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'Attitudinal Barriers' Seen Hurting Youth Services in Calif.

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"Attitudinal barriers'' such as the fear of losing power or turf are the biggest roadblocks to improving the way that California agencies serve children and families, a group studying the state's youth policy concludes.

The Joint Task Force on Youth Policy was formed by the California School Boards Association, the California State Association of Counties, and the League of California Cities.

Its report addresses issues policymakers across the nation are facing as they seek to make children's services more accessible, cohesive, and prevention oriented.

The "inadequacy'' of the existing system, the report says, is "particularly devastating'' in California, where a recent series of fiscal crises has dovetailed with rising rates of poverty, crime, drug use, child abuse, and other measures of "social and economic hardship.''

The task force gathered information for the report from some 1,800 participants in 12 regional meetings it convened in the spring of 1992. The meetings involved local education and government officials; youth-agency staff members; and community and business leaders.

Gov. Pete Wilson chaired the meetings, which were co-sponsored by his office of child development and education and the California State University system.

The report calls for greater coordination among the child-serving agencies at the local level as well as a comprehensive policy on children and youths at the state level.

Rather than focusing on individual programs and gauging success by dollars spent, it says, the new system should be structured around the needs of children and families and evaluated on the basis of whether such needs are met.

To spur the kind of coordination needed to make services more comprehensive, reduce duplication, and fill unmet needs, the report urges the state to allow greater flexibility in the use and mixing of funds now allotted by program category. It says the state should consider making "special-purpose grants that address an array of services and allow the blending of funding streams.''

Apathy, Fear, and Turf

While highlighting other programmatic and legal barriers to serving families better under the current system, the report says participants in the regional meetings concluded that attitudinal barriers are "the greatest impediment to change.''

The three major problems they cited were apathy, fear, and concern about turf protection.

Apathy was defined as indifference, denial, hopelessness, or reluctance to change, while fear was associated with concern about losing a job or losing power, taking risks, or failing.

Turf issues included the inability to give up "ownership'' of a problem or strategy, lack of will or ability to take on new tasks, lack of knowledge or respect for others' roles, and being convinced "my way is the best way.''

"The fact that turf is seen as a major obstacle to increasing coordination of services to children and families would seem to be a natural outcome of a system structured with rigid categorical services and specialized service providers,'' the report concludes.

It recommends educating providers of various services about each others' goals and responsibilities, providing incentives for collaboration, and having service providers work on multi-disciplinary teams.

In addition, it urges the development of a "shared vision'' across agencies and the involvement of the community and parents in developing policies and programs.

The report says education institutions should offer "cross training'' to broaden the perspective of people pursuing education, social work, and health careers and recommends retraining people in those fields to refine their consensus-building, conflict-resolution, problem-solving, and decisionmaking skills.

Single copies of the report, "Cutting Through the Red Tape: Meeting the Needs of California's Children,'' are available for $9.95 each, and multiple copies at lower rates, from the California School Boards Association, Publication Sales Office, 1600 Beacon Blvd., West Sacramento, Calif. 95691.

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