What is Linkages?

Linkages is a service coordination partnership between Child Welfare Services (CWS) and CalWORKs that addresses common barriers limiting parents’ ability to work and keep their children safely at home. Linkages families are working toward becoming safe parents with Child Welfare Services while at the same time trying to achieve economic self-sufficiency through the employment services of the CalWORKs program. They get it as hard as it comes: juggling conflicting case requirements, following different timelines and navigating between two separate bureaucracies that often don’t communicate with each other. Assisting parents to achieve both greater family stability and economic self-sufficiency are the goals of Linkages.

Linkages helps families succeed in three ways:

Prevention ensures families receive all the resources for which they may be eligible from either CalWORKs or CWS including an expedited method of accessing this assistance. A prevention focus can begin at either the point of entry to child welfare services or at the time families apply for CalWORKs benefits:

Intervention ensures families who are involved in both CalWORKs and CWS experience the service coordination and family engagement they need to keep a safe and stable home for their children while working toward economic self-sufficiency. Three intervention strategies are being used throughout the CWS case life cycle:

  • Emergency Response and CalWORKs — Parents with an open CalWORKs referral who present urgent needs during their initial involvement with CWS can benefit from immediate, one-time Linkages service coordination activities. By resolving a sanction to maximize cash assistance; referring a parent to specialized assessment &/or treatment services (mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse) or connecting a family to housing assistance; stability for the family can be achieved more quickly and safely while still working toward economic self-sufficiency.
  • Family Maintenance and CalWORKs — When a family has an open CalWORKs case and the parents are working with CWS to improve their parenting capabilities while the children remain safely at home, service coordination can be critical to their success. Streamlining case plan activities, eliminating redundancy, accessing available resources from CWS and CalWORKs and jointly monitoring progress creates a more realistic, responsive and coordinated service experience for the family.
  • Family Reunification and CalWORKs — If parents were on CalWORKs when their children were removed by CWS for safety reasons, there is still an important opportunity for service coordination with parents eligible to Welfare-to-Work. While cash assistance is no longer available to the parent while their children are in out-of-home care, the parent can continued to receive specialized assessment and/or treatment services through CalWORKs. More often than not mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse services are the critical resources necessary to help a parent meet their child welfare case plan goals, reunite with their children and continue on the road to economic self-sufficiency.
  • Special Populations — Some counties have found that service coordination is best utilized with specific populations of families, such as homeless families, sanctioned families or teen parents.

Accessibility ensures that families are linked to the concrete services and supports essential to lift them out of poverty and reduce safety risks for their children. By connecting these vulnerable families to the practical resources to which they are entitled, their chances for success are improved.

  • Benefit Access — Benefit Access is a collaboration among human services agencies ensuring that families and young adults at risk of maltreatment or poverty have access to and engagement in all public social services to support their basic needs.

Why Linkages?

There is significant evidence that factors such as parental stress from economic hardship can detrimentally affect parenting behaviors and result in neglect and abuse. The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): 2010 Report to Congress underscores the value of addressing families’ economic well-being as an essential protective factor for child safety. This study shows that compared to children with employed parents, those with no parent in the labor force have 2 to 3 times the rate of child maltreatment. Further, families with low socio-economic levels have increased rates of maltreatment: 5 times the rate overall, 3 times the rate for abuse and 7 times the rate for neglect.

Several nationally recognized researchers from California and elsewhere validate this connection between poverty and maltreatment. At the 2010 Linkages Convening in Sacramento, Jill Duerr Berrick, PhD from the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley discussed recent trends affecting Linkages families in her presentation, Poverty, TANF and Parenting: Understanding the Connection. Another researcher, Kristen Shook Slack, PhD from University of Wisconsin – Madison, presented The Elephant in the Room: Poverty’s Role in Child Maltreatment Risk as the keynote address at the 2008 Linkages Convening in Sacramento.

In most California counties, the overlap between the CalWORKs and child welfare populations is significant. For example, in Los Angeles County in 2002, about 45% of children involved in child welfare services were on CalWORKs at some point during the year. This overlap along with the strong connection between poverty and maltreatment create the impetus for Linkages service coordination.

As a result of Linkages:

Linkages History

In 2000, the Stuart Foundation sponsored a fact-finding trip to El Paso County, Colorado to learn about an innovative approach to service coordination between TANF and Child Welfare Services. Read more about the journey from then to now at Linkages History.