Removing Non-Academic Barriers in Urban Schools: School-Linked Social Services

By Muñoz, Marco A.; Owens, Deborah et al. | Planning and Changing, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Removing Non-Academic Barriers in Urban Schools: School-Linked Social Services


Muñoz, Marco A., Owens, Deborah, Bartlett, Carol, Planning and Changing


The old African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child," remains true today. Some would disagree and say it is the sole responsibility of the family to raise a child. That may be true, if the family unit were intact for all of America's children. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Today, in our nation, children arc living in poverty at a more alarming rate than ever before. The poverty rate in 2011 was 15%, up from 12.5% in 2007, with 46.2 million people in poverty (United States Census Bureau, 2011).

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson began his noble "War on Poverty" to eradicate poverty from the lives of America's children. Yet, in 2009, an increasing number of students come to school with a myriad of problems. This is often times the result of generational poverty. Many of the intellectual, social, physical, emotional, mental, and health-related issues have their roots in poverty, and these factors place students at risk (McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhirter, 2007). Poverty is a major risk factor for students, but it is not the only risk factor youth face. Today, youth grapple with such complex problems as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, suicide, and youth violence among others. These risk factors affect students from all socioeconomic backgrounds (McWhirter et al., 2007).

In an effort to assist students with removing some of the barriers to education they bring with them, a movement ensued to provide students with needed services at school. Over the past two decades, some school districts across the nation have become seriously committed to mitigating students' needs by providing services to address them. The overarching theory of action is that if we address students' unmet needs, then teaching and learning will occur. Consequently, students could perform better academically, placing them on a better trajectory in life.

Researchers agree that children and families must receive health and social services (including counseling, tutoring, family planning, day care facilities, employment training, and placement) within their social context. However, debates exist regarding which model of service integration is the most effective. Chaskin and Richman ( 1992) argue for a community-based model "in which a diversity of service providers, administrative contexts, and institutions work under collaborative governance in a system of linked services" (p. 107). In this model, the school plays a lesser role. In the schoolbased model, the school is the dominant player. In the school-linked social services model, the school is a collegial partner. According to Crowson and Boyd (1993), the school-linked model seems most successful.

School-Linked Social Services and Full-Service Community Schools

The genesis of school-linked social services reform movement has its roots in the work of renowned American psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner. Bronfenbrenner (1979) argues that the present theoretical orientations were limited to the ecological systems that only contained the child (i.e., family, classroom, peer group). These theoretical orientations rarely include the nature and requirements of the parents' work, uniqueness of the neighborhood, and the relation between school and community among others. His work laid the foundation for future research in child development and the role of additional ecological factors, such as youth service centers, in the success of adolescents.

Full-service community schools arose out of the concept that, in order to succeed, all students should have all of their needs met, including non-academic needs. Health, mental health, and other services provided at schools can make a difference; in fact, schools can be an optimum setting for providing these services. The full-service community school model places the emphasis on prevention. Dryfoos ( 1994) calls for a "revolution in the delivery of health and social services for children and families" (p. 205). …

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