Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Research on How Child Welfare Social Workers and Law
Enforcement Officers Collaborate to Investigate Child
Viola W Lindsey, PhD MSW
Loma Linda University
April 16, 2012
Rationality and Skepticism
◦ Beyond descriptive to an explanatory
discussions about how CPS social workers
and law enforcement officers engage in
collaboration across professional boundaries.
◦ Lack of participation based on confidentiality
Research Site Demographics
Riverside County
◦ Population
 2,100,156
 Ranks number 4 among top ten largest counties in
◦ Geography
 7,208 square miles
 Ranks number 3 in square miles coverage among
top ten largest counties
Research Site Demographics
San Bernardino County
◦ Population
 2,015,355
 Ranks number five in top ten largest counties in
◦ Geography
 20,062 square
 Ranks number 1 in square miles coverage among
top ten largest counties
Comparative Demographics
Remaining 48 California Counties
◦ Population
 Range from 1,061 to 845,559
◦ Geography
 Range from 48 to 4,060 square miles
Social Workers Demographics (11)
◦ One male, 10 females
◦ Ranged from mid 20’s to early 50’s
Job title
◦ Social service workers III
◦ Social Service practitioners
◦ Social service supervisors
Social Workers Demographics
◦ Six social workers had earned Masters of Social
Work (MSW) degrees,
◦ Five possessed Bachelor of Art (BA) degrees
Years on the job
◦ Ranged from 2 to 13 years
◦ African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics
Law Enforcement Demographics
◦ Four males, six females
◦ Ranged from mid 30’s to mid 60’s
Job title
◦ Three sergeants, seven detectives
Years on the job
◦ Ranged from two to 27 years
Law Enforcement Demographics
◦ Two law enforcement officers had earned Bachelor of
Science (BS) degrees
◦ Three possessed Associate’s (AA) degrees
◦ Five completed their high school education
◦ One African American, nine Caucasians
◦ Both professional groups respond to child
abuse allegations across multiple
municipalities and/or regional offices
Research Method
Qualitative rationale
◦ Beyond descriptive to an explanatory
discussions about how CPS social workers
and law enforcement officers engage in
collaboration across professional boundaries
Research Method cont’d
Grounded theory approach
◦ Provides insight into human interactions involving
individuals or groups working together on
particular tasks(Hughes, Bryan & Robbins, 2005;
Turner, 1983)
◦ Data comes directly from the practitioners
themselves (emic)
◦ Information gathered has practical and functional
use in real world or day-to-day work
environments (Myers, 2000)
Research Methods
Grounded Theory cont’d
◦ Most appropriate candidates
 To attach meaning to their cross-discipline actions
and social interactions
 To defend the consequences of taking such actions
 To clarify the conditions in the environments that
shape their actions
Key Terms
Key Term - Coordination
About achieving efficiency in procedures
such as sharing informing about rules
under which each agency operates
Does not lend itself to communicating
the reciprocal consequences of those
procedures (Denise, 1999)
Key Term - Cooperation
An interaction that is intended to contribute,
directly or indirectly, to the effectiveness of
each other’s work (Strimling, 2006)
Interactions across organizational boundaries
are usually informal and lack rigid structure
Each agency functions separately and without
consideration for the other’s goals; interactions
are based on an as needed basis
Key Term - Collaboration
Degree to which
communication is formalized,
frequent, and a willingness to
exchange and share
information for the purpose
of meeting mutual goals
(Horwath & Morrison, 2007)
People getting together in a
room to talk to each other
often misconceptualized as
Coordination, cooperation a
continuum leading to
Key Questions
1. Describe for me how you decide which child abuse allegations do not need to be investigated.
2. Describe what circumstances you and child welfare social workers(CPS)/law enforcement join
together to investigate child abuse.
3. How frequently do you go out with the same child welfare social worker/law enforcement officer?
3. How often do you meet up with the same child welfare (CPS) social worker/law enforcement officer?
4. Describe how well you think CPS social workers/law enforcement officers are prepared to do child
abuse investigations?
[Probe: What problems do you see in their performance or understanding?]
[Probe: What strengths do you see in their performance or understanding?]
5. Both CPS and law enforcement talk about ensuring the well-being of children. What does
that mean to you?
[Probe: When you work with the same officer, what is that relationship like?]
[Probe: When you work with a new officer, what is that relationship like?]
[Probe: Describe for me how that meaning is the same or different for CPS social workers/law
6. Describe some of the challenges encountered when working with CPS social workers/ law
7. Tell me what’s positive about working jointly with CPS social workers/ law enforcement.
Challenges in collaborating
engagement practices
Different standards
Different languages
Different investigative
Lack of understanding
each others’ roles and
Different Timeframes
Different Investigative Approaches
in crossreporting
child abuse
Inconsistent Engagement Practices
Different Standards
Standard of
• Preponderance of
evidence - social
• Clear and convincing
evidence – law
Different Languages
Sexual abuse/incest vs
sexual assault; Physical
abuse vs physical
Different Timelines
Social Workers
Law Enforcement
• Immediate
response (IR’s)
- 24 hours
• Non-IR’s – 10
• Reunification18 months
• Statute of
limitations open
Findings cont’d
Law enforcement officers’ characterization of social
workers relating to
◦ Time line differences - ‘irresponsible’, ‘overzealous’,
‘jumping the gun’
◦ Punishment versus treatment - naïve and shortsighted
◦ Investigation styles - passive, too soft, lacking in
assertiveness skills
◦ Consulting with supervisors - too much emphasis placed
on book learning rather than training
Findings cont’d
Social workers’ characterization of law
◦ Punitive - more interested in taking the perpetrator
down regardless of consequence to the children
◦ Impatient – see child abuse as a low level crime, not
as exciting as a homicide or a robbery
◦ Detectives who work in Crimes Against Children
Units are low level positions in police departments;
it’s like a “you screwed up” position
Findings cont’d
Complementary roles
Social workers complement my role when the child is
removed form the home and the suspect goes to jail and
hopefully to prison
They protect my safety; they protect the safety of the child,
but I wish they would value my profession more
They provide another set of eyes; respected for their
uniform. All we have is a plastic badge and a plastic notebook
going into neighborhoods that we don’t even know are
dangerous. Law enforcement tells us they don’t even go into
those neighborhood without backup
Theoretical implications
Social identity
systems theory
Theoretical Implications
Social Identity Theory
Deals with intergroup
relations where
Individuals see
themselves as a
member of a certain
group or category
(the in-group) as
compared to another
group (the out-group)
These groups
evaluate themselves
on dimensions that
lead to the in-group
being judged as
positive and the out group to be judged
These comparison
become necessary to
distinctiveness and
boundaries the
consequences of
which are
stereotypes, biases,
and it promotes an
“us versus them”
attitude in interprofessional
relationships(Stets &
Burke, 2000;Taijfel,
Theoretical Implications
Boundary Spanning-
All organization have boundaries
that specify how internal
and/external roles and functions
are related but also separated
from one another (Fiol, 1989)
• Boundary spanning positions link two or
more systems whose goals and expectations
are likely to be at least partially conflicting
• Boundary spanners perform balancing act
between inclusion and separation,
dependence, and autonomy (Williams,
Child abuse – a crime (law
enforcement) as well as a family
dysfunction (social work
Theoretical Implications
Loosely Coupled
Systems Theory
Coupling the degree to which
organizational aspects are
linked, connected, related, or
interdependent (Maguire &
Katz, 2002, Weick, 1976)
Coupled organizations are
responsive to each other but
they preserve their own
identity and their own physical,
and logical separateness
(Hagan, Hewitt & Alwin, 1979;
Weick, 1976)
Theoretical Implications
Systems Theory
Organizations that work together but
have separate standards and separate
performance measures (Pajak & Green,
Organizations guided by ambiguous
mandates that promote irrational work
practices; each system practices in a
manner that meets its organizational
goals with little regard for how the
other organization in the collaborative
arrangement achieves its goals (Pinnelle
& Gutwin, 2006)
Theoretical Implications
Systems Theory
Interdependence is reduced;
interactions are secondary,
occasional, involuntary, and
unequal (Weick, 1980)
Organizations conform closely
to behaviors that symbolize
mandated expectations but do
not attempt to seriously
implement them at the
operational level (Scott, 1998)
Policy Implications
Federal and state policy
• Protocol to require joint
mandate strict requirements
investigations on each referral
rather than recommended • Protocol to define each
requirements that CPS and
professional groups’ roles and
law enforcement agencies
responsibilities during joint
develop collaborative
Remove familial physical and • Reduces timelines conflict (Faller
& Henry, 2000)
sexual abuse crimes out of
the sexual assault Penal
Code section and align the
crimes with Welfare and
Institution Codes
Researcher’s bias
Small N (21)
Findings may be exaggerated based on size of counties studied as compared to
other smaller (48) counties, population wise as well as geography
Findings may not be generalizable to other smaller counties due to differences in
population size and geography
Findings do provide a glimpse into challenges all counties may face when child
welfare Federal and state statutes conflict with criminal Federal and state statute
Summary Findings
Structural Barriers
Overall, child welfare social workers and
law enforcement officers do not
collaborate on a consistent basis
There is a lack of understanding of each
other’s roles and responsibilities
The structure of each organization makes
it difficult to build working relationships
Summary Findings
Structural Barriers
Patrol officer or deputy who responds to investigate
a child abuse allegations work on rotating shifts;
rarely is the investigating officer the same
◦ Social workers refer to thIs relationship as ‘the luck of the
If a more thorough investigation is needed the
referral is handed off to a detective
◦ Social workers describe this relationship as not having a
connections to the intermediate detectives “so it’s like
trying to call the station, you leave a message hoping that
whoever is assigned will call you back. And that tends to
be a hassle for those of us who are not stationed with
police/law enforcement”
Summary Findings
Structural Barriers
Similarly, child welfare social workers who are
first responders investigate child abuse across
multiple geographical locations, a mixture of
municipalities, and with different deputies and
patrol officers who work on rotating shifts, and
with different or no understanding of child abuse
If a child is removed from the home and/or a
more in-depth investigation is required the
referral, in many cases, is handed off to another
social worker
Summary Findings
Structural Barriers
Law enforcement (detective) describe this relationship
as “A lot of time I will find that if a deputy took a
report and say they took it today and I called the social
worker who had contact with the family in the past they
are usually not available any more so I can’t get any
information about the past”
◦ Overall, communication linkage is lost
◦ Social workers and law enforcement who are colocated seem to have a better working
Schools of social work
develop curricula that
teach social work
students how to
collaborate and resolve
conflict in crossdiscipline settings
• Interdisciplinary studies can provide an understanding
of how the involvement of different professions from
different perspectives is necessary to resolve broad
and complex societal problems
• Different perspectives provide a more
comprehensive understanding of clients’ multilevel
needs and challenges
Joint training with law
enforcement to learn
about each others’
roles and
• Joint trainings teach social workers how to be secure
in articulating their professional perspectives,
especially in legal settings(Garrett, 2004)
Each professional
group assign a
liaison from both
entities who can
track a case at
any point in the
process to
updates upon
• This process not only has
potential to close the
communication gap
• Process could potentially aid in
the alignment of Welfare and
Institution Codes with Penal
Codes reducing timeline conflicts
and systems’ re-abuse of children
Reference List Attached
Thank you for participation

Interdisciplinary Collaboprati