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March 2008Vol. 9, No. 2Collaboration and Systems Change: Two States' Efforts

This article presents examples of two States’ efforts to achieve better outcomes for children and families by effecting systems change through collaboration. The effort in Kentucky is a relatively new approach that involves the State’s Court Improvement Program. The North Carolina Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families is a more long-standing endeavor that provides a forum for a variety of groups to engage in discussion, policymaking, and advocacy.


As part of the Court Improvement Program (CIP) in Kentucky, the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are collaborating to identify systems changes and innovations in court procedures, legislation, and services that will lead to better outcomes for children and families. Central to this effort is a series of Summits on Children held around the State that involve stakeholders at all levels in a dialog about needed changes.

After attending a national Summit on Children in New York City early in 2007, Kentucky's Chief Justice Lambert brought the idea of a series of summits back to Kentucky, directing the Administrative Office of the Courts to convene both a statewide summit and a series of regional summits. The statewide summit, "Courts and Community: Improving Systems for Our Children," was held in August 2007, attracting approximately 600 participants, including judges, attorneys, legislators, child welfare workers, foster parents, and children. Later in the year, nine regional summits hosted another 1,300 attendees. In each case, participants attended workgroups designed to examine the court and child welfare systems experienced by children and to recommend changes. Participants also completed surveys designed to gather individual input.

The University of Kentucky is collecting and analyzing the data from these summits and surveys. An advisory group will then make recommendations for court reform and other systems changes, and the university will help to evaluate the resulting systems reforms.

The broad participation and high profile of these summits have brought a new perspective to some of the longstanding problems in child welfare and juvenile justice. Participants hope that this new collaborative effort will offer solutions for improved outcomes for children and families involved with child welfare and the courts.

For more information, visit the Kentucky Summit on Children website:

(Thanks to Crystal Collins-Camargo, University of Kentucky, and Patrick Yewell, Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, for contributing to this article.)

North Carolina

Long-term collaboration does not occur naturally and, despite good intentions, is hard to sustain. Successful long-term collaboration between agencies requires at least two conditions: first, a neutral venue that is not owned by any one agency and, second, holding agencies accountable for a product that cannot be produced by any one agency acting alone.

For the last 7 years, the North Carolina State Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families (the Collaborative) has provided the first condition: a neutral venue for public and private child and family serving agencies, families, and community partners to meet, satisfy mandates to collaborate, coordinate initiatives, and help members become better informed about the needs of other agencies, families, and a variety of community partners.

The Collaborative is not part of any agency, has no budget, and has no formal legal status. While it does not change the authority or responsibility of agencies or families or community partners who attend, it does take on formal, often official, roles for a number of organizations that are mandated to collaborate with other agencies. For instance, the Collaborative functions as the collaborative body for North Carolina’s CFSR and title IV-B Plan.

The number of agencies that voluntarily attend the Collaborative continues to grow because it has been able to help agencies produce products that they could not have produced by themselves, including a common training curriculum used by different agencies and groups serving children; a list of the tools used by different agencies to screen and assess children and families; and matrixes showing funding sources and data sources used by different agencies. More importantly, the Collaborative has increased the synergy between initiatives across all the child-serving agencies in North Carolina. While the Collaborative makes no formal decisions, decision-makers come to the Collaborative, seek input and advice, often reach consensus about policy with their colleagues in other agencies, and return to their own agencies to make decisions informed by those meetings.

For more information, visit the Collaborative's website:

(Many thanks to Joel Rosch, Duke University, for providing this information about the Collaborative.)