ERIC Identifier: ED319877
Publication Date: 1990-02-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.| Children's Defense Fund Washington DC.,
National School Boards Association Washington DC. Council of Urban Boards of
Linking Schools with Human Service Agencies. ERIC/CUE Digest
A number of factors put pressure on schools to work more closely with health,
social service, and other youth-serving institutions. Few teachers are
comfortable intervening in students' emotional difficulties, and they feel
particularly overburdened by having to teach successfully those students whose
personal lives are made stressful by homelessness, adolescent pregnancy and
parenting, drug abuse, AIDS, alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, family
dissolution, or the burdens of living alone and supporting themselves. In
addition, in the last few years, cutbacks in social service staff have resulted
in counselor caseloads of 250-500 students, while nurses may visit a different
school each day (Achievement Council, 1988). Further, the concurrent
specialization of the few remaining nonacademic staff, such as counselors,
social workers, nurses, disciplinary deans, etc., has compartmentalized and
Although many nonacademic school staff develop informal relationships with
public and private agencies, several factors prevent these connections from
being firm, clearly drawn, and efficient. First, school staff generally lack
information about where to obtain the variety of services available. Second,
agencies outside the school--also isolated from each other and facing strained
resources--often provide help that is piecemeal and crisis-oriented, resulting
in redundancies at the same time that other problem areas may be neglected.
Third, social service school staff often fear for their own job security if
they refer too many students to agencies.
And fourth, because intervention in such areas as pregnancy prevention or
psychological counseling are often controversial, nonacademic school staff are
concerned about parental and community support (Farrar & Hampel, 1985, 1987;
Kirst & McLaughlin, 1989).
Recently, at the Federal level, success in
combining education, health and social services in Project Head Start, Federal
law P.L. 99-457, and such local programs as James Comer's effort to restructure
the New Haven Public Schools, has spurred new interest in improving the linkages
between schools and human services (Cohen, 1989; American Public Welfare
Association, et al., 1989). At the local level, a variety of mechanisms are
being tried as public schools, social, health, and other youth-serving agencies
establish links (Mclaughlin, 1989):
o Case management--a teacher or social worker is assigned to help a student
get needed services.
o Programmatic integration--a school and a public or private agency link up
to deliver a particular service or range of services.
o Co-location--nurses, social workers, and other professionals are brought
into the school, often at the expense of a foundation or agency.
o Community coordinating council--a council that cuts across mental health,
social services, education, and employment is appointed at the city level to
create a youth policy and integrate services.
THE SCHOOL AS LOCUS FOR DELIVERING SERVICES
between services can be created by professionals in any of the bureaucracies, a
number of reformers have argued that, because all children have to attend
school, schools are the most accessible, appropriate, and accountable
institutions for establishing collaboratives. Further, since schools are
supposed to be concerned with their students' overall development, it is logical
for them to coordinate students' contact with human service agencies. Not only
will access to health, employment, and social services be improved if they are
located in schools, but, according to this view, school policies can be
influenced positively by professionals from these disciplines (Kirst &
McLaughlin, 1989; Shedlin, Klopf, & Zaret, 1989).
Obviously, however, schools can also be difficult institutions for other
professionals to navigate: established school practices can work against good
collaborative approaches, and there may be regulations that are problematic for
these professionals (Cohen, 1989). Schools are also not always family-friendly
institutions, and involving the family is often key to serving the student.
Much of the creative thinking about how
to improve nonacademic services for large numbers of students has focused on
ways to make bureaucracies work more cooperatively. Collaboration advocates
suggest earmarking resources for coordination; obtaining top-level commitment
from key officials; concentrating on issues whose mutual relevance and
importance is readily apparent; creating clearly defined responsibilities and
assignments; finding areas of mutuality in philosophy, standards, etc.; setting
realistic time frames; and rethinking professional training to end professional
and institutional isolation (Kirst & McLaughlin, 1989; Levy, 1988; Levy
& Copple, 1989).
It is also commonly agreed that the best school-human service collaborative
programs are locally defined and arise out of a community's own peculiar
history, strengths, interests, and needs. Despite the uniqueness of the best
locally-developed collaborations, successfully provided collaborative services
share several characteristics (Cohen, 1989; Levy & Copple, 1989; Schorr,
- They are generally comprehensive, either directly offering a wide array of
services, or providing an easy entry point to services, delivered flexibly and
- They move beyond crisis management and even early intervention to focus on
prevention and development.
- They cross professional and bureaucratic boundaries to offer coherent
services, often in nontraditional settings and at nontraditional hours.
- They provide staff with the time, training, and skills necessary to build
relationships of trust and respect.
- They hire one staff member who is from the local community and can act as a
- They involve both teachers and parents in the communication loop.
- They deal with the child as part of the family, and the family as part of
the neighborhood or community.
- They build in accountability, with creative and meaningful measures.
FOCUS ON THE CHILD
Because of the newness of
collaborations, students' problems still tend to be bureaucratically defined:
child abuse, pregnancy, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, etc. An
individual student's needs can get lost amidst the interplay of different
agencies, each with its own terminology, funding streams, eligibility
requirements, and interpretation of prevention and intervention.
To solve this problem, change must occur at both the systemic and client
levels. Some cities are already developing an "integrated youth policy," which
reconceptualizes the purpose of children's services, shifting from a crisis
orientation to one that is comprehensive and developmental (Kirst &
McLaughlin, 1989). At the client level, there are rudimentary attempts to
involve students and their families in identifying their specific needs (Shedlin
et al., 1989). Equally important, services are beginning to be provided in a
nonfragmented, coherent manner in some locations. And there is an understanding
that students and their families also need services to help them become
self-sufficient (Schorr, 1988).
Broad-based collaborations that reach into the
core of schools and public human service systems have yet to occur. The roles of
teachers, human service staff, and whole institutions must be redefined if the
services these professionals provide are to become comprehensive and geared
toward enhancing students' development, including their ultimate
self-sufficiency (Levy & Copple, 1989).
Both schools and service agencies have tended to talk at youths, labeling
their problems and dictating solutions according to standardized procedures.
Thus an important change will be to promote students' competencies in defining
their own needs and helping themselves (Brice Heath & McLaughlin, 1989;
Achievement Council. (1988m May). Unfinished
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Schorr, L.B. (1988). Within our reach. New York: Basic Books.
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