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Improving School Results Through Coordinated Services

Children and youth with disabilities frequently have many needs. There is a growing consensus that the coordinated efforts of various agencies and professionals are necessary to address these needs effectively. The resources of any one service system (such as education, social services, health, or mental health) are simply insufficient to address the large, complex problems faced by many children with disabilities.

For some children, for example, multiple services are needed because they have multiple problems. A child with school attendance and performance problems also may be nutritionally deficient, medically underserved, or living within a single-parent family in which the mother works two jobs in a neighborhood beset with drug problems (Morrill, 1992). A single service system (education, for example) lacks the capacity to solve such multiple problems. Hence, partnerships among service providers are necessary.

Multiple service systems, however, will not be effective, if they are not coordinated and individualized to address the needs of each child. Without the careful coordination of services, there will be gaps, duplications, and other inefficiencies that inflate human and monetary costs. Through combining and coordinating the efforts of agencies and professionals, collaborative initiatives have significantly improved the quality of services that children and families receive, as well as the outcomes of those services.

Cleveland's Connections Initiative is an example of a successful integrated services program. By combining the efforts of the County Community Mental Health Board, the County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, the County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, the Ohio Department of Youth Services, the County Juvenile Court, the public schools, and the County Department of Children and Family Services, this system has been successful in bringing about significant improvements in children's level of functioning. Data show that Connections has resulted in an 81.8 percent reduction in suicidal gestures, a 69.5 percent increase in passing grades, and a 63.8 percent decrease in truant school days for children with serious emotional disturbance (Stroul, 1993).

Data from one large-scale evaluation (Stroul, 1993) demonstrate the following outcomes for students with serious emotional disturbance:
  • Children receiving integrated services:
    • were less likely to receive services in hospitals and residential treatment centers, and, when they were admitted to those settings, they remained for shorter periods of time,
    • were less likely to be placed out of their homes and, when they were in out-of-home placement, were less likely to be placed in treatment programs outside their own counties and states,
    • demonstrated improved functioning, including symptom reduction, and reduction of negative behaviors,
    • demonstrated improvements in school attendance and school performance, and
    • had fewer contacts with law enforcement, fewer episodes of incarcerations, and fewer days spent in juvenile detention facilities.
  • Parents of children receiving integrated services were more satisfied with their children's education.
  • Costs of providing integrated services were less than costs for traditional services that rely heavily upon expensive treatment environments.
  • Providing integrated services tended to avoid incurring costs within the mental health, child welfare, education, and juvenile justice systems, by reducing the use of facilities and programs paid for by those systems.


Morrill, W.A. (1992). Overview of service delivery to children. The future of children: School linked services, 2(1), 32-43.

Stroul, B. (1993). Systems of care for children and adolescents with severe emotional disturbances: What are the results? Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center.


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2000 Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice