Integrated networks to combat child poverty

There is a growing consensus on various policy levels to prioritize child poverty. One of the difficulties for policy and practice that wishes to combat child poverty is the historical and actual fragmentation of services and policies. In everyday practice, many efforts have been conducted to overcome issues of fragmentation by organizing integrated networks to provide material and immaterial social services to the vulnerable target group of families with young children in poverty. In this proposal we investigate how networks at the local level can be deployed to combat child poverty. The central concepts are ‘network integration’ and ‘poverty alleviation’.

We define network integration both at the system and client-level of the analysis. At the system-level network integration refers to the way service providers are connected and reach a ‘unity of effort’. In an integrated network all service organizations have access to the resources and information in the network. Here, the role of network governance is crucial and will be explored in this research. At the client-level network integration refers to the extent to which the services provided by the network are supportive and responsive toward the client’s multiple needs on different life domains. In this research, the assignment of meaning of families will be an important point of focus.

Several international studies show that the formation of networks is important to combat (child)poverty. These studies, however, also show that networks do not always lead to better results regarding the quality of service delivery as perceived by families. We therefore argue that research on the functioning and perception of these networks is necessary. In this proposal we provide an in-depth approach on the integrative mechanism of these networks. The main research questions of this proposal are formulated as follows:

  1. How are integrated networks of service organizations providing support to poor families organized?
  2. What kind of social work practices of in- and exclusion appear within these integrated networks?
  3. How do policy representatives and social workers perceive these networks?
  4. How do families in poverty experience these networks?

We want to answer these questions by researching twenty local networks that focus on combatting child poverty in Belgium, of which eight are located in Flanders, eight in Wallonia and four in Brussels. In a first work package, we will take a broad quantitative and quantitative perspective to map these interorganizational networks and focus on network governance and collaboration. This way, a useful and valuable contribution can be made to the field by bundling and sharing these insights and results freely.

In a second work package, we investigate the perspectives of local policymakers, social workers and families with children in poverty. We look into how local actors shape these collaborations and which meaning they assign to this.  In this perspective, it is important to analyze the logics and definitions that are used in building these networks. The interpretations and shapes of these networks and the dynamics that locally arise, will probably influence the relations between the organizations and the parents. In dialogue with families in poverty, we construct what qualitative services can contain and we explore if these services are perceived as responsive and supportive.