Symposium on the Organizational and Managerial Context of Private Child Welfare Agencies

Source: Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 38, March 2014
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Articles include:
* New directions for research on the organizational and institutional context of child welfare agencies: Introduction to the symposium on “The Organizational and Managerial Context of Private Child Welfare Agencies”
by Bowen McBeath, Crystal Collins-Camargo, Emmeline Chuang, Rebecca Wells, Alicia C. Bunger, Mónica Pérez Jolles

This paper argues for a conceptual reorientation to research and practice that emphasizes the prominence of institutional and organizational factors in the lives of those who are involved in child welfare systems. Current child welfare reform efforts are premised on the idea that agencies—their structures, management, and internal approaches to organizing their workforce and frontline services—may be influential drivers of and barriers to innovation in practice and policy. We unpack this premise by providing an introduction to the institutional and organizational context of child welfare practice that highlights the diverse contexts and contributions of public and private child welfare agencies. We then review five domains for future research and present examples of studies that might be undertaken. The paper concludes by introducing the symposium papers and identifying their contributions to child welfare and human service research.

* Trends in local public child welfare agencies 1999–2009
by Rebecca Wells, Mónica Pérez Jolles, Emmeline Chuang, Bowen McBeath, Crystal Collins-Camargo

US public child welfare agencies have faced increasing pressure in the first decade of this century to demonstrate efficiency and accountability, even as the Great Recession increased pressures on millions of families and undermined human service funding. This paper reports on analyses of the two cohorts of local public child welfare agencies from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being to identify changes in their structure and practice. Local agency adaptations have included some structural integration and apparently increased use of subcontracting, including investigations. Collectively, these trends appear to be fostering tighter coupling of local child welfare agencies with other service providers. Some of these connections may improve families’ access to a range of services. However, the increased reliance on private providers may also undermine accountability and flexibility to respond to changing needs.

* An empirical typology of private child and family serving agencies
by Emmeline Chuang, Crystal Collins-Camargo, Bowen McBeath, Rebecca Wells, Alicia Bunger

Differences in how services are organized and delivered can contribute significantly to variation in outcomes experienced by children and families. However, few comparative studies identify the strengths and limitations of alternative delivery system configurations. The current study provides the first empirical typology of private agencies involved with the formal child welfare system. Data collected in 2011 from a national sample of private agencies were used to classify agencies into five distinct groups based on internal management capacity, service diversification, integration, and policy advocacy. Findings reveal considerable heterogeneity in the population of private child and family serving agencies. Cross-group comparisons suggest that differences in agencies’ strategic and structural characteristics correlated with agency directors’ perceptions of different pressures in their external environment. Future research can use this typology to better understand local service systems and the extent to which different agency strategies affect performance and other outcomes. Such information has implications for public agency contracting decisions and could inform system-level assessment and planning of services for children and families.

* Collaboration, competition, and co-opetition: Interorganizational dynamics between private child welfare agencies and child serving sectors
by Alicia C. Bunger, Crystal Collins-Camargo, Bowen McBeath, Emmeline Chuang, Monica Pérez-Jolles, Rebecca Wells

Human service agencies are encouraged to collaborate with other public and private agencies in providing services to children and families. However, they also often compete with these same partners for funding, qualified staff, and clientele. Although little is known about complex interagency dynamics of competition and collaboration in the child-serving sector, evidence suggests that competition can undermine collaboration unless managed strategically. This study explores the interrelationship between competition and collaboration, sometimes referred to as “co-opetition.” Using a national dataset of private child and family serving agencies, we examine their relationships with other child serving sectors (N = 4460 pair-wise relationships), and explore how variations in patterns of collaboration and competition are associated with several organizational, environmental and relational factors. Results suggest that most relationships between private child welfare agencies and other child serving agencies are characterized by both competition and collaboration (i.e. “co-opetition”), and is most frequently reported with other local private child welfare agencies. Logistic regression analyses indicate that co-opetition is likely to occur when private child welfare agencies have a good perceived relationship or a sub-contract with their partner. Findings have implications for how agency leaders manage partner relationships, and how public child welfare administrators structure contracts.

* Organizational responsiveness to children and families: Findings from a national survey of nonprofit child welfare agencies
by Bowen McBeath, Mónica Pérez Jolles, Emmeline Chuang, Alicia C. Bunger, Crystal Collins-Camargo

Although child welfare practice at the frontline, organizational, and systemic levels is predicated on responsiveness to children and families, research has not determined why some child welfare agencies are more responsive to consumers than others. This study examines the influence of children and families on agency operations (“consumer-centricity”) among a national sample of nonprofit child welfare agencies. In testing for external and internal determinants of consumer-centricity, we find that agencies reported a high level of consumer-centricity overall. Multivariate analyses indicate that interorganizational competition was the principal predictor of consumer-centricity; in contrast, internal agency attributes such as administrative infrastructural supports and accreditation status, service technology, agency leadership, and structural characteristics were not associated with consumer-centricity. We propose three areas for continuing child welfare research on consumer-centricity and identify direct and indirect strategies that child welfare policymakers and practitioners may use to promote consumer-centricity among nonprofit child welfare agencies.

* Private child welfare agency managers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of different performance management strategies
by Crystal Collins-Camargo, Emmeline Chuang, Bowen McBeath, Alicia C. Bunger

In all states, public and private child welfare agencies partner in an effort to deliver effective and accountable services to children and families (Collins-Camargo, Ensign, & Flaherty, 2008). While anecdotal information suggests that managers in competitive markets have incentives to carefully select and implement performance management strategies (McBeath, Briggs, & Aisenberg, 2009; Smith, 2010), little is known about the effectiveness of these strategies. This paper explores managerial perceptions regarding the usefulness of three techniques for performance management: supervisory review within the human resources model; priority review within internal processes; and outcomes management within the rational goal model. Managerial perceptions of the effectiveness of these efforts are examined in relation to organizational characteristics, capacity, and interagency competition.

* Private child and family serving agencies: Implications of national survey results for policy and managerial practice
by Crystal Collins-Camargo, Mary Hollie, Bowen McBeath

The national studies represented in this symposium provide the field with greater understanding of the nature of the private sector’s role in child welfare and the complex interrelationships among organizational characteristics, inter-organizational dynamics, and external influences. Research findings from symposium papers are examined through the lens of a private agency manager and implications are derived for managerial practice and policy practice both within the private agency and in relation to public/private child welfare partnerships. Key managerial competencies that may be required to move agencies and the sector towards enhanced organizational performance and child welfare outcomes are discussed.