Organizational Complexity Within Private Child Welfare Agencies in the United States and Impact on Agency Performance Outlook

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Children and Youth Services Review

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This paper studies the performance outlook of private child welfare agencies (PCWAs) from a complexity theory lens. We argue that even though these agencies play a key role in delivering safety net services for families, while navigating dynamic environments, there is little empirical evidence identifying concrete complexity factors (i.e., inter-dependence, unpredictability and self-organization) and examining their impact on agency performance. To address this gap, we first conceptualize PCWAs as complex systems as they exhibit the three factors of interest. Then, we operationalize inter-dependence as the number and diversity of services provided, fiscal unpredictability based on managerial report, and self-organization as agency use of inter-organizational ties requiring heavy investment of agency resources. This study presents results from a survey data analysis of 229 PCWA managers in six states in the United States. Results show PCWAs efforts to adapt to organizational complexity can also pose a burden in meeting the needs of consumers and frontline staff. Nonetheless, external accountability through accreditation and a transformational leadership style that is characterized by compassion and attention to front-line workers’ individual needs and goals may be promising strategies to manage the inter-dependent and self-organizing nature of private child welfare systems.


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