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System of Care Framework

A system of care is a broad array of effective services and supports for children and adolescents with behavioral health disorders and their families that is organized into a coordinated network, integrates care planning and management across multiple levels, is culturally and linguistically competent, and builds meaningful partnerships with families and youth at service delivery, management, and policy levels. (Pires, S.A. (2002) Building Systems of Care: A Primer

The system of care framework is a set of values and organizing principles that guides the National Technical Assistance Center's approach in assisting states, tribes, territories, and communities to build comprehensive, effective community service delivery systems for our most vulnerable children and their families. The framework, initially articulated by Stroul and Friedman in A System of Care for Children With Severe Emotional Disturbance (1986), focused on children with serious disorders. These values and core principles are now also being used to develop effective service delivery systems for all children, those with or who are at-risk of emotional and behavioral problems.

Core values of a system of care philosophy specify that services and supports should be: family driven and youth guided, community-based, culturally and linguistically competent, and evidence informed. Guiding principles to implement these values in both policy and practice specify that services provided to children, youth, and families should:  

  • Be comprehensive, incorporating a broad array of services and supports;
  • Be individualized and flexible based on the strengths and needs of the child and family and guided by an individualized service plan;
  • Be provided in the least restrictive, appropriate settings;
  • Involve families as full partners in all decisions;
  • Be coordinated at both the administrative and service delivery levels across service systems;
  • Be integrated as well as linked and coordinated through care management;
  • Emphasize early identification and intervention; and
  • Be accountable, demonstrating positive outcomes.