Decision-Making and Power Relationships

Decision-Making and Power Relationships

Partners do not always agree. The process for maintaining the partnership must support the opportunity to articulate and negotiate differences. This is true with respect to all partners, and particularly for those who may also be receiving services from the partnership.


Who makes the decisions and who has the power must be decided and the parameters specified in each partnership. In some partnerships, both partners assume some or all decision-making authority and accountability. It might be that at certain points in the continuum the agency must act alone in order to preserve its unique role as a public agency with a specific mandate. In particular, where decisions must be made regarding child safety, the agency seeks maximum input but is legally responsible for making decisions about removal. In legal matters, confidentiality must be honored where voluntary releases of information are not available from families.


Power as well as decision-making, except with courts and judges at the case level, must be mutually shared among partners to effectively achieve consensus and the goals of the partnership. This is particularly true where (a) there is a fiscal relationship between child welfare agency and partner and (b) the partnership involves children, youth and families. Key questions to consider:

  • How do power dynamics affect the relationships?
  • Have areas of potential conflict been articulated and addressed?
  • How does each party stand to gain or lose if the partnership goals are or are not achieved?

Being attentive to one’s personal behavior is critical to the process of working together as partners. In particular, when engaging with partners, ask the following questions:

  • Am I quibbling over the little things? Do I give in or hold my ground?
  • Is my behavior supporting this partnership?
  • Does my behavior suggest that I am resentful? Passive aggressive?
  • Does my behavior both demand respect for myself and reflect respect for others? Do I demonstrate or model behaviors which I desire in a partnership?

The agency should understand and think about children, youth, and families as customers in much the same way that businesses think of customers. Partners “pay” us with their monetary and in-kind support. We must think about and be able to articulate what the partner/customer needs, not just what we need. What’s in it for them? In effective partnerships, each partner is openly clear about its needs and about what it needs to maintain its commitment.


The legal role of policy makers and courts is a significant intersection that defines specific levels of engagement, while the role of other groups (public and private services providers, families and youth and advocates) relies on the development of trust between the agency and its external partners and will vary from community to community based on local history and politics.


The public child welfare agency, the courts and policy makers should guide this work and honor the professional status of public and private partners. In addition, children, youth and families should be viewed as central to the discussion of how the agency

does its business, invoking the principle “nothing about us without us.” Families should have a seat at the table.

Change & Innovation Agency
FEi Systems
PCG Human Services
Governing Magazine