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Toward A Unified Commitment

Within the closed structure and associated sub-structures
containing child protection I discussed earlier, joint action involving
multiple sub-structures or compartments is both tedious and difficult. The challenge
is striking at the lowest or most localized level and increases as one moves
“up” to district, regional, state, and interstate levels. At a local level, the
challenge is seen with departments or areas such as investigations, ongoing
services, foster care, independent living, and so on. Each entity functions
fairly autonomously and more or less independently. There are clear boundaries
separating the functions and cooperative action requires a conscious effort to
span those boundaries. The separation and boundaries are more pronounced and
less permeable as one moves up to “higher” levels.

When spanning boundaries for cooperative action, each
compartment or entity limits its actions to its usual function or activities.
It does what it usually does. Spanning occurs for the sake of some shared
client or interest. This traditional type of cooperation is usually referred to
as “collaboration” and only serves to coordinate the activities of the
collaborating entities. Within local agencies, this type of collaboration is
typically governed by internal procedures. At higher levels or when the
cooperation is between separate agencies, the collaboration is typically
governed by contracts, memoranda of understanding, or informal, ad hoc
arrangements. Additionally, collaboration is usually limited to a particular
case, situation, or circumstance and is most often time limited. It serves a
specific purpose and then stops. (Let me note in passing collaboration is
usually between entities or individual workers at the same level but sometimes
happens vertically, e.g., between state and county entities or between federal
and state entities.)

In contemporary child protection practice, collaboration
is the primary vehicle for cooperative action at every level. In vertical relationships,
legal force, rules, and general coercion frequently “force” cooperation; but
voluntary cooperation and collaboration are most common at all levels and
particularly with same-level relationships. Due to the essentially voluntary
and situational nature of collaboration, it tends to be dependent on the
particular people who need to collaborate, on unrelated factors such as other
demands on time and services, and on the level of specific interest of the
collaborators or Management within their respective entities. Although
collaboration usually works to a limited extent, it often fails, breaks down,
or is not responsive to the unique circumstances or interests of a client or

Collaborative arrangements as discussed above are often
referred to as “partnerships” but are not. The identities and autonomy of the
entities remain, as do the clearly defined boundaries between them. They
continue to function as separate entities with separately defined functions. A
partnership pools or combines specified resources from the partnering entities
to form a new entity with its separate identity and function. It is a
derivative entity clearly differentiated from the original partnering entities.
The Integrated Services Partnership (ISP) discussed above is an example of a
partnership as apposed to a collaborative arrangement.

The distinct advantage of a partnership vs. other
collaborative arrangements starts with the partnership’s mission or purpose.
Although the mission likely needs to be compatible with the purposes of the
partnering entities, it can be shaped and tweaked to focus on a mutually agreed
to problem or issue. The purpose of the partnership is compatible with but not
the same as the purpose of any of the partners. Given its related but separate
purpose, the partnership can focus on the problem or issue with minimal
consideration given to the interests of the individual partner entities. Within
the partnership, personnel assignments, services, and resource allocation can
be managed to optimize action targeted specifically to achieving the
partnership’s mission.

The evolution of the child protection paradigm is from
traditional collaboration to the development of partnerships focusing on
safety, permanence, and ongoing success for all of the community’s children. If
the paradigm is to continue its evolution toward excellence, the perspective
shifts away from the partnering entities to children and families and in turn
to the community and to integrated service models discussed above. Focus also shifts
from abused and neglected children to maltreated children more generally to
children in need of services whether maltreated or not. Within the community’s
children’s safety net, there is a unified commitment of all participants to the
well being and ongoing success of each of the community’s children. The child’s
parents have the first level of responsibility for assuring their child’s
success and all agencies and services in the community are ready and committed
to whatever is needed to support and backup the parents, with a unified
commitment to each child’s physical, emotional, moral, social, and intellectual
success, through whatever means or arrangements necessary to meet this

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