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2 States Laying Plans for Interagency Approach to Families

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State and local officials in New Jersey and Georgia have been laying plans this summer for programs designed to help bolster children's chances of success in school by linking the efforts of education and human-services agencies.

The primary goals of both efforts are to pool resources and knowledge to make the most efficient use of available aid and to bridge bureaucratic gaps between agencies to simplify the process of getting help to troubled children and families.

"Our current system fails too many children, because it fails to recognize the interconnectedness of the problems that confront many families, and the possible solutions," said Larry Leverett, assistant commissioner of urban education for the New Jersey education department.

The state's "Family Net" initiative, which involves the departments of education, health, human services, higher education, community affairs, labor, and corrections, as well as community agencies and businesses, will be launched this fall in 30 school districts.

The so-called "special needs" districts are among the poorest in the state and have been targeted for extra state aid and intensive school improvement as a result of the 1990 court decision in Abbott v. Burke, which addressed inequities in the state's method of funding schools.

Three teams of school and social-services professionals have held meetings this summer to plan activities in the state's north, central, and southern regions, with support from a state-level panel representing the seven state agencies involved.

Services tailored to each of the 30 districts in the pilot will be phased in starting in September, said Mr. Leverett, and will include such components as school-based immunizations and dissemination of information on the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children and job training.

Mr. Leverett said Family Net, first announced by Commissioner of Education John Ellis last spring, will attempt to "replicate the successes" of the state's School-Based Youth-Services program, which offers school-based counseling, health, recreation, and employment services.

That program, which was launched in 1987 by the state department of human services in collaboration with the departments of education, labor, and health, has become one of the best-known national models for interagency collaboration in serving troubled youths. (See Education Week, March 15, 1988.)

'Fast-Tracking Services'

In Georgia, meanwhile, 15 communities designated as model sites have been drafting plans this summer on how to integrate early-intervention and family-focused services under a statewide program known as the "Family Connection."

The effort, launched in May by Gov. Zell Miller, is designed to create a partnership between local communities and the state departments of education, human resources, and medical assistance "to ensure that at-risk children receive the support they need to succeed in school."

It is being supported by a $5-million, two-year start-up grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and will also tap federal Medicaid funds to provide comprehensive medical screening and follow-up services to eligible families.

Janet S. Bittner, deputy commissioner of the department of human resources, said several statewide workshops on the initiative have been held this summer and that two more are planned for August and September.

The model sites, which include both cities and counties, must submit plans by September detailing how they will coordinate services to at-risk families and children, outlining an evaluation process, and identifying funding needs.

Teams drafting the plans include officials from local schools, health departments, family- and children's-services agencies, and business and civic organizations.

Services expected to begin as early as this fall at some sites, Ms. Bittner said, include screening to identify children and family needs and family-resource centers coordinated by schools and human-services agencies.

"We have put a lot of pressure on fast-tracking services to at least initiate [the project] this fall even if all the pieces may not be in place," she said.

In California, meanwhile, a recent report by the Los Angeles County grand jury has urged the creation of neighborhood-based "one-stop centers" to help shift social services from a "crisis-oriented" to a preventive focus.

The panel said San Diego County's "New Beginnings," an interagency collaboration that is revamping the county's approach to social programs to make a wide range of services more accessible, could be a prototype for Los Angeles. (See Education Week, Jan. 23, 1991.)

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