In order for the public child welfare agency to establish and sustain effective partnerships, child welfare leadership must pay attention to certain internal areas: the roles and responsibilities of the agency staff, the competencies of these staff, how the partnership gets institutionalized and embedded in the agency and communication policies and procedures.
Professional Roles and Responsibilities
Strategic partnerships are critical to the successful work of the public child welfare agency and they require the ongoing work of professionals at every level. At each level there are specific roles and responsibilities that leadership must clearly articulate, regularly communicate and embody in training, quality assurance and performance evaluations. Direct involvement by leadership is critical in the early phases of a new partnership to ensure the vision is shared and that barriers to implementation are addressed from the beginning.
Specific Roles and Responsibilities
- Agency leadership. The Child Welfare Director or Executive Team is responsible for ensuring that strategic partnerships are initiated and that they flourish. They not only make the connections with their counterparts in partner entities, but they are also responsible for initiating and carrying out the various methods through which partnerships are built. Leadership is responsible for the allocation of sufficient resources to support these activities and for the delegation of decision-making authority to specific subordinate staff for carrying out their accomplishment. Leaders also must ensure that the principles of partnership are infused in all workforce orientation and training.
- Middle managers and Supervisors are designees. They are often asked to carry out the day-to-day work and they are generally responsible for making sure that partnerships are functioning properly, that information is being shared appropriately (both up and down the line) and for monitoring and reviewing progress toward agency goals. They have collective responsibility for shaping programs while also clearly delegating appropriate operational decisions to the staff level. They are also responsible for holding their staff accountable to these principles and for their own collaborative and inclusive behavior in interacting with strategic partners.
- Frontline Staff. Line staff should have a clearly articulated role within the system and should be given training, resources and authority to work toward clearly understood outcomes. They are to be both protected and held accountable – and trained to work as partners both with other service providers and with those they view primarily as clients. They need to both receive and provide information relevant to collateral service providers and to those they serve as clients. As with all levels of the agency, they are accountable for carrying out their work in a spirit of collaboration and partnership. Ultimate decisions about whether specific actions can be carried out in the spirit of partnership or must take another course should be resolved at the management or leadership level in the agency, i.e. unless otherwise directed. Line staff should act as equal partners with collateral providers and clients alike.
- Primary Point of Contact. Agencies with sufficient resources should consider appointing a specific primary point of contact that has responsibility for monitoring and maintaining contact/communication, facilitates joint planning and ensures that the partnership activities are carried out effectively and efficiently. This ensures that the maintenance and sustenance of strategic partnerships, while everyone’s business, does not unwittingly become no one’s business. If resources or other reasons prohibit an agency from creating such a position, the responsibilities of such a position must fall to the Director or Deputy Director to ensure that they are carried out.
There are a number of specific competencies that are necessary for agency professionals to have in establishing and maintaining strategic partnerships. Not all of these are essential for everyone in the agency. The importance of each of these depends on the specific responsibilities assigned to the agency personnel being evaluated for their capacity to support the strategic partnership
work of the agency. These include:
- The understanding of the value of initiating and sustaining partnership strategies
- The understanding and clear knowledge of the mission, goals and objectives of the agency and of partner agencies The understanding of power dynamics and respect for authority
- The understanding of the roles of the branches of government and separation of powers The understanding of the role of government in the lives of individuals and communities
- The understanding of both quantitative and qualitative information about the agency, partner agencies and the milieu in which they work
- The understanding of the etiology of abuse and neglect, theories of change and systems responses, including issues of disparity and disproptionality.
- The ability to negotiate, compromise and collaborate
- The ability to be strategic and convey relational empathy. The ability to meet new people, win them over and make a connection
- The ability and desire for accountability and ownership of the process and product The ability to build trust, be honest, open and transparent
- The ability to work effectively with others who have apparently divergent goals and objectives The ability to engage effectively in interest-based negotiation
- The ability to critically review and extract meaning from the available information
- The ability to clearly communicate the work of the agency, its needs and its constraints
- The ability to use discretion and judgment – can read a situation accurately and diagnose its implications
Institutionalizing and Sustaining the Commitment to Partnerships
Too often the work of establishing and maintaining strategic partnerships grows out of the commitment and values of specific leaders in the agency and does not outlast their tenure in the agency. It is imperative that the work of building strategic partnerships includes attending to the activities necessary for institutionalizing this work. The commitment to strategic partnerships must become a core element of the culture of the agency. By focusing on the principles that are the essential underpinnings of culture change, leadership will be able to ensure that the work that they do in establishing partnerships will be sustained beyond their time in the agency. Institutionalizing and sustaining the partnerships requires continuous work at all levels of the agency. This is accomplished through: formal policies, procedures and communication with staff; modeling and leadership of senior staff and accountability.
Formal Policies, Procedures and Regular Communication
Policies must be clear and well-established. The agency must include information about institutionalizing partnerships in its orientation and training programs.
Internal communications should include discussion of the process and outcomes of strategic partnerships at regularly convened staff meetings, and the principles of engaging in partnership should be infused into staff orientation and training. Staff needs to be clearly informed and aware that there are partnerships and, where necessary, trained so that they understand both the nature of the partnerships and their specific role (if any) within it.
Modeling and Leadership
Modeling by agency leadership is essential so that the entire workforce bears witness to the importance of this strategy. In turn, managers and supervisors must reflect the behavior of the leadership and model it for their staff.
Policies and procedures cannot substitute for modeling behavior by the agency leaders and managers.
Outcomes are enhanced when leadership and management model and communicate the value of establishing and maintaining partnerships.
An evaluation of each taff member’s role in maintaining partnerships should be built into the performance appraisal
system of the agency.