What are Systems of Care?

“System of Care” is not a program — it is a philosophy.

Systems of Care

Systems of Care

The Systems of Care (SOC) Framework is a coordinated network of services and supports that are organized to meet the physical, mental, social, emotional, education, and developmental needs of children and their families.

Building Systems of Care, by its own designation as “systems” and not “system,” requires cross-system partnerships with the common goal of developing a broad array and continuum of services and supports that are infused with the values of:

  • Family Driven & Youth Guided
  • Community-Based
  • Cultural & Linguistic Competence

Systems of Care refer to the collaborative, coordinated infrastructure within a community to meet the needs of children and families so they can achieve their own definition of success and equitable outcomes.

Systems of Care are implemented at both the systems level (policy, financing, management) and the service/support delivery level.

The Systems of Care Approach Supports the Success of All Child and Family Serving Efforts 


Child Welfare / Social Services

Education / Schools

Health Care

Juvenile Justice

Supporting those with Developmental Challenges

The Power of Peers Video

The Do’s and Don’t s of Youth Guided Practice Video

Child Welfare / Social Services

Systems of Care align with these child welfare outcomes: 

  • Children and youth are in safe and stable homes
  • Ensure families are able to meet their children’s needs
  • Reunify and preserve families

Supporting Data: 

  • 5% to 9% of all U.S. children and youth have serious mental health needs, reducing their ability to function in the community, at school, and at home.
  • More than four out of five children in foster care have developmental, emotional, or behavioral challenges.
  • Children, youth, and families enter the child welfare system with varied needs and can benefit from cross agency collaboration.
  • When children and youth with serious mental health needs receive coordinated services, their functioning substantially improves at school, at home, and in their community.

Education / Schools

Systems of Care align with these education outcomes: 

  • Higher academic achievement and accountability
  • Higher attendance / lower absenteeism
  • Increased positive behavior / fewer behavioral problems
  • More time for teaching and learning
  • Increased family involvement and community connection
  • Continuum of supports including increased communication and coordination

Supporting Data: 

  • School disciplinary actions (being suspended or expelled) decreased by 31% from intake to 12-month follow-up
  • Regular school attendance, defined as attending school at least 80% of the time, improved. The percentage of children and youth who attended school regularly increase from 82.4% of children and youth at intake to 89.4% at 12 months with sustained improvement at 24 months (89.8).

Health Care

Systems of Care align with these health outcomes: 

  • Prevention of disease and injury, improved functioning
  • Promotion of healthy behaviors
  • Help for the sick and hurt
  • Improved communication and coordination
  • Accessible health services for all Americans

Health and health-related problems associated with untreated mental health needs: 

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and/or substance abuse
  • Psychosomatic symptoms
  • Risky behaviors
  • Slow recovery or poor health outcomes
  • Suicide

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. (in press). The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program: Evaluation findings – Report to Congress, 2009. Washington, DC. 

Health Care Providers Play Key Roles: 

  • Caregivers are more apt to raise concerns about mental health with primary health providers than with mental health professionals.
  • Youth are likely to raise concerns about depression with general practitioners or family doctors.
  • Federally funded health centers also are critical providers of mental health services for those in need.
  • In one study, more than 40% of people 12 and older who had experiences a major depressive episode saw a health professional and had used a prescription drug to treat their symptoms. 

Source: Williams, JW, Ross, K, Dietrich, AJ, Ciotti, MC, Zyzanski, SJ, Cornell, J. Primary care physicans’ approach to depressive disorders: effects of physicial specialty and practice structure. Archives of Family Medicine 1999; 8(1):58-67.

Juvenile Justice

Systems of Care align with these juvenile justice outcomes:

  • To increase the opportunities for and improve the ability of youth to live productively and responsibly in their communities
  • Reduced recidivism

Supporting Data: 

  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health disorder
  • 27% have significant functional impairment from a mental illness
  • 9.1% of youth in juvenile detention have suicidal thoughts
  • 11.8% attempt suicide in their lifetimes
  • 2.7% have attempted suicide in the past month
  • Juvenile detention facilities spend an estimated $100 million each year to house youth who are waiting for community mental health services 

Source: National Mental Health Association. (2006). Prevalence of Mental Disorders Among Children in the Juvenile Justice System (Fact Sheet). Retrieved from www.nmha.org/children/justjuv/prevalence.cfm

Supporting those with Developmental Challenges

Systems of Care align with these developmental outcomes:

  • Employment outcomes in ways that are unique and appropriate for each person
  • Maintaining low level of safety risks, ensure safety of self, others and environment, individual has what they need
  • Families and individuals are supported to be partners in the development of each individual’s success plan (Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Individualized Service Plan (ISP) or Care Plan – person-centered goals

Systems of Care have been shown to have these impacts for those with developmental challenges:

  • Reduction in inpatient and emergency services use
  • Traditional MH providers become more willing to serve, interdisciplinary training
  • Cross systems planning becomes core service element
  • Cost effective (OPWDD START Initiative IS System of Care!)

Systems of Care Support Children, Families and Our Communities by providing:

  • Stability and Efficient Use of Resources = SAFE & HAPPY
  • Successful, Safe and Supportive Learning Opportunities = LIFELONG OPPORTUNITIES
  • Better Coordination and Collaboration among Primary Health Care and Mental Health Care = HEALTHY
  • Positive Experiences = SUCCESS MOMENTUM

That’s why it is so important that we work together!