Journal Issue: School-Linked Services Volume 2 Number 1 Spring 1992
Emerging Criteria for School-linked Services
The following criteria are derived from the articles in this journal issue as well as from publications cited in those articles. This is only a preliminary list; these criteria are still evolving as experience with school-linked services increases. It is important to note that very few of the current efforts at school-linked services meet all of the criteria that are presented here. A significant gap remains between defining the theoretical components for such programs and implementing them in practice.
1. For school-linked service efforts to be effective, the participating agencies will have to change how they deliver services to children and families and how they work with each other.
Tyack's article in this journal issue documents the rich history of volunteer community efforts to bring health and social services to the schools. The article by Gomby and Larson discusses the myriad of single-focus efforts introduced into the schools. Typically, these efforts were added on to existing operations without any change in the commitment of resources or in how the school functioned. Many of these programs were not as effective as had been hoped; many did not continue as volunteer interest waned or special funding ran out.
Perhaps in part in response to this past experience, proponents of today's efforts at school-linked services believe that these services can have a significant and lasting impact only with direct involvement and contribution from participating institutions. Most of the authors in this journal issue envision that schools and the participating health and social services agencies will be involved in all aspects of school-linked service efforts, including their planning, funding, and staffing (see the articles by Jehl and Kirst and by Gardner). Furthermore, the schools and other participating agencies will need to change their own procedures to facilitate the collaboration.17 The points that follow present examples of such changes.
2. For school-linked service efforts to be effective, their planning and implementation should not be dominated by any one institution—schools or health or social services agencies.
Many of the authors for this journal issue emphasize that a school-linked service effort must be a collaborative partnership characterized by shared power and respect.18 The articles by Gardner and by Jehl and Kirst focus on this requirement and some of the ways it can be met.
The process to achieve this partnership varies from site to site, and little is currently known about what governance structure for overseeing the funding, staffing, and operations of school-linked service efforts best promotes the goals of collaboration. As discussed later in this article, the topic of governance structure may be an area where process research can be helpful.
3. To be effective, school-linked services should be comprehensive and tailored to the needs of individual children and their families.
Proponents of today's school-linked services shun the historical trend of adding a single service or staff person to a school in response to some identified problem. They urge instead that a comprehensive set of services be available or coordinated at the school site.19
The definition of comprehensive is fluid, however. There is no specific core of services that is recommended for all sites. At a minimum, proponents envision that the school will become the site for provision or coordination of some combination of education, health, and social services that reflects what is currently available to children in a particular community. In addition, these services should be available at differing levels of intensity, appropriate for those children and families who require only short-term minimal support or intervention as well as for others who require long-term, intensive treatment or crisis-level services. Finally, available services should be sufficiently diverse and flexible to allow them to be tailored to the specific needs of the child and family.
Thus, proponents of this approach envision that school-linked services will be defined not by formula, but by the unique needs and resources of the community and the specific needs of those served. Because of this, the process for determining the mix of services for a particular community is very important. For example, as Jehl and Kirst and Gardner suggest in their articles, one of the initial tasks in planning school-linked services is to conduct a needs assessment of the community. An effective assessment should be multifaceted; should review data from the health, education, and social services sectors; and should include in the planning process participation from staff, parents, and the broader community.
4. Each agency participating in school-linked service efforts should redirect some of its current funding to support the new collaboration.
This criterion may seem obvious, but most current efforts at integrating services through schools have relied primarily on new, short-term funding. As discussed later in this article, long-term financing is perhaps the most critical issue that needs to be addressed in these efforts. As a result, there is little long-term stability for these efforts. To establish a stable funding base, collaborating agencies cannot rely exclusively on new funds but must also contribute existing funding and staff to the effort.
Although some limited additional funds may be required for start-up costs, evaluation, and information systems, school-linked services are not promoted as a strategy to seek significant new funding. Instead, one of the central claims for school-linked and other integrated service efforts is that better outcomes can be achieved with the reorganization of existing funds and services.20 After such reorganization has occurred, the need may emerge for additional funds to serve more students and/or achieve even better outcomes. As Farrow and Joe write in this journal issue: "Only by using current funds more effectively and demonstrating that they are already part of a productive financial strategy will it become plausible to seek the expanded, longer-term funding necessary for stable, broad-scale programs."
Such redirection of existing funding may involve merging or even phasing out one program in favor of funding the collaborative effort. It may involve redefining roles of existing staff members to cover the tasks of collaborative efforts and service delivery at the school. It may also involve making every effort to tap into categorical funds available to the school, the social services agency, or the health agency—funds that have not previously been utilized. Such strategies are discussed in greater detail by Farrow and Joe in this journal issue.
These tasks are extremely difficult. Some school districts and public health and social services agencies are in such dire financial straits that they must cut their existing programs, making it difficult for them to redirect funding to new efforts. Similarly, making better use of categorical funds can be extremely difficult, requiring lengthy and technical negotiations with state and federal agencies. Despite these difficulties, the key point in planning school-linked service initiatives is to avoid relying exclusively on one-time-only appropriations or grants from government or foundations.
5. To be effective, school-linked service efforts should involve and support parents and the family as a whole.
One of the fundamental goals of current school-linked service efforts is to make the family not only the focus of child-serving agencies, but also their partner. The goal is to "enable" (see the article in this issue by Gerry and Certo) or "empower" the family.21 This relationship can be fostered in several ways, and there is much variation among existing programs. Parents can be involved in the planning and governance of the school-linked service efforts. They may also participate in assessing the needs of their sons or daughters and deciding on services for them. In addition, the schools may provide services to parents, such as parent education or job counseling, or simply provide a place for parents to come for information and support as needed.22
The principle urged by several authors is that a child's family is the most important influence on that child and that to achieve better outcomes, parents should be actively involved and their needs considered in the development of appropriate services. In addition to specific services, a central goal of this approach is to create a trusting, supportive, and informative relationship between families and service providers.23
6. School-linked service efforts should be both willing and able to collect data about what is attempted and achieved and at what cost.
Evaluation as a critical issue is discussed later in this article. But one of the central principles of today's efforts at integrating services for children, including the school-linked approach, is that the resulting systems must include a mechanism to provide accountability for producing identified outcomes. The outcomes will likely include improved student behaviors as well as changes in the schools and other child-serving agencies. Accountability is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the effort. It is also, to some extent, a quid pro quo for the new decision-making authority and flexibility in funding sought by providers of integrated services. If providers want to be freed from much of the regulation of how they use funds to address children's needs, they must be willing to be evaluated by the outcomes they produce.24
Although accountability must be an integral part of school-linked service efforts, expectations for quick and dramatic change in behavioral outcomes should be realistic. Certainly, the larger problems—the number of children who are homeless, inadequately housed, living in poverty, or significantly deprived in other ways—will continue to affect the health, education, and social welfare of children. The larger problems will not be quickly or completely remedied by a new collaboration among child-serving agencies. On the other hand, investing in school-linked services makes sense only if one believes that, in the long run, changing how services are delivered will improve not only access to services, but also the behavior, knowledge, and attitudes of students.
7. To be effective, school-linked service efforts should be able to respond to the diversity of children and families.
As Tyack documents, a primary goal of the earliest efforts at providing health and social services at the schools was to assist immigrant children overcome their differences and assimilate into the prevailing American culture. Likewise, part of the motivation for today's renewed efforts is the recognition that the children in our schools are very diverse along a number of lines—cultural, ethnic, and economic—and that they come to the schools with different needs. Although the ultimate goal is still to make these students productive members of society, more attention is now paid to offering services that are sensitive and tailored to their individual backgrounds and needs.
Authors in this journal issue suggest that, at a minimum, planners of school-linked services should understand from the beginning the ethnic, economic, and social composition of the students they intend to reach (see discussion of needs assessments in the Jehl and Kirst article and in the Gardner article). In addition, planners should specifically address what staffing, training, or other operational tasks will be necessary as a result of the diversity they find.
If these seven preliminary criteria are applied to existing efforts, the gap between theoretical goals and practice becomes evident. To begin to close that gap and to begin to define more precisely what can make a school-linked service effort successful, several critical issues must be addressed by policymakers and others who promote this approach.