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Schools and Systems of Care: We Work Together

Educators and children’s mental health advocates want the same things for children and youth: higher academic achievement, lower absenteeism, and fewer behavioral problems, resulting in more time for teaching and learning. Systems of Care can help achieve those goals. A System of Care is a coordinated network of community-based services and supports that is organized to meet the challenges of children and youth with serious mental health needs and their families.

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Children and Youth Is Critical

Effective instruction is compromised when children’s mental health needs are not addressed. Consider the following:

  • Many students struggle with mental health needs. In fact, 5 percent to 9 percent of children and youth have serious mental health needs that make it difficult for them to function at school without proper services and supports. That’s as many as 2 students in a classroom of 30.1
  • Children with serious mental health needs experience high rates of school failure. Fifty percent of these students drop out of high school,2 compared to a dropout rate between 7 percent and 12 percent for the general population.3
  • Unmet mental health needs affect everyone. Students with unmet mental health needs may act out, miss classes or the school day entirely, perform poorly academically, and sometimes even break the law.

Systems of Care Can Help

When children and youth with serious mental health needs receive coordinated services through Systems of Care, they can and do get better.

Systems of Care are...

  • Comprehensive. Partners include education, child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse, and health care professionals, as well as families, faith-based organizations, and other community partners.
  • Guided by common core values. Systems of Care are family-driven and youth-guided, culturally and linguistically competent, and community-based.
  • Effective and accountable. As part of a nationwide initiative, each System of Care is evaluated on the progress it makes toward helping children, youth, and families. Data are gathered regularly to ensure Systems of Care are financially and ethically accountable.

Working Together Benefits Everyone

Systems of Care offer essential resources for schools striving to achieve State and national education mandates. Systems of Care help schools by coordinating community-based services needed to stabilize families in crisis and help improve students’ ability to function. With their emphasis on cross-systems coordination, Systems of Care also improve communication among all professionals serving children and families (e.g., juvenile justice, child welfare, mental health, primary care). These services, in turn, result in a decreased administrative burden on schools that allows educators to focus on what they do best: meeting their students’ academic needs.

Partnerships between schools and Systems of Care can achieve the following benefits:

  • Better emotional outcomes. Children and youth in Systems of Care experience significantly lower levels of depression, better emotional/behavioral health, and a greater sense of competence in school.4
  • Improved student behavior. In one national study of children and youth involved in Systems of Care, school disciplinary actions (being suspended or expelled) decreased by 31 percent after a child had been in a System of Care for 12 months.5
  • Better school attendance. The percentage of children and youth who attended school regularly increased significantly during the first year in a System of Care, with sustained improvement in the second year.6
  • Higher academic performance. The percentage of children and youth with good school performance (defined as achieving an average grade of A, B, or C) also improved by 22 percent.7

Together, we can help children and youth with mental health needs reach their full potential, while helping schools reach their full potential in educating children and youth.


  1. President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. (2003). Final report. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/mentalhealthcommission/reports/FinalReport/downloads/FinalReport.pdf (PDF - 1.35 MB)
  2. Ibid.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences. Fast Facts: Dropout Rates. [Webpage]. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). Systems of Care: Do Supportive Adults and Peers Influence Youth? Washington, DC: Author.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. (2009). The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program: Evaluation findings—Report to Congress, 2009. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/PEP12-CMHI2009/PEP12-CMHI2009.pdf (PDF - 4.54 MB)
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs to talk, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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