Collaboration is “a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve results they are more likely to achieve together than alone.” 1
Collaborative efforts between individual youth-serving organizations and local service providers in the community can effectively help to prevent child maltreatment. Community partnerships for the welfare of children, and child protection coordinating committees or task forces, provide an organizational structure that allows community organizations to work together with other local resources involved in meeting the needs of maltreated children and their families. A community-based effort can define roles and responsibilities, increase communication, provide guidance, identify gaps in services, and avoid duplication of effort, which enhances the efficient use of existing services and resources.
Community partnerships are essential for building relationships, sharing expertise, accessing services, and building legitimacy and advocacy within the community. Your own efforts to create a child abuse prevention program can be strengthened by including an emphasis on building collaborative relationships with education and training, social service delivery, investigative/law enforcement, and child/youth advocacy expertise in your community. Some of these activities and agencies may include:
- Cooperative training and staff development programs for those who work with children and youth. These programs stress identifying, reporting, and preventing child/youth maltreatment; furnish information on professional roles and responsibilities; and offer opportunities for discussion of mutual interests and problems among professionals in various disciplines. As you build or strengthen your child abuse prevention framework, youu can look to these community organizations for advice on the training programs that will best meet your needs. In many cases, these partners can also provide online and/or on-site staff and volunteer training, and/or direction on existing programs in the local community where your organization may be able to send employees and volunteers to participate.
- Public schools participate in various public awareness programs through parent-teacher groups and other school-community organizations. By increasing public sensitivity to child maltreatment, schools help to develop a cadre of concerned citizens who advocate for resources and programs for child abuse and neglect prevention. School personnel are among the many groups normally called upon to work together with multiple agencies and professional disciplines to maximize the services available to the community. You can contact your local school district to learn about these collaborations, increase your knowledge of local services, and participate in your local community’s efforts to protect children.
It’s important to remember that when actual instances of child abuse are uncovered, particularly child sexual abuse, they are seldom isolated. Experience (and research) shows that individuals who victimize children do so consistently and over long periods of time. So as you consider a communications strategy for incidents or allegations of child abuse and neglect, community partnerships can foster more effective communication if complaints of child abuse occur. When discovered, and within the bounds of any legal investigation and the privacy and reputation of the individuals involved, communications should promote the development of cooperative and open relationships. Effective, transparent communication with the communities you serve, the general public, and the media serves not only to legitimize the commitment to building safe environments, but also may enable others who suffered (or are suffering) similar abuse to come forward and identify themselves.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has an excellent set of resources dedicated to the creation of community partnerships to prevent child abuse and neglect. Here’s an excerpt that speaks to the importance of community partnerships and the evolving nature of what we know about child abuse:
“The User Manual Series offers a foundation for understanding child maltreatment and the roles and responsibilities of various practitioners in its prevention, identification, investigation, and treatment. Through the years, the manuals have served as valuable resources for building knowledge, promoting effective practices, and enhancing community partnerships. Since the last update of the User Manual Series in the early 1990s, changes have occurred that dramatically affect each community’s response to child maltreatment. The changing landscape reflects increased recognition of the complexity of issues facing children and families, new legislation, practice innovations, and systems reform efforts. Significant advances in research have helped shape new directions for interventions, while ongoing evaluations help us know “what works.”
In addition, you can find relevant information through Massachusetts organizations including the Department of Children and Families; regional Child Advocacy Centers; the District Attorneys Association; the Children’s Trust; the Department of Education; the Office of the Child Advocate; and local colleges, universities, community health centers, and children’s hospitals.
As you work to build or strengthen your child protection program, you don’t need to “go it alone.” As part of the fabric of your community, you can tap community partnerships to stay informed and to utilize the resources and expertise those partners represent—not only to build a safer environment in your own organizations, but also as a partner in the larger, societal efforts that address the issues of child abuse and neglect as a shared concern.
1 Winer, M., & Ray, K. (1994). Collaboration handbook: Creating, sustaining, and enjoying the journey (p. 24). Saint Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
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