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October 2008Vol. 9, No. 8Understanding Barriers to Effective Interagency Collaboration to Address Substance Abuse

Research during the past decade has documented the importance of developing interagency collaboration among child welfare professionals, substance abuse treatment providers, and the court system for effective intervention with substance-abusing families. Three recent studies examined whether agencies have been successful in demonstrating positive outcomes through collaboration.

In the first study, "Inter-Agency Collaboration: Policy and Practice in Child Welfare and Substance Abuse Treatment," researchers Brenda Smith and Cristina Mogro-Wilson conducted a survey of agency administrators and frontline staff in child welfare and substance abuse treatment agencies regarding organizational policies and specific collaborative practices. The results suggest that staff perceptions of policy regarding collaboration are a stronger indicator of collaborative practice than are administrators' reports of policy.

"Inter-Agency Collaboration" was published in Administration in Social Work, Vol. 32(2), 2008, and is available through the website at

In "The Role of Interagency Collaboration for Substance-Abusing Families Involved With Child Welfare," researchers Beth Green, Anna Rockhill, and Scott Burrus present the results of qualitative interviews with representatives of the child welfare, treatment, and court systems. Results indicate that collaboration can benefit families through a shared value system, improved communication, and the provision of support teams. Challenges to successful collaboration are discussed in detail.

"The Role of Interagency Collaboration for Substance-Abusing Families" was published in Child Welfare, Vol. 87(1), 2008, and is available through the website:

The California Social Work Education Center (CSWEC) examined the factors that help and hinder the process of collaboration and used the study results as the basis for a new curriculum. The curriculum, Pathways to Collaboration: Factors That Help and Hinder Collaboration Between Substance Abuse and Child Welfare Fields, provides highlights of the research and experiential activities in the areas of cross-systems collaboration, promising models and elements of collaborative practice, and facilitating communication and dealing with confidentiality issues across systems. The curriculum provides both theoretical and practical knowledge, including specific training in developing communication protocols that can facilitate agency collaboration to help children and families.

The CSWEC curriculum was developed by Laurie Drabble, Kathy Osterling, Marty Tweed, and Carol Pearce and is available online at,100 - KB)