Throughout American history, community-based organizations (CBOs) have provided assistance to families in need, although the emphasis placed on these services at different historical periods has varied. The past decade, however, has seen an unprecedented attempt to create a privileged role for CBOs in the social service delivery system. CBOs have considerable appeal. They combine themes such as reliance on private, local, and—frequently—religious agencies with an activist approach to addressing social problems with significant federal resources.
The presumed advantages of CBOs are numerous. One is the flexibility to enter into a variety of relationships with clients and with other service providers. Some states explicitly rely on the ability to develop provider networks that can respond to a family’s particular situation at the community level. A second advantage is the increased knowledge about available resources for the clients. Finally, there is the opportunity to develop more effective relationships with clients based on an intimate understanding of their circumstances (Kahn and Kamerman, 1996). However, disadvantages may include uneven distribution or unavailability of CBOs in some areas as well as the issue of the capacity of CBOs to provide extensive services or serve families and children with severe needs.