Journal Issue: School-Linked Services Volume 2 Number 1 Spring 1992
Proposals to link health and social services to schools are increasingly at the forefront of the policy agenda for children. In January 1991, newly elected California Governor Pete Wilson signed an executive order creating a cabinet-level position, Secretary of Child Development and Education, and mandating the presentation of recommendations regarding "the integration of social, health, mental health, and support services in the schools."1
In May 1991, Florida's Governor Lawton Chiles described his agenda for schools: "I look forward to the time when we keep schools open to 10 o'clock every night, have them going 12 months a year, make them a place where poor families can pick up Food Stamps and their food from the WIC program and their AFDC checks, and where they can sign up for job training."2
These proclamations by a Republican governor and a Democratic governor of the first and fourth most populous states are just two of the more visible signs of a renewed interest in school-linked services. Other states—including New York, New Jersey, and Kentucky—are also giving priority to this approach for providing health and social services to school-age children.3 At the federal level, both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education have initiated special projects for comprehensive children's services (see the article by Gerry and Certo in this journal issue).
The interest in school-linked services extends beyond the halls of government. Members of the business community are also urging that schools and other agencies work together to bring children and their families the services they need.4 The child-serving professions themselves have been advocates of this approach and, in some instances, have been the catalysts for legislation and other initiatives. For example, the national organizations of the American Public Welfare Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have sponsored a special project, Joining Forces, to promote collaboration between education and social welfare agencies.5
The heightened level of interest and activity in school-linked services may signal the beginning of a significant effort to restructure the way health and social services are delivered to school-age children and their families. We believe that this movement is promising and should be supported. However, we believe also that it is in an early stage and that much about its complexities and potential for effectiveness remains unknown. To date, evaluation of most initiatives is either insufficient or too preliminary to offer much guidance. Key policy choices regarding the design, governance, and financing of school-linked services are still matters of experimentation.
This issue of The Future of Children presents a variety of perspectives about school-linked services. This analysis highlights some of the key points raised in the articles and identifies preliminary criteria emerging for school-linked service efforts. Finally, this analysis discusses six critical issues that we believe require more attention if the school-linked approach is to be seriously considered as a better way to serve children and their families.