Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers. 4.3.3 Collaboration between TANF and Child Welfare Agencies

06/01/2004

Collaboration between TANF and child welfare agencies varied across the five states visited, and to some extent, within states as well. At the state level, Washington has convened a workgroup to address shared issues, and the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has convened a multidisciplinary task force to study issues and strategies. In other states, development or lack of collaborative strategies appears to occur at the local level, if at all.

While child welfare and TANF agencies were located within the same parent agency in all states visited, the extent of collaboration varies substantially across and within states. In Louisiana, where agencies are located in the same department but appear to have little contact with each other at the parish level, we heard no reports of either formal or informal collaboration. In Wisconsin, by contrast, children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers were managed from within the child welfare agency in the counties visited, although officials noted that this is not the case in every county.

In Oklahoma, TANF and child welfare are housed in two divisions within the Department of Human Services, with a common director at the local level. For child-only cases in formal kinship care, child welfare workers are responsible for child safety and service needs, while TANF workers are responsible for financial and medical assistance. In the smallest site visited in Oklahoma (Pottawatamie County), both divisions are located within a single building, and workers report a high level of informal collaboration. Workers frequently communicate about cases that are seen by both agencies, either concurrently or at different times. In the larger, urban office visited in Oklahoma, informants reported far less informal collaboration. Maryland also reported that collaboration varied according to both the size of the county and the specific county involved.

"They call us when they need something. Otherwise, we don't get into their business."

TANF Worker

Informants described a variety of collaborations for informally sharing information. They most commonly described information-sharing strategies. In Maryland, some counties reported conducting joint case staffings, in what Kevin McGuire, Executive Director of the Family Investment Administration describes as an innovative approach that "makes effective use of the time and talent that they have." Oklahoma City staff also described joint staffings, with activities required for a child welfare treatment plan accepted as counting toward the TANF work requirements.

Computer systems in Oklahoma and Washington allow some information sharing across child welfare and TANF agencies, although the systems are not fully integrated. Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, holds monthly staff meetings for both TANF and child welfare staff to provide training on common issues. Washington's Region 5 TANF staff participate in community-wide networking brown-bag lunch meetings for service providers, and in a city-wide resource network.

Child welfare informants in Oklahoma and Washington described making referrals to TANF, most commonly for relative caregivers who were not licensed foster parents and were seeking financial support. In Oklahoma, child welfare workers help relatives with the application for child-only TANF, then transfer the application to the TANF office for processing. In Washington, service agencies provide information and assistance to applicants for programs other than their own through the Coordinated Service Initiative, also known as "No Wrong Door."

Maryland offered some examples of resource sharing to address shared population issues. In Baltimore, social workers paid with TANF funds are stationed in district offices to respond to social and welfare issues. Some Oklahoma City TANF offices have child welfare workers assigned to assist relative caregivers with services.

With the exception of Wisconsin, it is somewhat striking that informants did not describe more collaborative efforts related to case management and service provision. In several discussions, workers from either child welfare or TANF observed that they did not know enough about each others' programs. Several informants acknowledged that child welfare and TANF caseloads had similar needs, and overlapped at times. However, the two agencies operate under very different mandates, and consequently with distinct resources, philosophies, and expectations.

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