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


While both the substance abuse treatment and the child welfare fields have the vision of healthy, functional families resulting from their interventions, in moving from the family's immediate situation to that end result, different perspectives and philosophies sometimes impede cooperation, engender mistrust, and can cause agencies to hamper one another's efforts and stymie progress.  Several key differences in perspectives underlie the majority of misunderstandings and frustrations child welfare agencies and substance abuse treatment agencies feel toward one another.  These include different definitions of who "the client" is; what outcomes are expected on what time lines; and potentially conflicting responses to setbacks.  In addition, 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.  These include State and Federal laws regarding child abuse and neglect and child welfare; 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; and confidentiality requirements of both fields that are often perceived as impediments to cooperation. 

There are real and significant barriers to productive collaborations between child welfare and substance abuse agencies.  But these differences can and must be accommodated.  Doing so will require sustained efforts by Federal, State and local staff in the child welfare, substance abuse, and related fields throughout the nation - efforts to learn about one another, to understand one another, and to establish a shared set of expectations for each other and for clients.