• Dec 2011/Jan 2012
  • Vol. 12, No. 9

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QIC PCW Wraps Up, Releases Reports on Public-Private Partnership

The National Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services (QIC PCW) is wrapping up its 5-year project and releasing new reports highlighting the importance of collaboration between the private and public child welfare sectors.

Funded in 2005, the QIC PCW is a cooperative agreement between the Children's Bureau and the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, the University of Louisville, and Planning and Learning Technologies. The QIC was tasked with igniting a national dialogue about collaborative problem-solving and the varying ways in which States contract with private agencies for services. The QIC researched best practices for managing relationships and evaluated the impact of performance-based contracting and quality assurance systems on organizational, practice, and client outcomes within a public/private partnership.

Crystal Collins-Camargo, Project Director, said the project brought to light the importance of collaboration between the sectors to improve outcomes. "The most important thing we learned is that this is really about collaboration between the sectors and the challenges in strengthening those partnerships. The focus was less on privatization and more on how these sectors can work together to fill each State's needs to best improve outcomes." Examples of that collaborative problem-solving can be found in the QIC's newest reports.

Strategic Planning Regarding Public/Private Partnership in Child Welfare: Lessons Learned From Five States highlights the findings from a 2-day strategic planning process during which the QIC facilitated and provided technical assistance specific to the needs of each participating State. Attendees were required to bring leaders/stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. Workgroups focused on goals set by each State to develop a foundation for relationship building, clearly define roles, and create a communications plan for moving their partnership forward. The strategic planning session armed child welfare leaders with concrete strategies for improving system partnerships.  

Portrait of Private Agencies in the Child Welfare System: Principal Results from the National Survey of Private Child and Family Serving Agencies focuses on the characteristics and experiences of private agencies in the child welfare system. This first-ever national portrait of private agencies was not an easy task, according to Collins-Camargo:

"There is no centralized source of agencies serving the child welfare population, how to contact them, or data regarding them," Collins-Camargo said. "Each State had a list of agencies they contract with, but that data is not pulled together anywhere. Our study is limited, still, by the fact that the only way we could find the agencies was to go through Child Welfare League of America, the Alliance for Children and Families, and National Organization of State Associations for Children chapters and their respective memberships."

Compounding these challenges was the fact that many agencies do not necessarily identify themselves as child welfare agencies but rather as umbrella human services agencies because they provide other services such as mental health services. Collins-Camargo said the survey helped the QIC learn what the field didn't know about the role of the private sector in the child welfare system.

"We know a fair amount about the public child welfare system, the role those agencies play, and all the data that’s come out of CFSRs. We only know a little—and most of that knowledge is anecdotal—about the private sector agencies serving child welfare clients, and yet they play such a large role."

The survey and subsequent report highlight important information such as the size of private agencies, staffing patterns, experience levels of agency leaders, the types of services they provide, and perceptions regarding their relationships with the public sector and other service systems.

Collins-Camargo added that the report helps dispel myths about private agencies. "I was a big public sector advocate, having worked in that system for years, and didn't know much about the private sector before we began our work at the QIC. We have so many beliefs from one sector to the other, but it's very clear that both sides want the same outcomes, and it is possible to do collaborative problem-solving to improve our work with children and their families."

When asked what is next for privatization, Collins-Camargo said, "It's a moving target. People don't even agree on what privatization means. What the future is, though, is changing the conversation to talk about partnership, service quality, and making decisions about the responsibility of both sectors in different aspects of the service array based on needs and strengths of the State or locality."
Portrait of Private Agencies in the Child Welfare System: Principal Results from the National Survey of Private Child and Family Serving Agencies can be found here:

Strategic Planning Regarding Public/Private Partnership in Child Welfare: Lessons Learned from Five States can be found here:

The QIC's final Executive Summary also is available for download on its website:

Many thanks to Crystal Collins-Camargo, QIC PCW Project Director for providing the information for this article.


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