Partnerships among Canadian agencies serving women with substance abuse issues and their children

In brief

Women who have alcohol and drug use problems and their children often require a lot of support from different programs and services. And yet it can be difficult to know how to find and use these services. Service providers and organizations can provide referrals and information about other services and even jointly plan services, but only when they are aware of the other agencies and have relationships with them. We need to know more about the relationships that exist between agencies – and how to strengthen these ties.

To better understand the relationships among the different agencies in Canada, researchers measured and mapped out these relationships using used social network analysis. To read about their results read EENet’s Research Snapshot of the article, “Partnerships among Canadian Agencies Serving Women with Substance Abuse Issues and Their Children,” published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 2013.

Read it below or download the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What you need to know

Over 1100 partnerships exist between agencies in Canada that provide services to women who have alcohol problems, and their children. 

What is this research about?

Women who have alcohol and drug use problems and their children often require a lot of support from different programs and services. And yet it can be difficult to know how to find and use these services. Service providers and organizations can provide referrals and information about other services and even jointly plan services, but only when they are aware of the other agencies and have relationships with them. We need to know more about the relationships that exist between agencies – and how to strengthen these ties. 

What did the researchers do?

Researchers in Ontario and BC used a process called social network analysis to find out what types of partnerships exist between different Canadian agencies that provide services to women who have alcohol and drug use problems, and their children. Social network analysis measures and maps relationships between different groups of people.

The researchers sent an online survey to 363 programs in 270 agencies listed in the National Directory of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment. The participants were asked to list up to six community partners with which their program had a relationship. They were then asked to list the activities that the two organizations took part in, such as sending or receiving referrals, sharing information, planning programs together or consulting each other. The participants then answered questions about how strong the relationship was between the two organizations. The researchers used social network analysis software called Gephi to map out all the different partnerships between agencies. 

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found 1,134 partnerships between the agencies they looked at across Canada. There were no partnerships between agencies located in different provinces, suggesting that we need ways for agencies in different provinces to share knowledge and resources.

Within each of the provinces, the partnerships tended to cluster around one or two agencies. In Ontario, the two agencies that had the greatest number of partnerships were a specialized hospital and research centre and a treatment centre located in the same city. These two agencies have an important leadership role to play in connecting other agencies.

The agencies that participated in the survey provided their clients with referrals to adult mental health agencies the most often. This finding is important because it shows that addictions treatment programs understand how addictions and mental health can be linked, especially when there is a history of trauma.

It was uncommon for agencies to partner with prenatal and postnatal services and agencies did not provide referrals to child agencies and social services very often. This situation is a major problem because prenatal, postnatal and child services can help give children the support they need for healthy growth and development. Social services—such as job training, safe housing, social support and legal assistance—have been shown to be very important to recovery from alcohol or drug use problems. Partnering with social services, child agencies, and prenatal and postnatal services could help improve the lives of women who have issues with drug or alcohol use as well as the lives of their children. 

Agencies were most likely to partner with other agencies when they thought the agency was friendly and were most likely to send referrals when they thought the agency was responsive to client needs. 

How can you use this research?

The findings of this study may help service providers and managers who are trying to understand how well they are partnering with other organizations. This research also can help service providers and managers create new partnerships, especially with prenatal and postnatal services, child agencies and social services. System planners also may find this study useful. Social network analysis is a way to understand how a system works and its strong and weak points. This type of information can help system planners design strategies to assist the people who could benefit most from services.

About the researchers

Wendy Sword is a Professor and an Assistant Dean of Research at McMaster University. Alison Niccols is an Associate Professor at McMaster and the Clinical Director of the Infant-Parent Program at McMaster Children's Hospital. Reza Yousefi-Nooraie is a PhD candidate at McMaster. Maureen Dobbins is a Professor at McMaster. Ellen Lipman is a Professor at McMaster University. Patrick Smith is the Executive Director of Renascent Treatment Centre in Ontario.

This Research Snapshot is based on their article, “Partnerships among Canadian Agencies Serving Women with Substance Abuse Issues and Their Children” which was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 2013. 

Keywords

Substance Abuse, Women, Agency Partnerships, Service Collaboration, Social Network Analysis

Evidence Exchange Network (EENet) has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario. summary was written by Talia Bronstein.