Experience among established Linkages counties points to eight key ingredients. Regardless of the target population being served, these elements create a recipe for Linkages success.
Shared vision of Linkages. The vision for Linkages is that all mutual families achieve safety, stability and economic self-sufficiency through service coordination. This notion combines aspects of both CalWORKS and Child Welfare, setting the foundation for bringing expertise and resources together to better serve families. The vision becomes a touchstone for leaders as they set the expectation that staff work together in partnership and establish the commitment to service coordination within the county’s practice environments. When programs are presented with day-to-day challenges–budget constraints, policy changes, new opportunities–the vision for Linkages serves as a stabilizing force to leverage the strength of the partnership in response.
Consistent, visible commitment from joint leaders. Linkages forges a new way of working together that requires strong leadership to initiate and sustain this innovative model. Leaders from CalWORKs and CWS need to stay closely aligned and vigilant about the value of partnership because Linkages brings together two programs that historically have worked independently. Leaders need to model collaboration and demonstrate their shared belief that mutual families are better served when both programs work together.
Accurate and systematic identification of families to receive Linkages coordinated services. Knowing which families are concurrently involved in both CWS and CalWORKs is the first step in effective service coordination. Surfacing these families requires three things: analyze your service population and target families who can most readily benefit from the shared resources of CalWORKs and child welfare services; quickly and accurately identify these families regardless of where they enter the system, and respond to changes in family circumstance that may create an opportunity for service coordination (e.g., job loss prompts application to CalWORKs). Counties have developed various ways to accomplish this, including monthly match lists of mutual clients, checking information systems at intake and re-confirming mutual status at key transfer points in the lifespan of the case.
Deliberate service coordination between CalWORKs and Child Welfare Services. Families juggling two separate case plans can be overwhelmed by conflicting timelines, service gaps or duplication and an overload of expectations. By working together and streamlining plans, caseworkers help families be more effective in meeting their goals. Counties choose the approach to coordination that fits the target population, operational environment and staffing patterns. Many counties have found success integrating Linkages service coordination into existing practices where multi-disciplinary teams (e.g., team decision-making, family group conferencing, child & family teams) are used.
Jointly trained workforce. Linkages is a practice innovation that requires staff to work together in new ways. Training is essential to reinforce not only the Linkages strategies but also the case worker relationships necessary to jointly serve families. From training, staff receive content knowledge and skills about Linkages practice as well as getting to know their service partners. The content of the training needs to be balanced, speaking to each agency’s role in Linkages, their individual mandates and how the organizational cultural of each influences the partnership. Supervising and managing in a collaborative service environment requires new skills as well. Participation of these leaders in staff trainings models that collaboration is necessary at all levels, prepares for on-the-job reinforcement of Linkages and builds parallel collaborative relationships at the management level. Incorporating Linkages training into Core Curriculum for new employees and periodic refresher trainings for existing staff is critical to sustaining Linkages.
Leveraged resources. Sharing of resources between both Child Welfare and CalWORKs when serving mutual families stretches valuable resources, maximizes funding and helps sustain services to families. In the absence of a specific funding source for Linkages, it is essential for administration/staff to see the benefit of this collaborative approach. As resources become even scarcer on State, County and community levels, the strategy of blending, braiding and leveraging existing funds is critical. Linkages practice may include counties developing contracts that specifically require these joint families be served or may involve tracking expenses at the fiscal level so that allocation to the appropriate funding source can be made without worker involvement. It’s important to consider the funding strategy during the development of a County’s Linkages program.
Shared accountability for economic self-sufficiency, family stability and child safety outcomes. The strength of the Linkages partnership relies on each program seeing its part in promoting the goals of the other. By working together the effects of poverty and maltreatment in the lives of mutual families can be mitigated. For example, when a mother’s mental health or housing needs can be addressed through CalWORKs, Child Welfare Services can help her create a safer home for her child thus reducing a key barrier to employment. In this way, CalWORKs serves as a child abuse prevention program and child welfare promotes economic self-sufficiency. Ongoing evaluation of Linkages helps determine if joint outcomes such as fewer children coming into care and increased work participation are being reached.
Robust communication between CWS and CalWORKs and across stakeholders. Serving families within a service collaboration will be a new working model for many counties. Partnerships like Linkages are best supported by frequent communication between the agencies involved. Establishing multiple mechanisms for communication ensures staff from both agencies understand each other’s skills and resources, share a mutual understanding of Linkages and coordinate roles and responsibilities on behalf of families. Communications ranging from co-located staff to Meet & Greets to joint rosters keep avenues open and staff on the same page. Getting the word out about Linkages to the county’s stakeholder community helps build buy-in and support for sustaining the momentum of working together.