|dc.description.abstract||The thesis deals with cooperation between child welfare and other local authority services, and how this can influence child welfare’s decision-making. Its aim is to gain a better understanding of decision-making and how factors such as structure, mandatory frameworks, interests and power influence the decisions that are made. In the thesis we examine how local authorities approach cooperation between child welfare and a variety of other local authority services, and how different interests and power affect relations between the parties.
The theoretical background includes elements from New Public Management (NPM), governance and network approaches. Organisational theory, contract theory and theory concerning stakeholding and rewards, as well as decision theory and discussion of power relations have been used in our analyses. The thesis uses qualitative material and analysis. We have conducted in-depth interviews in three local authorities. Our informants were child welfare workers, leaders and administrators in each local authority.
The public sector has met increasing pressure for renewal and greater effectiveness in the last thirty years. One consequence has been an emphasis on decentralisation and delegation to lower levels of decision making, and greater freedom for local authorities to organise services as they see fit. The three local authorities we have studied have reorganised their services, abandoning a strictly hierarchical scheme in favour of a flatter structure with just two administrative levels.
In our material we have seen signs of a number of (perhaps unintended) consequences of this NPM-inspired change: fragmentation, enhanced bureaucratisation and development of hybrid organisational forms. Aware that the two-level approach risks to fragmentation of the service system, the local authorities have set out to integrate a number of services, with the express aim of obtaining better coordination. As we see it, these reorganizations have led to large and complex structures, this in turn leading to local adjustments in which more leadership levels re-emerge.
But these levels of leadership do not appear to be adequately formalized; there is overall weak coordination and poor definition of the leaders’ remit. This can lead to an erosion of accountability and neglect of important tasks, as well as inefficiency and not least uncertainty. All this will seriously affect child welfare decision-making. In addition the contract between the two administrative levels is not sufficiently explicit in respect of early intervention, prevention and coordination of services. How these aims are to be realized, what the various services are expected to contribute, and what results are required are quite unclear. It seems
that those who are responsible for the services at central level in the local authorities have left these issues to those who operate the service to decide. As long as partners in a cooperative relationship are left to determine their obligations and tasks by themselves, there is a danger that they will adopt priorities that suit themselves, rather than those required to realize overall service aims. Both the extent of collective responsibility and common interest, and the rewards these entail, are weakly regulated in the prevailing contracts. This, as well as the fact that child welfare perceives its situation as pressured, has led to a situation in which difficult priorities have to be made, with staff feeling unable to work as they think they ought to. Cooperation between the various local authority services appears to be erratic and indeed unsystematic for some of the services. Child welfare will be unable to bring other services into play so that properly coordinated efforts can be made for children and families. Our material and analysis shows also that different power bases and power dimensions influence decisions in child welfare. Relational power is important, but there is much uncertainty as to who might participate in decision-making. Actors who do not have formal power can still exert considerable influence, directly or indirectly.
The mechanisms that influence decision-making in child welfare can only be identified when we acknowledge how complex these decisions really are. The three local authorities we studied had only to a limited extent succeeded in their efforts to implement new frameworks and arenas for cooperation. All had made structural changes, but it seemed that relational issues were not so much in focus. One point of view might be that local authorities need to work on ownership issues associated with overall aims. Another might be that the services need to establish more shared competence between services and more mutual understanding appreciation of each service’s responsibilities and tasks.||nb_NO