Interagency collaboration: Part A. What is it, what does it look like, when is it needed and what supports it?
Supporting interagency collaborations
Collaborations are high intensity, high commitment relationships and as such, require resources and support. In addition to the resource intensity of the collaboration itself, sufficient resources to undertake the administration of the collaboration (e.g., organising meetings, funding to facilitate face-to-face meetings between collaboration stakeholders) are also required (ARACY, 2010c).
One model that has been used in Australia to facilitate collaborations between agencies, and provide resources and support for that process, is the Facilitating Partnership Model. Initiated as part of the Communities for Children (CfC) strand of the former Stronger Families and Communities Strategy (2004–2009), the Facilitating Partnership Model continues as part of the Family Support Program. This model involves a Facilitating Partner (a non-government organisation operating within a local community) that acts in an intermediary position between government and the community sector. One of the Facilitating Partner’s roles is to coordinate collaboration opportunities for service providers.
An evaluation of CfC demonstrated that it had led to increased levels of coordination and collaboration between agencies, and the Facilitating Partners were deemed “instrumental” to this process (Muir et al., 2009, p. 24). The Facilitating Partners assisted the agencies to develop transparent and effective consultation and communication processes and help them work through disagreements.
Other research, that looked at the impact of a centralised agency that manages links to various services (Glisson & Hemmelgarn, 1998; Bickman, Noser, & Summerfelt., 1999), has suggested that coordination at the service system level doesn’t bring about improved outcomes for vulnerable and at risk children. However, these models differ considerably from the Faciliating Partnership Model in that they do not appear to function in a collaborative way. For example, Glisson and Hemmelgarn (1998) described the introduction of case management teams in public children’s service agencies in the United States that seek to improve children’s access to services by managing their referral to support agencies, rather than relying upon individual agencies to coordinate this process. These case management teams appear to operate independently of front line child service system workers rather than in partnership with them. The “personal bonds and connections” that are at the heart of collaborative relationships do not appear to have been a high priority in the service system changes that Glisson and Hemmelgarn (1998) described.
Bickman et al. (1999) argued that the failure of service system coordination initiatives could be attributed to the fact that service system reforms do not necessarily lead to changes in treatment and clinician–client interactions.6 This coincides with research that suggests that effective services are founded as much upon structure as they are upon the ability of practitioners to relate with families (Centre for Community Child Health, 2007). However, there is sound evidence to suggest that the Facilitating Partnership Model did lead to changes in practitioner–client interactions. Moreover, in some communities the achievement of a new way of working was contact with families who had never accessed services before (Flaxman et al., 2009, p. 21–22). In these cases, establishing a practitioner–client relationship was evidence of a positive outcome.
6 In fact Glisson and Hemmelgarn (1998) noted that the service coordination teams they focused upon, "were established without making any other changes in the existing direct service systems" (p. 405).