Detailed History of Linkages in California

California has led the way in the creation of a TANF(CalWORKs)/Child Welfare collaboration since 2000. The original project, known as the CalWORKs/Child Welfare Partnership Project, was directed by the California Center for Research on Women and Families (CCRWF) from 2000 to 2005 using a cross-program team from the counties and the state. This team created planning material and recommendations in six areas: Organizational Structures, Flexible Financing, Organizational Change and Training, Data systems, Confidentiality and Coordinated Case Planning. The products of these workgroups, including a Linkages Planning Guide, became the foundation for the work that followed. During this phase of Linkages, 17 counties pioneered the CalWORKs/Child Welfare Collaborative practice.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), Office of Child Abuse Prevention (OCAP) partnered with CFPIC to submit a proposal for a Federal Grant to continue and expand the collaborative, called “the CalWORKs and Child Welfare Collaboration to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families”. In 2006, California was awarded one of six Federal Demonstration Grants for a five-year period, allowing Linkages to provide robust support for counties, including bi-annual convenings, monthly newsletters, monthly Coordinator Calls, quarterly webinars, communication materials, and the web-based Linkages Toolkit. The Toolkit offered guidance in the areas of Assessment & Planning, Training, Evaluation, Communication, Fiscal and Sustainability. The Federal Grant also included an evaluation by Harder + Company. The evaluation found that 83% of counties reported that sharing resources is a key component of the Linkages work, and 70% reported they coordinated services and timelines to support families in Linkages. Factors related to successful implementation were found to be strong leadership supporting Linkages, a workplace culture that supports innovation, and clear communication between CalWORKs and Child Welfare.

An additional three years of support for statewide Linkages was provided through a combination of funding strategies from the California Department of Social Services and the County Welfare Directors Association. This funding enabled CFPIC to continue supporting those counties who were able to sustain their Linkages programs. While many counties continued their Linkages Collaboration after the project support ended in 2014, many counties were unable to sustain implementation or to enhance their Collaboration. This is consistent with what we have learned from Implementation Science, which has found that only 15% of those implementing any initiative can do so on their own and 85% need ongoing support from an “intermediary organization” such as CFPIC. This, coupled with the fact that Linkages is not a mandated program, resulted in counties losing focus on the collaborative and diverting their attention to the many new mandates required by Federal and State laws in both CalWORKs and Child Welfare.

In 2018, CDSS included Linkages as a strategy in their Program Improvement Plan (PIP) to increase services for children & families in the child welfare system. With support from the Capacity Building Center for States, CDSS began to explore the revitalization of a CalWORKs and Child Welfare Collaborative in California. The focus for the relaunch of Linkages is OCAP’s prevention framework: Primary Prevention, Secondary Prevention and Tertiary Prevention. State and county workgroups were created in 2019 to focus on Primary/Secondary, Tertiary and Data. The previous Linkages project focused primarily on services that are considered Tertiary – the coordination between CalWORKs and Child Welfare when CalWORKs families were being served in the Family Maintenance and Family Reunification programs in Child Welfare. The principal efforts were centered around coordinating case plans and services for families while leveraging services provided by both programs for these families. While this work will continue, new California laws provide an opportunity to enhance the Tertiary strategy. The refocus of Linkages on Primary/Secondary Prevention aligns with the renewed emphasis of California’s Child Welfare program on child and family enrichment that stems. This new emphasis has emerged in response to the adoption of the Federal Family First Prevention Act and as a result of the work of the Child and Family Enrichment Cabinet, which was created as a collaboration between the Children’s Committee of the County Welfare Directors Association and the CDSS Office of Child Abuse Prevention.

Additional Resources:

– Simon et al, 2021:The Intersection of Child Welfare Services and Public Assistance: An analysis of dual-system involvement and successful family preservation completion

– Kang et al, 2016: Dual-System Families: Cash assistance sequences of households involved with child welfare

– D’Andrade et al, 2016: The California Linkages Program: Doorway to housing support for child welfare-involved parents