ERIC Identifier: ED320197
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Liontos, Lynn Balster
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Collaboration between Schools and Social Services. ERIC Digest
Series, Number EA 48.
The growing chasm between society's complex problems and what the systems, as
presently configured, can do to help is driving reform in all sectors. So says
Joining Forces, a report by the National Association of State Boards of
Education (Janet Levy 1989) calling for joint action. "Schools alone cannot
compensate for the disadvantage created by troubled homes and troubled
communities," states Levy. "Welfare and social services may momentarily mitigate
a crisis, but cannot hold a hopeful future to those who lack abilities demanded
by the job market." One of the key changes needed to make reform work, say many
experts, is collaboration between education and human service agencies.
WHY IS COLLABORATION NECESSARY?
"Using the schools to
achieve racial balance, eliminate poverty, fight drug abuse, prevent pregnancy
and reduce youth suicide is simply too much!" complains one educator (Dennis
Rittenmeyer 1986). Over and over the Joining Forces staff heard the plea from
both educators and human service workers, "We can't do it alone." The problems
are simply too big and too complex.
Complex problems call for comprehensive services to the whole person and his
or her community, says Lisbeth Schorr (Levy). Educators emphasize the importance
of seeing the larger picture: That the child is part of a family, which is part
of a community, and that they can't be separated. Nor can human services and
education remain in separate categories. For one, they have overlapping
administrative responsibilities and are mutually dependent on each other. "The
goals that each system is setting for its own reform effort cannot be realized
alone, but depend on complementary action by one or more sectors," says Levy.
"Family crises and the conditions of poverty must be alleviated if children are
able to concentrate in the classroom; children must succeed in the classroom if
they are one day to support themselves and avoid long-term dependency."
Demographics also support collaboration, states Harold Hodgkinson (1989). For
example, with metro areas crossing state lines, how do we deal with school
districts that have allegiances to several states or cities? Or what about the
link between education and crime? Eighty-two percent of America's prisoners are
high school dropouts (Hodgkinson). Yet the cost of prisons is so astounding
($20,000 to maintain one prisoner for a year) that Hodgkinson says anything that
keeps people out of prison, such as education, is an excellent long-term
Finally, there are financial reasons. Hodgkinson doesn't see new funds for
social programs forthcoming from government: "That being the case, we simply
have to get more mileage out of the resources and organizations we now have." In
fact, he stresses that we may be able to magnify the effectiveness of each
dollar several times through interagency collaboration. For example, a dollar
invested in Head Start saves you $7 in later services you don't need to provide
(Hodgkinson). "Fully funding Head Start," he says, "would be the most cost
effective way to reduce high school dropouts, welfare recipients, as well as
astronomical jail costs."
ON WHAT ISSUES SHOULD WE BE COLLABORATING?
has launched a national effort to help education and human services work
together to aid a targeted group: children and families at-risk. Of the children
starting school in 1988, one in four was born into poverty, half a million were
born to teen parents, and over half at some point will live with only one parent
in households prone to poverty and stress (Levy). Add widespread substance
abuse, inadequate health care, lack of affordable housing and you get families
that often face many risks simultaneously, increasing the complexity of
Floyd Boschee (1989) also believes that if America is to develop a strong,
competitive economy in an international market, quality public schooling will
have to be provided to all children, including the disadvantaged.
The educational reform movement has generally not addressed the particular
needs of disadvantaged students; in fact, it's made school success often harder
for students already having difficulty.
Areas for collaboration, depending on age group, include health care, income
support, social services for families, tutorial and remedial help, before- and
after- school care, improved parental literacy and involvement, linkage between
employment and education, and attendance policies that seek to retain rather
HOW CAN WE BEGIN?
No one has all the answers, but here are
ways to begin: (1) Study demographics, such as Hodgkinson's report, including
demographics of your own community. (2) Go to joint conferences where structured
dialogue between agencies is encouraged--or set up joint committee meetings,
such as between education and health. (3) Make note of successful collaborative
examples, both past and present. (4) In the beginning, pick an issue to
collaborate on that's not on anyone's specific turf, such as teen pregnancy. (5)
Involve key officials for inspiration and organizational backing; involve all
key stakeholders, such as staff who work directly with the children; include
neutral parties who can smooth out rough spots. (6) Watch for "categorical
drift"--that is, each agency working on its own in isolation. (7) Encourage
information-sharing among systems about children and families, and reward staff
for working with others outside their own sector. (8) Stress prevention and
early intervention; look for ways the school system can, in working with other
agencies, strengthen families and communities. (9) Use effective team-building
for shared control and decision-making; good communication is vital. (10) Focus
on process; remember that collaboration is a means, not an end. (11) Set
realistic time-frames; establish common goals to be implemented across agencies,
with accountability spelled out. (12) Be willing to commit the necessary
resources: successful collaboration takes time and energy.
WHAT HAS COLLABORATION ACHIEVED TO DATE?
collected information nationwide about collaborative programs. These efforts are
useful to study because they inform us about what works and how to build a base
for collaboration. Two of the most important achievements that state and local
collaborations have shown, according to Levy, are improvements in the delivery
of existing services and the opportunity to provide new kinds of service,
particularly to high-risk adolescents and communities.
Training, for example, is a major focus in Rockingham County, New Hampshire,
where elementary teachers are trained by the Division of Children and Youth to
recognize early signs that a child is in trouble. Locating services so they're
readily accessible is another way of improving connections. Washington, D.C.'s
Housing and Community Development Department and the D.C. Public Schools, for
instance, have opened study rooms at two public housing complexes; teachers
report that, as a result, children are showing improved study skills and turning
in homework more reliably.
As an example of new kinds of services, Texas' Communities in Schools Program
brings social service staff into the school where they work intensively with
students at risk of dropping out. The result? The program reports it keeps 90
percent of its students in school. On the other hand, the Kent County, Michigan,
Department of Social Services provides funds for outreach workers who follow up
on attendance problems in early elementary grades-with the result of improved
attendance for 90 percent of first graders.
HOW CAN WE ENSURE FUTURE COLLABORATIVE SUCCESS?
collaborative steps have been taken. Yet virtually no one is satisfied, says
Levy, that collaboration has gone far enough. For one thing, many of the best
examples aren't widely known and thus aren't frequently replicated. More
importantly, even when successful programs are in place, the changes and lessons
usually haven't been incorporated on a systemwide basis. Too often they're like "special projects"; substantive policy discussions and priority-setting across
systems are rare.
Thus a broader view of collaboration is needed: "Collaboration must be not
just a luxury set of ad hoc connections, but a core aspect of organizational
thinking and individual thinking, reaching from the commitments made by top
policymakers to the way individual teachers and social workers interact with
children and families" (Levy). This requires fundamental systemic change--a
restructuring of organizational configurations, policies, program content,
training, financing, and management.
Can we do it? Certainly it means sacrificing (giving up turf and comfortable
traditions, for one thing). But Schorr says the problems with families and
children have emerged at the same time that twenty years of research have
produced a critical mass of knowledge needed for taking action. We do know
enough to help, she says: "The question is whether we are willing to bite the
bullet and do it" (Levy).
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