• May 2004
  • Vol. 5, No. 4

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Federal Law No Barrier to Integrating Social Services

Caseworkers often assist children and families who face multiple problems. Integrating mutliple service streams has become a focus of many programs, since integration may allow agencies to provide more family-centered services that address both immediate and long-term needs.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) recently examined whether there are legal barriers at the Federal level that preclude such integration of social services. Their conclusion that Federal laws do not prevent States and localities from implementing integrated service delivery was based on the following findings:

  1. Federal restrictions on the specific use of funds do not create significant barriers to service integration; however, there may be a lack of practical flexibility at the State or local level.
  2. Federal restrictions create some eligibility constraints, but broad flexibility remains with regard to eligibility requirements.
  3. Federal restrictions regarding confidentiality and sharing of information among service delivery programs exist but may be addressed with consent forms that allow the families to decide which programs may share information.
  4. Federal waiver authority provides broad flexibility to States in promoting service integration, although that authority is not unlimited.

While Federal barriers may not prevent social service integration, the CLASP study notes other challenges. Many of these involve establishing congruence among different information systems, performance indicators, and administrative systems in order to provide a seamless, family-centered system of appropriate services.

The CLASP report also includes the following appendices to help programs evaluate their potential for service integration:

  • Descriptions of 15 Federal funding programs for social services
  • A table showing how different Federal funds may be used
  • A table showing eligibility requirements for receiving Federal funds
  • A model consent form for families to authorize sharing of confidential information

Providing Comprehensive, Integrated Social Services to Vulnerable Children and Families: Are There Legal Barriers at the Federal Level to Moving Forward? was produced jointly with the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the Hudson Institute and was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The paper can be downloaded from the CLASP website at www.clasp.org/DMS/Documents/1076428367.74/view_html (HTML) or www.clasp.org/publications/CW_Integration.pdf (PDF). (Editor's note: Links no longer active)

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