Speaking at the Ontario People for Education Conference in November 2010, Tara Moore, the Provincial Coordinator of Nova Scotia’s SchoolsPlus, described the new initiative as a “collaborative inter-agency approach to supporting the whole child and family” where “schools become centers of service delivery enabling enhanced collaboration by bringing professionals and programs together to help children, youth and families in a welcoming place.”
The larger vision of SchoolsPlus was to become, in Moore’s words, “the hub of the community and (a place where) services are co-located.” (Moore, P4E, 2010) That proved to be a very tall order for a Nova Scotia program still in its infancy running, at that time, in four school boards with 24 different school sites.
The Nova Scotia SchoolsPlus model was initiated in October 2008 with a lofty but rather nebulous vision. Judging from Moore’s choice of words, it was abundantly clear that SchoolsPlus had been adopted and adapted from an earlier venture in Saskatchewan known as SchoolPLUS TM (Saskatchewan, DOE, 2001; Working Together Handbook, 2002). Furthermore, earlier that year, in May 2010, the champion of the Saskatchewan project, Dr. Michael Tymchak, an Education professor at the University of Regina, had lent his support in a May 2010 speech to the Association of Nova Scotia Educational Administrators (ANSEA).
Although the Nova Scotia model was patterned after Saskatchewan’s, it was also remarkably similar to the Ontario version termed “Integrated Service Delivery”(ISD) (Ontario, MOET, 2010). It actually fell somewhere in-between as a peculiar, chameleon-like hybrid of the two approaches.
The Nova Scotia initiative was primarily sparked by a key recommendation of Nova Scotia Justice Merlin Nunn’s landmark 2006 report, Spiralling Out of Control, focusing on a troubled 16-year old youth, Archie Billard, which then found its way into Our Kid’s Are Worth It, the much heralded 2007 strategy to close the gaps in front-line support services.
Social service providers tend to focus their energies on rescuing and supporting children and youth described as “falling through the cracks.” Justice Nunn surprised many by reaching the opposite conclusion: “From a young age,” Nunn wrote,” AB and his family had substantial involvement with government social service agencies and personnel, education supports, and health facilities. Whether that was enough is another question.”
My latest AIMS research report, Reclaiming At-Risk Children and Youth (June 2013) demonstrates that, while SchoolsPlus (SP) is a worthwhile provincial integrated services delivery (ISD) initiative, it is in need of a ‘mid-term correction’ to ensure its ultimate success and reach its target population, the 5 to 10 per cent of children and youth at risk of going off-the rails.
Champions of SP are hard to find in the school system, outside of the Chignecto-Central and South Shore school boards, and provincial education authorities are very protective of information about the whole venture. Much of the focus is clearly on better coordinating existing public social services rather than the expected core mission–building “communities of care,” fostering resilience from an early age, and reclaiming “at risk” children, youth and families.
Over the past three years, inter-departmental service cooperation has increased, particularly in established SchoolsPlus hub sites. Mental health services are now being introduced, largely as a result of the herculean and inspired efforts of Dalhousie psychiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher.
Making a wider range of services and supports available is a laudable achievement, but limiting public access to regular school hours, and enforcing restrictive Community Use of Schools regulations, (i.e.,$2 million in liability insurance), only serves to maintain the entrenched “boundaries” that stand in the way of genuine two-way community interaction in the schools.
Engaging with new, less familiar community development partners, like Pathways to Education, would produce far better results, as evidenced by the amazing success of Pathways Spryfield. With a more flexible, adaptable approach, SchoolsPlus could well become a far more effective presence in Dartmouth North and other inner city high dropout zones.
The true vision of “wraparound” services and supports will not be realized until SchoolsPlus is re-engineered and begins to draw far more on the strengths and talents of local communities, working with parents and families, and tapping into services closest to where people live and work.
The SchoolsPlus initiative has achieved the goal of provincial coverage – with eight boards and 95 current sites. Yet expanding the number of sites and supports is only half the battle. It’s far more important to keep your sights on the core mission — improving the quality and intensity of frontline services to struggling children and youth — and their families. Without a “mid-term correction,” this promising initiative may run aground much like its predecessor in Saskatchewan.
What is the real purpose of Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) models being introduced into the school system? Why do ISD initiatives like SchoolsPlus and SchoolPLUS face such systemic resistance? What does it take to successfully transform schools into “communities of care” for struggling children and youth? And how do we get there?