Inter-agency work Vs Inter-agency Silos

Collaboration and good communication amongst anti-violence agencies are high priority. For example, improved communication between police, social workers and shelters could help to understand survivors’ needs and take appropriate action. [i] Collaboration can help optimise resource use, pool scarce resources and improve services via non-duplication of effort and communication about and with clients, seamless transfer of information about clients, and standardised updated information on points of referral. Resource pooling and collaborative use gains urgency because agencies work with constricted funding and service time frames that lets them handle clients for only a limited period of time.

Better inter-agency collaborations and communications = better use of time, money, and expertise in acting against violence.

How siloes form

Unfortunately, endemic secrecy, territoriality over mandates, and competition over scarce dollars undermine the prospects of collaboration. Perfunctory information-sharing and pro forma letters of support in grant proposals take the place of organized and sustained inter-agency referrals and partnered efforts to help clients.

Suspicion and lack of collaboration amongst agencies hamper referrals and hurt help-seekers; hinder development of knowledge bases; hinder the creation and use of platforms for developing and sharing competencies; reduce the long-term prospect of success of joint efforts. Whereas partnerships and collaborations are time and effort intensive, organizational funding is short. So also are the paid hours available to execute current mandates and to handle heavy caseloads, which militate against the best collaborative intentions.

Channels for communication are fragmented

There are few adequate avenues for overworked frontline staff (not only middle and senior management) to present their experiences and consult with fellow workers in other agencies, and at the next step to channel these experiences to policy makers in government. These communications can be crucial in taking steps to support and equally not to endanger a person fleeing abuse. Effective communication helps counteract official disregard of sustained risk of violence even after the person seems to be out of the situation of violence.

While many agencies describe ‘debriefing’ and ‘brainstorming’ as part of their organizational practice, wider inter-agency consultation on a regular basis requires agile platforms that are currently missing. Lines of communication are hard to maintain given resource constraints and lack of time. There is still too much reliance on paper and little use of current technology. This is partly understandable given confidentiality issues of the cases and their related information, but little suited to a dynamic practice environment where no one has the time or inclination to forage through solid-state archives. Webinar usage, a potential time saver, is not widespread as a solution in use. Another perhaps inevitable obstacle to wider case sharing is the imperative to maintain case confidentiality.

Mainstream service providers and grassroots ethnic agencies: Missing links

Collaboration amongst mainstream/ non-culturally-identified service providers and ethnic agencies is important but hampered by several factors. Help-seekers may reject the involvement of ethnic agencies in the handling of their cases. There is also a lack of trust amongst service providers and grassroots agencies which is a challenge for dialogic engagement of communities and relevant families for prevention, intervention and in some cases mediation. The unethical and partisan behaviour of community interpreters from ethnic grassroots agencies can disrupt inter-agency cooperation to help clients with language barriers.

Another barrier between mainstream and grassroots agencies is the reluctance of community representatives, including religious leaders, to acknowledge or discuss violence in their communities. On the one hand, it is possible to contextualise such denial as a valid attempt to fend off the labelling of ethnic communities as primordially violent and misogynist (a thoroughly baseless and unproductive understanding of violence in immigrant communities). On the other, the refusal of community leaders to speak or deal with the reality of violence in small tightly knit immigrant enclaves obstructs investigations of child abuse, threatens lives, and restrains people from pursuing their ways out of violence.[ii] clerics and grassroots agency ‘counsellors’ may ‘suggest’ reconciliation in ways that amount to victim blaming and normalization (e.g., covering up, not fighting back etc).

There are significant challenges in forging collaborative ties and rapport between mainstream agencies, ethnocultural grassroots service agencies, and members of ethnocultural communities. Whereas ethnic agencies may have developed tacit and formalized relationships of trust with the relevant communities, mainstream providers may experience non-receptivity if not outright distrust. At the grassroots level, the mainstream providers are often seen as condescending, privileged, dismissive, patriarchal, culturally blind or not culturally competent[iii].

These challenges are magnified in situations where a service provider, such as a home visitor, seeks to meet a legal and institutional obligation by reporting observed domestic violence to Child and Family Services. For example, a home visitor observes violence between the parents (known to have adverse impacts on children witnessing it) and is obligated to report it as a risk to the child in a violent environment. When an ethnic grassroots agency brokers the mainstream provider’s access to the home in question, there is a potential erosion of the grassroots agency’s trustworthiness in the eyes of the family and related community. Such a situation contains a conflict of organizational interests, legal duty, and organization-community-family relationships: e.g., an agency’s obligation to report violence versus the need to maintain a relationship of parochial familiarity with client and community. This is a real challenge given that immigrant families already feel threatened that their parenting practices (e.g., corporeal punishment) may be seen as abusive and that child protective agencies may apprehend their children (see pages 16-18 of this ethnographic report on the difficulties of intercultural parenting; see also this commentary on Section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code)

There are gaps in collaborative work to serve sexual and gender minorities

Mainstream and grassroots organizations are often disconnected from organizations with expertise on violence, discrimination and marginalization faced by LGBT+ persons. Funding criteria may limit collaborations between grassroots agencies and organizations serving LGBT+ help-seekers, as suggested in this interview excerpt.

Nobody collaborates with us on LGBT refugees. We tried to get a grant from the city, a partnership grant to work with the Africa Center because we thought… our first thought actually was the Indo Canadian Association but the criteria is the organization has to be between two and seven years old and ICWA are way older than that [formed in 1984, parentheses added]. But the Africa Center is just seven years, so we thought that would be a good mix and I thought it was great because its staff there’s so much they need to learn. There’s no safe space for refugees there, LGBT refugees. But they refused it, they said, “No,” they just didn’t think it was a good fit. But I’m thinking 70% of our LGBT refugees more than that maybe are of… are from southern African country that we serve. [Link]

Multi-agency communications: We need to get the lines up and running

Case sharing and peer consultation are generally acknowledged to be key needs. Especially high-risk case management needs seamless exchange of information. Information sharing amongst specific agencies cleared to access sensitive information may expedite the creation and implementation of solutions for cases with complex intersecting challenges and needs. Interviewed agencies suggested solutions such as ‘developing agreements between agencies (a linking protocol)’, to share information via ‘a library of literature/ one stop website/e- resource directory’, and to offer relevant ‘low cost training on use of tools and protocols.’

Multiagency working can be problematic as different agencies bring different procedures and expectations to the table. This can have negative consequences for victims and witnesses of HBV because different procedures may potentially expose them to risk. Therefore, it is imperative that all agencies concerned with HBV develop protocols to facilitate interagency working. To facilitate agencies in developing procedures, some legislatures have produced statutory guidance for dealing with HBV. For example, in the United Kingdom the government (2009) has produced a document, Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage. It was developed alongside the statutory guidance that was issued under s.63 Q(1) Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act 2007. It sets out the responsibilities of chief executives, directors, and senior managers within agencies involved with handling forced marriage cases and reiterates the importance a truly multiagency response. This guidance is applicable to managing other forms of HBV as well.

Roberts, KA. Honor-Based Violence. CRC Press, 2013. (131)

“Lunch-and-learn’ style case sharing and peer consultation (e.g the Lunch and Learns of the Ethnocultural Family Violence Committee, part of Community Initiatives Against Family Violence, CIAFV) allows for collaborative networking, mutual support, knowledge sharing, and added help for challenging cases.

In Edmonton, there is the need for an umbrella agency to steer multi-agency work and to facilitate multi-agency communications. Examples for future action include CIAFV which has the mission to “support the creation of a collaborative, coordinated, community response to family violence and bullying.” REACH Edmonton also offers a valuable model of flexible and agile collaboration in which voluntary cultural navigators, various service agencies, and members of the community come together in dialogue around difficult issues of gender and domestic violence, immigration and finance and related abuse. REACH acts as a ‘backbone’ or hub of collaboration amongst service agencies to achieve ‘collective impact’ against violence in refugee, immigrant and aboriginal communities in Edmonton. REACH has a still-evolving approach of recruiting members of ethnocultural communities as grassroots change-makers to curb violence and increase safety, instead of focusing strictly on agency capacities to achieve those ends.

Physical collocation of agencies is also a concrete way towards regular interaction, joint participation in training programs, pooling of expertise on similar cases experienced in different agencies, and appropriately directed referrals. Examples are the Multicultural Health Brokers, collocated with Changing Together and Centre for Race and Culture (CRC), thus forming a ‘community hub.’

Incentives for collaboration and what funders could do

There is a need to incentivize collaboration. Funding structures are a key solution, with funding being made available based on a sound partnership plan. However, how those plans are implemented will require oversight – e.g., funding in future competitions related to measurable outputs of partnerships in past funded projects and programs. One service provider described the situation where organizations develop collaborative ties with the right funding agreements in place, with the caveat that such arrangements are easier to develop when mandates and client groups are not identical. The readiness to collaborate is more observable when organizations do not occupy the same sectoral niche and are thus not necessarily in competition for funds for similar or identical purposes.

Funders should collate and share information on what potential partners are engaged in, instead of expecting already harried community agencies to scramble around trying to gather information to identify potential link-ups. This is a potential time saver, important because of the existing scarcity of paid personnel hours that are invested in the onerous process of gathering information and mustering partners towards funding applications.

Conclusion

Amongst the service agencies, there is an increasing sense that collaboration is vital to make the best of scarce resources and a new approach in this regard is to create capacity by creating and sustaining ‘relentless connections.’ Collaborative groups that meet regularly, with email reminders and updates to members, invitations to present ongoing work are valuable because information sharing prevents duplication of work, improves direction of effort, saves time, and enables identification of areas of potential collaborative sharing which could translate to successful funding. Crucially, the time and effort to make and nurture connections yield imaginative solutions for the challenges faced by clients.

The looming questions here are the time (and money) available to participants and the incentives needed to maintain the sense of investment of various stakeholders in making and sustaining these connections. Also, can such participation be enforced, as for example, via the collection and scrutiny of records of ongoing professional development via participatory contribution, or via funders’ oversight of the outputs and outcomes of collaborative work through the terms of projects?

Notes

[i] A good model: police and government social workers in City of Edmonton) The Domestic Abuse High Risk Team (DAHRT) are a partnership between social workers from City of Edmonton Citizen Services and constables from Edmonton Police Service. Link The team ‘contact victims after there has been a police report of domestic violence, assess risk and provide safety options and support to victims, help with police investigations, make recommendations to the court for bail and sentencing, partner with other agencies to assist victims.’ One may compare the DAHRT partnership with a similar model from the US described in Dean, C. W., Lumb, R. C., & Proctor, K. (2000). Social work and police partnership: a summons to the village. Strategies and effective practices. Link

[ii] West, C. M. (1998). Lifting the “political gag order”: Breaking the silence around partner violence in ethnic minority families In: J. L. Jasinski & L. M. Williams (Eds) Partner violence: A comprehensive review of 20 years of research. Thousand Oaks: Sage. p. 184 – 209. Retrieved on September 2, 2016 from https://works.bepress.com/DrCarolynWest/35/

[iii] Also a situation reported in the US. Almeida, R. V., & Dolan-Delvecchio, K. (1999). Addressing Culture in Batterers Intervention: The Asian Indian Community as an Illustrative Example. Violence against Women, 5, 6. Retrieved on September 2, 2016 from http://www.transformativejustice.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/addressing-culture-with-batterers-almeida.pdf

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