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Systems of Care

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Sometimes my blog subjects and my newspaper stories match up quite nicely: last week, around the same time I read and blogged about a story in Newsweek about a young child with bipolar disorder, I wrote a short column for the newspaper on "systems of care."

(Access to Edweek.org is free through June 10)

"Systems of care" does not describe a specific program. Instead, it outlines a philosophy of providing services to children with behavior disorders and their families. The idea is that a partnership of public and private resources -- schools, public agencies, mental health providers -- can be more successful in meeting a family's needs.

That makes sense to me. Who has time to navigate a mental health system when you have a sick child? One-stop shopping seems to be the best way to make sure that a family gets the help it needs.

I found out during the interview for my column that Gary M. Blau, a branch chief in the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration had read the same Newsweek article about the child with bipolar disorder. It seemed to him that the family that the story profiled was not involved in a "systems of care" program model; if so, they might not have had to struggle so hard and so long to find appropriate help for their child. The programs aren't a perfect solution for every situation, but they do prove that when it comes to helping families, there is strength in several agencies working together, he believes.

Several school districts have taken the lead in bringing "systems of care"-style programs to their communities. You can read more about these programs and the work they do at www.systemsofcare.samhsa.gov.

1 Comment

The literature I have read on systems of care reveals a huge deficit in the interface between education and mental health for at least forty years. A piece of this lack of progress can be attributed to professional territoriality. In breaking down these barriers so we can truly communicate to support students and families, we need to educate administrators about the importance of understanding the critical role of the teacher, and not only the counselor, social worker, and psychologist, in providing mental health services. This means adding mental health education for teachers, in addition to pedagogy and content area instruction/experience requirements. Increasing teacher qualifications will require an increase in pay proportionate to the increase in *recognized* professional stature.

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