The last three decades have produced much interest and research focused on improving services for children and adolescents identified with emotional and behavioral disturbances (EBD). Studies focusing on students with EBD have consistently indicated poor outcomes (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Carson, Sitlington, & Frank, 1995; Greenbaum et al., 1998; Wagner, 1995) including educational attainment, employment opportunities, and independence.
While there have been concerted efforts to improve these outcomes, programs have been hampered by burgeoning numbers of students identified with EBD. Students identified with EBD served under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) have become a focus for the U.S. Department of Education. Reports indicate that during the decade 1989-1999 the number of children served in special education grew 30.3 % overall, with a 21.4 % increase in prevalence of EBD during this same time (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).
The growing numbers of youth identified with EBD, coupled with the poor outcomes, has put greater emphasis on the accountability of service providers. In 1990, Congress authorized a new program for youth identified with EBD under Part C of IDEA. This congressional mandate encouraged the development of seven goals aimed at fostering the emotional development and adjustment of children and youth with emotional and behavioral problems (Chesapeake Institute, 1994). Perhaps the goal most difficult to achieve is the creation of comprehensive and collaborative programs geared toward the needs of individuals with EBD. This difficulty becomes apparent when assessing transition outcomes of these students. Individuals with EBD not only have a high dropout rate, but they also have more difficulty adjusting to adulthood than young adults with learning disabilities or mental retardation, even though they were functioning academically as least as well as the youth with learning disabilities (Carson et al., 1995).
While studies continue to analyze outcomes associated with students with EBD, professionals continue to pursue programs that deal most effectively with this population. Part of the debate is complicated by the federal act (IDEA), which requires students to be served in the least restrictive environment. Despite this movement, children with EBD reflect higher rates of placements in segregated settings than children with all other disabilities (Reddy, 2001). Researchers continue to argue the benefits and pitfalls of maintaining a continuum of services and alternative placements (see Kauffman & Hallahan, 1993). Regardless of the hotly debated issue of where a child's needs can best be met, it cannot be denied that outcomes for youth with emotional and behavioral issues are dismal.
Few studies are available that provide strong evidence of success. However, there has been some encouraging work that highlights success in more restrictive settings. One such study, conducted by Tobin and Sugai (1999), looked at middle school students and compared those who had received services in restrictive settings versus those who were integrated in public school settings. The study found that the students who received additional services in restrictive settings were likely to have more success in a less restrictive environment later in high school. Success was attributed to the comprehensive support services received while in middle school.
Farmer, Quinn, Hussey, and Holahan (2001) recognize the complicated formula that places a child at risk for developing social problems. Farmer et al. (2001) have expanded the notion of risk factors in children with emotional and behavioral disorders as well as what it takes to reverse or address these risk factors in a meaningful manner. Children with risk profiles run a far greater risk of developing adjustment problems in academic and social arenas. The presence of multiple risk factors such as peer-relation problems, low academic achievement, aggression, attention problems, hyperactivity, and family difficulties reflect the concept of "correlated constraints" (Farmer et al. …