The SchoolsPlus program found its origins in a key recommendation of Nova Scotia Justice Merlin Nunn’s landmark 2006 report, Spiralling Out of Control which then found its way into Our Kids 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.”

This comprehensive research report 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.

Much of the focus of SP 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 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. Let’s keep our sights on the core mission — improving the quality and intensity of frontline services to struggling children and youth – and their families.

To read the report in full, please click here.