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An unlikely partnership helps families get needed social services for kids

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“Innovation” is a term not often associated with large systems such as the School District of Philadelphia or the city’s Department of Human Services (DHS). Nevertheless, for the past 10 years, these two systems, with similar missions but separate funding streams, have maintained a partnership to help children overcome barriers to learning.

Conceived as a response to student needs for social and behavioral health services, Consultation and Education Specialists (C&Es) have been supported by the District’s Office of Specialized Instructional Services and DHS’s Division of Community-Based Prevention Services. The program continues despite some changes this year.

Hired through contracted behavioral health agencies, the C&Es are placed in schools only after being interviewed by the principal.

“We didn’t want to repeat past mistakes of placing people in a school that the school doesn’t want or setting up barriers to receiving service,” says Ernest Bailey, director of the C&E program at DHS.

The C&E services are free and available to all families; they do not require insurance, medical assistance, or a mental health diagnosis. The only obstacle is getting parental consent – which sometimes can be difficult with families in crisis. 

The C&Es provide short-term school-based case management services for students, usually referred through CSAP (the Comprehensive Student Assistance Process), though that step can be waived.

Students are referred to the service for truancy, challenging behaviors, trauma/crisis concerns, or adjustment problems. C&Es also support the school by offering group sessions on anger management, conflict resolution, social skills, and peer mediation for students, and professional development for teachers on classroom management and socialized recess. 

Families are connected to available social services through mandatory home visits, establishing a personal contact with the school.

“It’s very valuable to have someone who’s knowledgeable about the social services. They can offer a service that is beyond the time or ability of those in our school,” says Frank Murphy, principal of Meade School. 

“Their services can be invaluable,” agrees Marion McGovern, counselor at Grover Washington Middle School, “especially when there is good collaboration with the counselors and other support staff.”

The C&E program began in 1999 with three C&Es in nine South Philadelphia schools, but by 2008 grew to 102 in 204 public schools.

Outcomes of the program are encouraging. Nearly 80 percent of students who entered the C&E program achieved the goals of their case management plan, according to the Outcome Framework Pilot Project Report by the Center for the Support of Families. Suspensions among those in the program decreased by nearly 60 percent.

This year, with drastic cuts in DHS’s budget, the District opted to pick up the tab for the program. But due to uncertainty about the transition, more than 20 of the veteran C&E staff departed. District funds for the program had to be scaled back as well.

Still, discussions to strengthen the program continue, and the District is currently posting a request for proposals for a new model to begin in January. This will add personnel qualified to do “clinically-informed counseling” in high schools and middle schools. 

The stepped-up program will be paid for through federal stimulus funds for 18 months, with hopes for continued funding from the city or District in the future. And C&E services should be available at least on a part-time basis to every school.

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