Program Design Road Map

Program elements such as: philosophy, target population, service coordination model, and practice protocols. Helpful planning tips and links to resources are provided for each step of the process.

1. Establish Your Implementation Team

The first step is to establish the team that will get Linkages launched in your location and monitor its success. This group must be empowered by executive sponsors from both programs–child welfare and CalWORKs–to guide the process, make decisions about moving Linkages forward and create buy-in among the rank and file. To ensure joint leadership throughout the implementation process, appoint two co-chairs representing each side of the partnership. Designating these co-chairs to coordinate the effort is an essential component of project management. Since Linkages involves multiple programs with multiple requirements and fund sources, the co-chairs should have sufficient authority and time to accomplish the work.

The most effective Implementation Teams have membership from all parts of the system with a role to play in making Linkages happen including:

  • Program and line staff who are familiar with current practice in both child welfare and CalWORKs,
  • Research/data analysts who understand the data systems used to track mutual client information and outcomes,
  • Fiscal analysts to help determine cost sharing strategies,
  • Union representatives to build buy-in for the value of Linkages with line staff, and
  • Training personnel to consider the skill building needs of staff and managers who will implement Linkages.

Experience Tells Us...


  • Whoever is going to be involved with Linkages need to be involved from the outset.
  • Make sure you maintain co-leadership on your Implementation Team to balance the interests of both child welfare and CalWORKs.
  • Maintain regular communication between Implementation Team co-chairs and executive sponsors to ensure Linkages remains a priority.

2. Set the Stage for Linkages Becoming the Way of Doing Business in Your County

Linkages represents a shift in agency philosophy based on understanding the interaction between poverty and maltreatment and how this impacts families’ success. To launch this kind of innovation, it is essential for the county’s leadership and Implementation Team to agree upon the strategic foundation upon which service coordination between CalWORKs and CWS will be built. This planning step results in your county summarizing its new philosophy into three written documents:

  • Vision statement
  • Mission statement
  • Guiding Principles

These products are then used to ensure leadership actions, program operations, staff behavior and client results are guided by a common philosophy that puts parenting first. This new way of doing business reflects the core values of Linkages: family focused, needs driven, community connected and strengths based.

Experience Tells Us...


  • Communicate the vision broadly and infuse the philosophy of Linkages into all aspects of the program.
  • Use the guiding principles as a “touchstone” to ensure service coordination protocols put the values of Linkages into action.

3. Decide Which Families Will be Served by Linkages

By definition, Linkages is for families who are involved in both the child welfare system and are receiving or are eligible for CalWORKs. This planning step narrows the target population even further. Who are the families most likely to benefit from coordination of child welfare and CalWORKs services and can be identified in a consistent, efficient and effective manner?

Use data from your case management systems and input from experienced supervisors and line staff who are familiar with the populations your agency serves. Determine where in the case life cycle the highest concentration of mutual clients can be found. Start with the target population that presents the best opportunity to identify and engage mutual families in service coordination…At the front end during Emergency Response (ER/CalWORKs)? Families receiving in-home safety services (FM/CalWORKs)? Families whose children are placed in out-of-home care (FR/CalWORKs)? Also, consider special populations that have particular needs in your county…Teen parents involved with child welfare services and new to CalWORKs? Families with CalWORKs sanctions due to the demands of their child welfare case plan?

Experience Tells Us...


  • Start with one target population to get your service collaboration effort going.
  • Expand the service population after policy and practice decisions are made, the level of staff resources determined and cost-benefit of the funding strategies utilized.

4. Select the Type of Linkages Program

Once you’ve decided which families to serve, decision-making becomes real about the needs of these families, their typical points of intersection with county agencies and the types of staffing and resources available to support them. Now you’re ready to decide what “flavor” of Linkages program fits best for this target population. Consider the program models described in the What’s Linkages segment of the Toolkit. Review examples of how other counties have implemented similar Linkages efforts, visit a nearby Linkages county to see their program in action or consult with other Linkages Coordinators are all reasonable tasks related to this planning step.

Experience Tells Us...


  • Use existing momentum in the county to choose a focus to your Linkages that doesn’t make it feel like an add-on.
  • Align your Linkages program to your overall goals & objectives within your county, so it carries some visibility (e.g. making it part of System Improvement Plan or Work Participation Plan)

5. Clear the way for collaboration to happen

This planning step involves making key policy decisions that allow service coordination to occur between CalWORKs and CWS staff.

First, sharing of client-related information must be guided by a common, consistent confidentiality policy that protects the privacy of every client served by the CalWORKs/Child Welfare coordinated services program. The California Welfare & Institutions Code 830and10850 gives permission for workers to practice interdisciplinary case planning when serving common clients. However, most counties still establish a written agreement or joint policy to authorize exchange of confidential information for the purpose of coordinating services for Linkages clients. Refer to examples from other counties to build a policy for your location.

Second, select the model of coordinated case planning that fits best for your county. The level of coordination falls along a continuum from informal communication to linked case plans to a unified case plan. Consider factors such as how much interdisciplinary practice already exists between CalWORKs and CWS, how integrated your agency’s organization structure is and what degree of coordination will work best to meet the needs of your target population.

Experience Tells Us...


  • If the coordinated case planning system isn’t formalized, it won’t happen.
  • Anchor Linkages service coordination within existing practices that promote collaboration (e.g., Team Decision Making, family team meetings, case staffings).

6. Establish the policies and procedures to guide Linkages practice

Based on the type of Linkages program you’re interested in implementing, there are many examples of Linkages policies and procedures from other counties upon which you can model your protocols. Written policies and procedures avoid an informal, haphazard approach to service coordination and help ensure that Linkages becomes institutionalized. Create written protocols to address the following three topics for the type of Linkages program you plan to implement:

  • Identifying Clients – The policies, procedures and tools for identifying and screening clients who are members of the target population. Task: create an intake screening tool and protocols to help staff and potential clients determine the family’s suitability for coordinated services program.
  • Information Sharing – The process & protocols for respectful sharing of confidential information between CalWORKs and CWS for the purpose of enhanced service coordination. Task: create release of information form &/or consent form and procedures for staff to gain the family’s agreement to participate in coordinated services through Linkages.
  • Coordinated Case Planning Protocols – The case planning activities of caseworkers, families and service providers are efficiently and effectively coordinated toward meeting the goals of economic sufficiency and child safety. Task: create a Coordinated Case Planning Handbook that guides staff to establish or improve coordinated case planning between CalWORKs and CWS.

Experience Tells Us...


  • Written protocols help make practice more consistent and guide staff training content.
  • Adapt policies & procedures that have proved successful in other counties; try not to reinvent the wheel.
  • Develop service coordination protocols jointly, so roles, responsibilities and expectations for both CWS and CalWORKs staff are clear and aligned from start to finish.

Follow this link to see examples of ER/CalWORKs protocols from other counties.

Follow this link to see examples of FM/CalWORKS protocols from other counties.

Follow this link to see examples of FR/CalWORKs protocols from other counties.