Evaluating systems of care: Missing links in children's mental health research



Systems of care (SOCs) have been developed throughout the country to meet the needs of children with severe emotional disturbances (SED) and their families. In these SOCs, multiple agencies and disciplines are expected to work together with informal community supports to address families' needs (Stroul & Friedman, 1986a). A review of the literature on the impact of SOCs suggests: (a) communities' service delivery systems change; and (b) children experience modest improvements in symptomatology and functioning. At the same time, little is known about (a) which components of the SOC approach, at what levels, are necessary to impact child and family outcomes; (b) the degree to which SOCs affect other family members, beyond the target child; and (c) the impact of community contexts and supports in SOCs. Future research should improve measurement of key SOC constructs, examine the relation between specific levels of implementation and outcomes for the entire family, and investigate the impact of broader community systems and supports on families within SOCs. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Comm Psychol 32: 655–674, 2004.