AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The Children, Youth, and Families Initiative is broadening traditional "specialized" services in eight Chicago communities.
The United States is in a mood to fix things: from health care reform to welfare reform to school reform to campaign finance reform to tort reform. The social services - child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, and others - are very much a part of this reform movement. For example, since 1976, child welfare departments have seen an increase of more than 330 percent in child abuse and neglect reports.(1) In 1994, the national rate of substantiated or indicated reports was 38 percent, representing over one million children.(2) By the end of 1993, the number of children in substitute care was 449,000, up from 340,000 five years earlier.(3) These and other pressures - including media attention, class-action litigation, and federal legislation - are combining to push child welfare agencies toward developing better ways to address child and parent problems and to respond to the caseloads they are confronting.
The reforms now under way generally accept the existing definition of social services and tend to focus on long-standing problems identified with them, including single-problem focuses; fragmentation; and centralized planning, financing, and control of existing services. It is possible, however, to start with a broader and more fundamental view of services for children and families and to adopt a definition of services that incorporates a range of now largely overlooked resources that can support the development and functioning of children and families and enhance the contributions of public welfare agencies.
These resources are activities, facilities, and events provided by organizations that are part of families' familiar social worlds. For children and youth, they include before- and after-school programs, religious youth groups, art and music programs, team sports, community service, and youth entrepreneurship opportunities. They also include opportunities specifically for parents, such as drop-in centers, parent education, parent support, and self-help programs - activities aimed at reinforcing parents' competence and enhancing their satisfaction in parenting and family life. For both children and parents, they offer access to the facilities and programs of parks, libraries, community centers, and settlement houses; local branches of national organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs and the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations; and community-based grassroot organizations.
These resources are available for voluntary use, most often without an elaborate process of certifying need or eligibility. Through their roots in communities and their informal ways of relating to children and parents, they provide opportunities to develop the capacities needed to function adequately in childhood and adult life; they offer natural sources of help to vulnerable children and parents; and they strengthen what the traditional, problem-oriented services can achieve.
The Role and Importance of Primary Services
The Children, Youth, and Families Initiative is a $30 million, decadelong grant-making initiative to improve child and family services. Now in its fourth year and active in eight Chicago-area communities (see page 15), the initiative is testing a broadened definition of social services that includes not only the treatment - or specialized - services necessary for people experiencing difficulties, but also the resources described above, which focus on development. These primary services are a potentially powerful point of access for the existing social services and for a broadly redefined social-service system in which the primary and specialized services operate as full and complementary partners.(4)
Primary services promote individual capacities for coping and resilience. Moreover, some children and parents who can find help for problems early and easily among the primary services are less likely to need - or to need so profoundly - specialized services. For those who require specialized services, whether from time to time or on a sustained basis, primary services can reinforce the process and maximize benefits. Primary services can be productive partners with specialized services by providing opportunities to apply what is being learned. As schools have found in mainstreaming children with disabilities, primary services can offer settings in which accepted standards of behavior are expected and in which a sense of inclusion and social support can reinforce the motivation to invest in treatment.
Recognition of the importance of these two ideas - promotion of development and remediation of problems - is not new, nor is the idea of service organizations' offering the two in combination. The settlement house, one of the oldest continuing vehicles for providing social services, has long taken this approach, providing individual and family opportunities in communities and bringing specialized expertise to bear in the treatment of individual and family problems. Many contemporary specialized providers incorporate a development perspective in their work on individual and family problems. This dual perspective among specialized providers is likely to increase, as a number of reform initiatives in progress are including parent support and after-school activities in the mix of what they are providing. These nontreatment resources, however, are still viewed by most as less central than the specialized, treatment-oriented services.
One of the new things about this initiative is the belief that the two kinds of services should be equal and interactive partners in a comprehensive system that can both address problems and promote development. Bringing both kinds of services together into a single system can maximize the benefits of each for both providers and participants.
The benefits that primary services can provide - enhancing development, offering support and natural sources of help, and reinforcing specialized services - are achieved through both the opportunities they offer and the ways in which they interact with participants. Currently not part of any system, they are ordinarily not seen as social services. Viewed as a network of resources, however, primary services can play a central role in a more purposefully organized system of child and family services aimed at promoting development and addressing problems.
The following examples of primary services are drawn from a national study of programs identified as among the best of their kind; and they are located in the communities in which the Children, Youth, and Families Initiative is focusing.(5)
Participation in primary services can enable children and parents to develop and maintain physical vitality, to be resourceful in applying knowledge and skills in effective action, to make and sustain caring relationships, and to gain a sense of connection to a larger community.(6)
Promoting physical vitality. Organized activities and sports facilities can enable children and parents to enjoy building and sustaining physical well-being. In addition to what basic health care and health education provide, primary services can enable participants to build physical vitality by learning athletic skills and integrating exercise into daily life. Physical activities can provide chances to master increasingly demanding challenges, to learn to …