Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground. Chapter 6. The Context of Collaboration and Overcoming Barriers to Quality Service


It becomes obvious to observers of interactions between service providers in the child welfare and substance abuse treatment fields that in most instances, agencies do not work well together and that truly collaborative relationships are rare.  This chapter will explore why this is so often the case.  Substance abuse treatment agencies and child welfare agencies both have the vision of healthy, functional families resulting from their interventions.  In moving from the family's immediate situation to that end result, however, very different perspectives and philosophies may impede cooperation, causing agencies to mistrust each other, hamper one another's efforts, and stymie progress. 

Several key differences in perspective underlie the majority of misunderstandings and frustrations child welfare agencies and substance abuse treatment agencies feel toward one another (Feig, 1998; Young et al, 1998).  These include:  different definitions of "the client," what outcomes are expected on what time lines, and how best to respond to setbacks.  In addition, interagency collaborations do not happen in a vacuum.  Factors related to the legal and policy environments in which agencies operate set a context for joint activities and affect the willingness and ability of agencies to work together.  For the substance abuse and child protection fields, these factors include the following: 

  • State and Federal laws and policies regarding child abuse reporting, foster care, permanency planning, and termination of parental rights, including new time lines for decision making set forth in the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
  • The sense of crisis under which many child welfare agencies operate.
  • Chronic shortages of substance abuse treatment services, particularly services appropriate for women with young children.
  • Confidentiality requirements of both fields that are often perceived as impediments to cooperation.