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In the past two decades, researchers and practitioners have developed an extensive knowledge base about children with emotional disturbance. These intensive research efforts suggest that results for students with emotional disturbance can be improved through interventions that are sustained, flexible, positive, collaborative, culturally appropriate, and regularly evaluated. These interventions should have multiple components tailored to individual needs; they should build on the strengths of youth and their families, address academic as well as social concerns, be implemented by trained and supported practitioners, and be continually evaluated (Carpenter & Apter, 1988; Clarke et al., 1995; Eber, Nelson, & Miles, 1997; Epstein, Nelson, Polsgrove, Coutinho, Cumblad, & Quinn, 1993; Huntze, 1988; Knitzer, Steinberg, & Fleisch, 1990; McLaughlin et al., 1994; Nelson & Rutherford, 1988; Peacock Hill Working Group, 1991; Stroul & Friedman, 1996; Sugai, Bullis, & Cumblad, 1997).

OSEP continues to play an active role in developing and applying knowledge to improve results for young people with emotional disturbance. OSEP-supported research projects like the National Needs Assessment in Behavior Disorders and the NLTS have helped pinpoint problem areas in these students’ development and have made significant contributions to the development of promising approaches to early intervention and school discipline (e.g., Walker et al., 1995). OSEP research investments have developed tools such as functional behavioral assessments to identify and address the needs of individual students (Horner, 1994; Umbreit & Blair, 1997; Wehby et al., 1997). OSEP has also supported demonstration projects that build on research in children’s mental health (e.g., Stroul, Lourie, Goldman, & Katz-Leavy, 1992) to create flexible, results-driven, family responsive services and comprehensive education and support systems to reduce the need for restrictive out-of-home placements (Petr, 1994; Stroul & Friedman, 1996).

This knowledge base was influential in the development of The National Agenda for Achieving Better Results for Children and Youth with Serious Emotional Disturbance (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). To create this agenda, OSEP garnered extensive input from researchers, practitioners, and families (Smith & Coutinho, 1997) to "focus the attention of educators, parents, advocates, and professionals from a variety of disciplines on what is needed to be done to encourage, assist, and support our nation’s schools in their efforts to improve the educational process to achieve better outcomes for children and youth with serious emotional disturbance" (Osher, Osher, & Smith, 1994). The agenda featured seven interdependent targets: expanding positive learning opportunities and results, strengthening school and community capacity, valuing and addressing diversity, collaborating with families, promoting appropriate assessment, providing ongoing skill development and support, and creative comprehensive and collaborative systems (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

The National Agenda has served as the basis for State planning and evaluation efforts such as the Serious Emotional Disturbance Network (SEDNET, 1996). It is also the foundation of Federal interagency collaboration on issues of concern to children with emotional disturbance and their families. In a cooperative effort, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, OSERS, the Head Start Bureau, the Children’s Bureau, CMHS, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) co-sponsored an invitational conference entitled "Making Collaboration Work for Children, Youth, Families, Schools and Communities." This project brought together youth and their families with researchers, practitioners, administrators, and public officials. The meeting highlighted exemplary programs and documented the extent to which all service areas work simultaneously to serve children and families. The conference also delineated what is necessary to ensure effective interagency collaboration (Bullock & Gable, 1997; U.S. Department of Education, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, 1997). In the same vein, OSEP has joined with OJJDP and CMHS to fund collaborative research and technical assistance efforts on education’s role in systems of care and in the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

OSERS has made the National Agenda the basis for targeting OSEP’s research to practice investments in the field of childhood and youth emotional disturbance. OSEP currently funds projects that focus on prevention, positive approaches to learning, cultural competence, and assessment of children with emotional disturbance. In fiscal year 1998, the National Agenda became a Focus Area under OSEP’s Model/Demonstration priority, and three new awards were granted to support comprehensive programs that implement services in conformance with the seven target areas of the Agenda.

OSEP continues to address the gap between research and practice--between what is known and what is done. The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, housed at the American Institutes for Research, was created to promote a national reorientation toward fostering the development and adjustment of children with or at risk of emotional disturbance. The Center engages in strategic activities intended to help family members, practitioners, administrators, researchers and policy makers collaborate effectively in the efficient production and use of knowledge to improve results for children with or at risk of emotional disturbance. In the summer of 1998, the Center teamed with the National Association of School Psychologists, in a special collaborative project jointly led by the Departments of Education and Justice and in response to President Clinton’s directive, to produce Early Warning--Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, which was disseminated to all American schools in the fall. The guide emphasized the importance of child-centered and school- and community-supported prevention and intervention approaches.

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