N.G.A. Documents Integrated Services for Children

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Some 30 states have put in place initiatives to make services and programs for children and families more cohesive and comprehensive, according to a new report from the National Governors' Association.

The report says strategies to meet the national education goals set by the governors and President Bush in 1990--as well as concern about the declining status of children and the rising cost of supporting "dysfunctional'' families--have inspired a flurry of state and local efforts to improve and integrate child and family services.

The reforms, which span the education, health, and human-services sectors, include reorganizing agencies, creating "children's cabinets'' to plot long-term strategies, setting up "one-stop shopping'' resource centers for families, streamlining program-eligibility rules, pooling funding sources, and cross-training agency workers.

None of these approaches are "magic bullets,'' the report concedes, for such underlying problems as underfunded programs, fragmentation among federal children's programs and Congressional committees, or "the politics of meeting constituent demands.''

"At least in the short run, these approaches can neither restore public confidence in government nor insure that children are supported in their growth and development,'' the report states.

'New Political Culture'

But the "good news,'' it says, is that policymakers have become more aware of the need for systemic reforms in how institutions deliver aid. Moreover, there is a "new political culture'' driving the movement to reshape government structures to better serve families.

The report cites in particular five states participating in the Pew Charitable Trusts' Children's Initiative--Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Rhode Island--for their efforts to identify federal statutory and regulatory barriers to system reform.

Pew officials decided last month, however, to terminate the initiative. (See related story, page 9.)

While Kentucky and New Jersey have been considered pioneers in launching school-based resource centers and youth programs, a number of other states also have launched service-integration collaboratives in recent years.

Rhode Island, for example, has announced plans to invest more than $435,000 to launch family centers providing an array of health and social services in 20 of the state's 36 school districts. The centers, launched under a partnership between the state departments of education, health, and substance abuse, and the Rhode Island and Southeastern New England foundations, will be coordinated by communities to meet local needs.

Missouri last month announced an initiative to set up centers for learning and neighborhood services at four pilot school sites, under a partnership between the state social-services department, the Kansas City school district, the Local Investment Commission, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The centers, which will be based at city schools but also open to neighborhood residents, will offer health, counseling, and referral services.

Obstacles to Integration

The key obstacles service-integration efforts have faced, the N.G.A. report says, include philosophical and professional differences among child-serving agencies and individuals; resistance to change; public distrust or lack of understanding of programs; difficulties shifting from a focus on crisis to one on prevention; lack of a clear agenda; fiscal constraints and fragmentation; and poor collection and use of data.

The report urges governors and policymakers to highlight the long-term consequences of failing to offer comprehensive services, and to build accountability structures that target specific child and family outcomes and use resources more efficiently.

Copies of the report, "Changing Systems for Children and Families,'' are available for $19.50 each from N.G.A. Publications, P.O. Box 421, Annapolis Junction, Md. 20701.

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