions on these issues within their own jurisdictions.  These discussions should focus on an analysis of the way in which these service systems and the court currently operate and interact with one another, and the impact of these operations on child safety and family functioning.  These deliberations should also identify shared goals, gaps in service, and innovations applicable to their community that can improve the outcomes for children and families.