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The Safety Net Program Health And Social Care Essay

The Safety Net program administered by the Child and Family Guidance Center is a school based intervention program.  “Safety Net - Intervention Services for High Risk Youth”, was administered to 160 students, at Richardson West Junior High School, during the 2009 – 2010 school years. The students are referred for program participation by parents, teachers or other school personnel for prevention or early intervention of behavioral concerns that hinder school success. However, program participation is voluntary and even with parental permission; student must exhibit willingness for program participation. Safety Net is a ten- week peer facilitated curriculum based intervention model, administered during the school day. The Safety Net program provides a full range of prevention and early intervention services including preventive education, counseling and skills training.

The Ohio - Youth Problem, Functioning, and Satisfaction Scales, is the assessment instrument administered to program participants for outcome measure. The 48-question short answer form measures students perceived problems, compared with students perceived functioning, within the past thirty days. The assessment instrument, administered in the form of a pre and post-test survey, administered prior to intervention and again at the culmination of the ten-week Safety Net program participation. By comparing, the mean average of the 160 student participants pre and post- test scores, evaluating for subject group average of each, assessing for statistical difference, after program completion to determine the effectiveness of the Safety Net program for this subject group.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of the Safety Net program

An examination of current literature on school based intervention is expected to prove that school based intervention is an effective method for treating children. Coupled with an analysis of descriptive statistical data from the Safety Net program, for the purpose of program evaluation the Safety Net program will prove to be an effective intervention method, for the 160 children -student participation group.

The decision to explore the topic of the effectiveness of school based intervention programs came as the result of a practicum experience as a Safety Net counselor, while serving as a graduate student intern for the Child and Family Guidance Center, in Dallas, TX, spring 2010. As a social work professional and former special education teacher, the well-being of children and the programs and intervention methods used to treat them is personally relevant. Child welfare social policy remains an evolving forerunner, in America, which sustains the timeliness of this body of research. Many school-based intervention programs receive federal funding therefore; all taxpaying citizens are stakeholders in the well-being of today’s children who are the essence of societal future and therefore, this research is relative and informational to a broad audience.

The Family and Child Guidance Centers Inc, dba Child and Family Guidance Centers is a non-profit corporation serving families impacted by mental illness, child abuse and neglect, high-risk behaviors, and substance abuse. The agencies mission is, “To provide quality accessible mental health services to strengthen children, families, and communities.”Established in 1896, Child and Family Guidance Center has nurtured children, strengthened families, and empowered individuals by providing comprehensive solutions to life's problems through counseling, education, public awareness, and community partnerships for over 113 years. The Safety Net Program is one of many programs included under the parent body of services that Child and Family Guidance Center provides. Others include Psychiatric & Therapy Based Services for Adults, Children, and Families Program. This equips families with skills/resources to reduce chronic problems including mental illness, family violence, child abuse, and homelessness through an array of family focused, mental health services. Intensive Services for Children with Mental Illness (Severe Emotional Disturbance) Program provides intensive clinical services to children with the disability of serious mental illness to enable them to successfully function in their home and school environments and to effectively transition to adulthood. Using a “wrap-around” approach, they provide community-based services to address behavioral health needs using strength-based goals and the integration of community services. Co-occurring Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services Program provides prevention/intervention services to youth with behavioral issues that put them at risk for substance abuse/addiction. As well as providing treatment to individuals diagnosed with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse to reduce the negative consequences of the dual diseases. Parent & Family Education - The Family and Community Education Program (FACE) serve families affected by child abuse, divorce, or dysfunction.  It seeks to stabilize families by teaching skills to address problems that stress family systems and put family members at risk.  (Child and Family Guidance Center is the sole provider of parenting education services to Child Protective Services for 19 county regions within the state of Texas. Finally, the Safety Net - Intervention Services for High Risk Youth, the school based intervention program that serves as the source of this program evaluation. Child and Family Guidance Center is a nationally acclaimed program, renowned for its respect and endorsement by the Federal government, as proven by the continued successful acquisition of federal funding and notable use of resources sanctioned with Federal endorsement. Child and Family Guidance Center has been a recognized partner of the United- Way since 1924 (Childandfamilies.info).

Children are a special population, who possess a special propensity for change therefore, “it is easier to add strength than it is to subtract from weakness” (Openshaw, 2008, p. 91). By identifying these students and addressing, high-risk behaviors, in middle school, places these students at an advantage, as they are able to receive the necessary support to become resilient and the tools necessary for school success. “Having observed that every person has the ability to overcome adversity if important protective factors are present in that person’s life”, it is inherit that at risk students are identified and receive treatment in school based intervention programs such as Safety Net (Krovetz, 1999). Resilient children have been found to possess four common attributes:

Social competence (the ability to elicit positive responses from others, thus establishing positive relationships with both adults and peers).

Problem- solving skills (planning and resourcefulness in seeking help from others)

Autonomy (a sense of one’s own identity and an ability to act independently and exert some control over one’s environment).

A sense of purpose and future (goals, educational aspirations, persistence, hopefulness, and a sense of a bright future) (Benard, 1993, p. 44).

Students who participate in the Safety Net program, must be willing participants, they must display the ability to get along with the Safety Net counselor as well as display the maturity to function within a peer-facilitated group. A student who meets the minimum requirements for participation in the Safety Net program, already possess the inherit strength of resiliency. “Never underestimate the power of resiliency” (Nims & Hamm, 2006).

Although students must come to the Safety Net program willingly, they must have parental/ guardian permission, which includes a parental pre and post -test. This serves a form of parental support, in that parents must observe and be able to report out on their students’ behavior (Cooper, 2000). As well, Safety Net counselors are required to document a minimum of ten contacts, with each participant, teachers, guardian or other mental health professional. This practice cultivates an automatic support system for each individual student participant. With knowledge of program participation, students become inadvertently accountable to multiple adults, who are likely concerned with their overall well-being. This practice as well cultivates caring adult relationships that students may rely on, at the conclusion of the Safety Net program. One of the first assignments given at the initiation of the ten-week program term is the selection of a “Safe Adult” by each student and both parties must sign a contractual agreement of accountability and support. The student is told to select an adult that they may contact in the event of crisis, need for support or advice. This is a support system of the students own initiation, this practice cultivates problem solving skills, autonomy and a sense of purpose (Hallfors, 2006).

The above practice of the Safety Net program in cultivating, every student’s propensity for resiliency also, establishes the protective factors that are empirically necessary for overcoming adversity (Openshaw, p.92, 2008). These factors documented as being necessary for overcoming adversity within the family, school and community. To the acclaim of the Safety Net Program, before ever delving into the empirically based curriculum, as well predisposes, an environment conducive for resiliency and health by:

“Establish a caring environment”- at least one adult who knows the child well and cares deeply about the well-being of that child. This program affords each child the autonomy to identify multiple caring adults, at school, at home or in their community.

This caring adult is then in a position to display in a non -threatening manner, “positive expectations, high clearly articulated expectations for each child and the purposeful support necessary to meet those expectations. Many students, generally, would not identify an adult and request, clear expectations for behavior.

This program affords each student “participation- meaningful involvement and responsibility (Krovetz, 1999).

Professional values and beliefs regarding service as a Safety Net Counselor include but are not limited to the following:

As a professional social worker interning within a non- social work specific position, one must rely on NASW’s Code of Ethics as a guide to ethical decision making (NASW, 2002, Standard I), experiencing ethical dilemmas in maintaining social work values in a non-social work setting. This code of conduct is especially important when functioning in an intern role, contracted with an agency that places your service assignment inside another entity, such as a school. First, one must consider the agencies policies, which may or may not align with social work values and then the additive of adhering to the schools policies and procedures, which may not align with the overall values of the social work profession. In instances such as this, it is imperative for social workers to adhere, as closely as possible to the specified guidelines of both of their employing bodies and when in doubt or conflict should refer to and adhere to NASW’s Code of Ethics. Ethical dilemmas are possible and likely in all levels of practice, but especially during the Practicum experience, as the social work professional is likely charting new professional ground. Therefore, it is imperative for student interns in all settings to be familiar with agency policy as well as their own professional ethics, which will usually guide their values.

Regarding the aspects of diversity, school settings, are usually comprised of diverse populations. These diverse populations range from socio- economic status, race, color and national origin to language differentiation and age. Regarding age, when practicing within a school setting one must be prepared and adequately equipped to address students, parents, school personnel/ other professionals and the community. A personal value in working with children is the need to master and display cultural competence and sensitivity. This is an ethical mandate but as a former educator and one with a deep affinity for the well- being of children, it is imperative, to display cultural competence and sensitivity without inadvertently precipitating exclusion (Fallick, 2008).

The Child and Family Guidance Center’s adoption and implementation of the “Safety Net - Intervention Services for High Risk Youth,” program is likely motivated by the availability of State and Federal funding however the program’s design is in keeping with the agencies overall mission, “To provide quality accessible mental health services to strengthen children, families, and communities.” Therefore, based on the agencies stated mission, the agency is likely passionate about the outcomes of this particular program. Intrinsically, the programs design is in keeping with their target audience, extrinsically the agency receives reward for program implementation in the form of grant funding. This combination of motivators creates a diverse, yet balanced motivation for program implementation (Fallick 2008).

The goal of this program evaluation is to determine the effectiveness of the Safety Net program. The desired outcome is to prove that school based intervention programs such as Safety Net is an effective method for the treatment of behavioral and mental health concerns in children. Do such programs, specifically the Safety Net Program, meet their stated objectives of drop- out prevention, character building, resiliency and life-skill development for at-risk youth? It is one’s expectation that the implementation of intervention in the form of curriculum based, peer- facilitated groups will have a lasting effect on participants overall school success. This programs administration occurs within the general education setting, and while program participants exhibit behavioral concerns that preclude their involvement in more mainstream activities, participation in the Safety Net program is a preventative and early intervention strategy. By utilizing evidence-based practice, in the form of student-centered curricula, cultivating resiliency and developing a support system of each individual student’s choice, the social worker/ Safety Net Counselor is able to utilize their self, their professional knowledge as well as the student’s peers in a positive way to effect change. The goals and target outcomes set forth by Safety Net program Changes that will promote the desired outcome of students’ success in school, including:

Dropout prevention, precluded by excessive absence and other forms of behavioral problems, necessitated by deficient social skills and other internally regulated tools, such as self-efficacy and motivation

Character building, in the form of self-esteem, self-awareness, judgment and communication

Resiliency-the development of a support system of student’s choice and identification of cognitive behavioral tools to overcome problems with family and peers

Life – skills development, in the form, of goal development, drug and alcohol awareness and prevention

Noted school Social Work expert ascertains that, “one possible solution to the dropout problem is for social workers to work closely with middle schools to help identify those students who appear to be at risk when they enter high school. These students may be in special education or in alternative programs, may have failed classes, or received counseling from the school counselor to help them cope with school- related problems”(Openshaw, 2008, p. 122). This is precisely the criterion norm for identification as a candidate for the Safety Net program, as administered at Richardson West Junior High School. Parents, teachers, counselors and other school personnel, identify Safety Net program participants, by identifying students with excessive absence, which is often an indicator of a family in need of support, or a student who may be intentionally missing school or one whom is intentionally absent from certain classes during the school day. Students who receive excessive office referral or discipline for behavioral infraction, excessive disciplinary action in the form of in- school and alternative placement based suspension. As well as the identification of students, who have had a need to speak with school counselors for assistance in coping with school-related problems. Children are a very resilient client population, with prevention and early intervention; Safety Net counselors are postured with the assistance of individual student’s immediate stakeholders to identify at-risk students and illicit positive change, by implementing the curriculum by design. With the necessary components in place as afforded by the Project Success curriculum, successful completion of the ten- week curriculum based group sessions, an expectation for student improvement towards the targeted behaviors is eminent. By identifying at-risk students, the Safety Net counselor is able to “prevent problems before they occur”. The programs, curriculum is structured so that the student with the assistance, of the Safety Net counselor receives the assurance of caring adults, identification of issues before they escalate and the establishment of a peer support group (Openshaw, 2008, p. 123). Apparent goal differentiation between, the agency, the school and the community does not exist.

Social science research ascertains that schools are the primary providers of mental health services for children. As opposed to primary care physicians and other mental health professionals who primarily serve as the mental health interventionalist for adults. Research ascertains school based intervention feasibility based on the fact that children are required to attend school (Hoagwood, Holly, Erwin, 1997). In children mental, emotional and behavioral health difficulties are most often first noted within the school setting and thus should logically be addressed within the school setting, as the first line of intervention and moreover prevented if and when possible (Bums et al., 1995). The value of providing mental health services in schools was first recognized in this country in 1898 in Chicago, IL, in response to a student survey on physical and mental health. Based on the survey’s findings, the Chicago school board authorized the first model of school-based intervention programming for childhood mental health (French 1990).

The Safety Net program, administered by the Child and Family Guidance Center is one such school based intervention program. The Safety Net program- Intervention Services for High Risk Youth is a drop- out prevention, character building, resiliency and life -skill development program for at-risk youth.  It is an in-school partnership program to help at-risk youth increase positive decision-making skills and decrease high-risk behaviors. The program provides a full range of prevention/early intervention services including preventive behavioral tools skills education, counseling, and skills training.

The program utilizes the Project SUCCESS (Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students) Curriculum, a research-based intervention model program recommended by the Federal Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (CFGC, 2010). The curriculums design seeks to reduce high-risk behaviors and improve resiliency factors in at-risk youth.

An examination of current literature on school based intervention is expected to prove that school based intervention is an effective method for treating children. These research findings paired with an analysis of statistical data obtained via the Ohio- test, from recent Safety Net program participants, for the purpose of program evaluation will likely prove the Safety Net program as an effective model of school based intervention method.

Research conducted on school based intervention, ascertains that the study of innovations and change in school systems is not new. What is innovative is a rigorous outcome evaluation of a family of school – based interventions that targets the same problem behavior among a school age population. (Hallfors,etl., 2006) . An integration of existing research coupled with the tenable data obtained as a reflection of this programs integrity in comparison with the national acclaim that the subject matter herein has received will prove this integrative paper to be both timely and relevant to current social policy regarding the future of youth. This mounting body of research on school based intervention and prevention continues to evolve and cultivate prevalence. Prevalence, in large due to its presentation in a large federal grant and National campaign from a consortium of agencies including; (Department of Education, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Center for Mental Health Services) as part of a Safe Schools/ Healthy Students federal initiative (Hallfors,etl., 2006).

Project Success, (Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students) was originally designed to prevent and reduce substance use and abuse among high risk, multi-problem adolescents in alternative high school settings. It was based on the Residential Student Assistance Program (RSAP) model used in residential adolescent treatment facilities, and adapted from the Westchester Student Assistance Program (WSAP). The Student Assistance Program (SAP) model is similar to that of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) used to help employees with substance use or mental health concerns (Shamblin, 2009) found six published reports that suggested that SAPs maybe effective in reducing substance use and improving academic performance for some adolescents; however, they reported that the studies suffered from significant methodological problems.

The Safety Net program is primarily based in the Systems theory of treatment, in that it assist students in the evaluation of their environment, in order to help them thrive. It approaches all of the components that comprise a student’s life, home, school, peers, community and self. There are a few definitions of systems, that comprise the theory as a whole; Multiple definitions:

A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts forming a complex whole

A configuration of parts joined together by a web of relationships

The parts form a whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts

For the purpose of the research study, most students fall into the category of organic systems, defined as: Dynamical patterns – parts adapting to each other and to their environment as a whole

Parts are massively entangled, interdependent

Parts self-organize, learn, co-evolve organically

Equilibrium in flux - sensitive to initial conditions

System not replicable, can’t repeat past

Emergent change – manage conditions of organic development and experimentation

Unknown unknowns – trial and error (Pawlick, 2004).

The program targets middle school children; learning to adapt and thrive in their environment is a life skill that is transferable throughout the course of life. Giving students the tools to understand that their actions affect those around them, and that the actions of others affect them, is a vital component of the skill set development that Safety Net seeks to administer.

The Safety Net program, according to The Project Success, Curriculum Implementation Manuel (p.21) is based on a body of research known as the Prevention Education Series, a Safety Net Counselor conducts this educational series, it is comprised of small, structured, leader-directed, peer facilitated, discussion groups. The Series combines both didactic and experimental approaches to achieve its goals. The Safety Net program- Intervention Services for High Risk Youth is a drop- out prevention, character building, resiliency and life -skill development program for at-risk youth.  It is an in-school partnership program to help at-risk youth increase positive decision-making skills and decrease high-risk behaviors. The program provides a full range of prevention/early intervention services including preventive behavioral tools skills education, counseling, and skills training. By conducting one-hour weekly groups, for ten weeks, the intervention is set into motion. During the ten weeks, the curriculum outlines the following lessons, as a recommended format:

∙Topic 1 Being an Adolescent

∙ Topic 2 Alcohol Tobacco, and other drugs

∙ Topic 3 Family Pressures and Problems

∙ Topic 4 Skills for Coping

∙ Topic 5 Communication

∙ Topic 6 Problem Recognition and Resolution

∙ Topic 7 Stress management and self-exploration

∙Topic 8 Self esteem issues

∙Topic 9 Anger management

∙Topic 10 Peer Pressure and Closure

At the close of the ten-week process, the students, receive the Ohio assessment again, as a posttest and an outcome measure for determining if students developed an understanding of the lesson, and the ability to implement the skills.

According the Project Success Manuel the expected outcomes of the Safety Net program are as follows: dropout prevention, precluded by excessive absence and other forms of behavioral problems, necessitated by deficient social skills and other internally regulated tools, such as self-efficacy and motivation. Through the lessons outlined in the curriculum guide, the expectation is that students will receive the necessary coping and social skills for school success and high school prevention. The next targeted outcome is character building, in the form of self-esteem, self-awareness, judgment and communication. The desired outcome that follows character development is resiliency, the development of a support system of student’s choice and identification of cognitive behavioral tools to overcome problems with family and peers. The final desired outcome of the Safety Net Program and Project Success curriculum is life – skills development, in the form of goal development, drug and alcohol awareness and prevention.

After program referral, selection for the Safety Net program, intervention method relies on the confidential screening form on which students personally identify behaviors, which place them in a high-risk category, of dropping out of school or other foreseeable behavioral, academic or legal problems of a criminal nature. This form assesses risk, in order to identify high-risk students. Once, students are deemed to be “high risk” they are given a pre-test, they undergo ten weeks of intervention, targeted behavioral modifications will be discussed in the body of the paper. At the culmination of the ten- week intervention, students take a posttest; these two tests receive scientific comparison as a means of determining program effectiveness. As well, student’s parent or guardian takes a parental version of the same assessment tool; parental data will be included in the evaluation as well.

Students who participate in the Safety Net program, must be willing participants, they must display the ability to get along with the Safety Net counselor as well as display the maturity to function within a peer-facilitated group. A student who meets the minimum requirements for participation in the Safety Net program, already possess the inherit strength of resiliency. “Never underestimate the power of resiliency” (Nims & Hamm, 2006).

The students, which the Safety Net program accepts for participation, must exhibit a desire for program participation. Safety Net counselors are advised not force or encourage participation of any students, who does not exhibit a willingness to be a part of the group therapy process.

The assessment apparatus herein described as the Ohio - The Ohio Mental Health Consumer Outcomes System, Youth Problem, and Functioning and, Satisfaction Scale is an assessment administered in the form a pre and posttest survey containing 48 questions given to- both parents and student participants. The instrument consist of 20 questions in regard to daily functioning, 8 questions regarding relationships, stress and mental health treatment and finally 20 questions regarding everyday activity in relation to household and peer relatedness.

Ethical considerations for working with children, include the following

Basic policy that affects students, participating in programs such as this, IDEA- Individuals with Disabilities Act, NCLB- No Child Left Behind, and educational best practices of each in relation to the NASW Code of Ethics

The completion of this program evaluation, defined as a set of philosophies and methods that aim to determine “what works” in human service delivery systems (Grinnell, 2007). The completion of this program evaluation utilized the implementation of quantitative data analysis utilizing descriptive statistics and a paired samples t-test as the methodology. By implementing, the one group pretest-post test as the research design, for the collection, each student’s pre and post Ohio test score. The paired samples t-test was ran to determine the groups Ohio assessment average score, in order to determine if a statistically significant difference was present after completing the Safety Net program. For the purpose of determining if program participation, depicts an improvement in this sample groups behavioral functioning, as stated in response to the Ohio test questionnaire. The hypothesis, established for this research design, states that the Safety Net program would prove to be an effective treatment method for the sample group, which if proven, could likely repeat, in a broader study of the program’s effectiveness.

The sample consisted of secondary data, in the form of a pre and post-test collected on 120 student participants, during the 2009-2010 school years. The Ohio assessment apparatus contained 48 questions given to student participants, as a means of assessing students problem severity in comparison to student’s level of functioning prior to intervention and at the culmination of ten weeks of intervention. The instrument consists of 20 questions regarding daily functioning, 8 questions regarding relationships, stress and mental health treatment and finally 20 questions regarding everyday activity in relation to school, home and peer relatedness.

The statistics for the sample group are as follows:

Pre- Test

Mean: 76

Standard Deviation 10

Post- Test

Mean:80

Standard Deviation: 8

T-stat: 3.9

The T- stat, determination of 3.9 is statistically significant with a measure level .05, as the significance indicator. The data conclusively proves that the student’s levels of perception regarding functioning when compared with student perceived problems, significantly increased after completion of the Safety Net Intervention program. The results suggest that the students perceived functioning in relation to their problems improved from 76 to 78.

One flaw in the researches design is that it does not consider the Ohio scores of the parents and teachers who may have a more objective opinion than the student is allowing for a broader interpretation of outcome (Grinnell, & Unrau, 2007). According to Durant, process outcome based program evaluation, are limit the program evaluation by failing to respond to subsequent criticism, by addressing pertinent components of holistic evaluation. (Durant, 2001).

Conducting, an empirically based research study is a strong undertaking, which requires knowledge, skill and ability. The research contained herein, is a direct reflection of the researchers ability and skill level. The research process contained herein depicts subject mastery; with a greater understanding of the research process. The researcher, has a good working knowledge of the Social Work profession, and is certain that with on the job training, greater insight and skill development will occur. The Social Worker herein described as the researcher, has strengths in many areas of social work practice to include, assessment, treatment, theory and practice. The researcher as well developed a better understanding of the research process as it applies to program evaluation. Some limitations include, statistics, which are a critical part of evidence based social work practice.

The graduate level research student is most appreciative of classes centered on Human behavior and the social environment, theory, research and policy. Through the completion of these courses, one develops an understanding of social systems concepts. The understanding of objectives and proposed outcomes with respect to the individual, group, family, organization, community, societal/cultural, and global level systems. As well as, the understanding of the needs of each level of the systems, that comprises each student’s life and the ability to help them understand as well. Further an understanding of the occurrence and resistance of change and the application of theory to each. An understanding of the implications of human development across the life span for social work practice – expound on students relationships to self, parents, peers and the systems surrounding… including school, community, other service providers, etc.

Basic social work policy that affects students, participating in programs such as Safety Net include, IDEA- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, NCLB – No Child Left Behind and educational best practices in relation to the NASW Code of Ethics.

As a professional Social Worker the desire for continued development of skills in the areas of program analysis and evaluation are imperative. As one, having undertaking a generalist approach to learning, with a primary focus on counseling intervention methods, skill development in the area of research and program evaluation and the ability to translate this information in a professional manner, to program stakeholders and the general public, is an area for future concentration. As a social -worker, the ability to perform these tasks well, will promote professional balance as well as serve as a guiding force for the continuance of providing evidence based practice.

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