Title

Collaborating in support of inner city children: The relationships between urban families and community agencies and organizations in a poverty-level neighborhood

Date of Completion

January 2000

Keywords

Education, Sociology of|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

This study examines the relationships between families and staff from community agencies and organizations in a poverty level urban neighborhood in an eastern city. A central concern of this study is to address how the existing relationships between these groups may affect urban educational restructuring efforts that encourage collaborations of families, schools and community institutions to support the social and academic development of inner city children. If community agencies and organizations are to engage in successful collaborations with inner city schools, it is critical that they be able to work with the children and families affiliated with these institutions. ^ Field-based research methods were utilized throughout this study including ethnographic interviewing and participant observation in five public and private community agencies and organizations. Document analysis also was undertaken to help learn about the relationships between these groups. Findings suggest that the relationships between families and staff from community agencies and organizations typically rest on a gendered system. Mothers manage their families' day to day interactions with these institutions. Fathers usually are absent. ^ Findings also suggest that the relationships between these groups often are characterized by inherent inequalities. These inequalities develop as a result of the positions from which families and staff of these institutions approach each other. Staff are positioned in authoritarian roles. Families, in contrast, are positioned as dependents. In more bureaucratic institutions, rigid rules exacerbate the unequal positions from which families and staff approach each other. Families may be scrutinized about their lives. They may be assessed in their ability to care for their children. The inherent inequalities in these relationships also are affected by public policy decisions, such as welfare reform, which shape the services that are provided for poor urban families. ^ Linkages between these findings and current trends in urban educational restructuring that encourage collaborations of families, schools and community institutions suggest that though these partnerships may yield valuable support for inner city children and their families, that there are reasons to proceed cautiously. If collaboration is to be a powerful component of educational restructuring and renewal, it must be owned by all the constituent groups. ^