How (and why) do social services differ for children? The better we can understand the unique needs of children and youth, the better we can help. Improving social service effectiveness for children is not only valuable; it can be life-changing.
Social Services for Children
Almost all social service organizations share at least one characteristic in common: they serve and interact with children.
This fact should not be surprising. Children are among the most vulnerable populations in our society—they must rely on a network of parents, teachers, and community leaders to survive. When parts of that network fail, children are unfortunately left to take the blow. Children actually disproportionately experience poverty in the US; 1 in 5 children live in poverty compared to 1 in 8 adults.
“Children disproportionately experience poverty in the US; 1 in 5 children live in poverty compared to 1 in 8 adults.”
Poverty, in turn, leads to these children experiencing adverse social determinants of health. Without adequate support systems, these children must rely on social services to meet their basic needs. Often, schools act as a central source to put them in contact with community resources.
How Child Services Are Different
As a health and human service organization, working with children can be particularly challenging. Even though child and adult basic needs are essentially the same—shelter, nutrition, health care, etc—there are additional obstacles for children.
For example, children do not have the autonomy of adults. They cannot live on their own, be expected to do grocery shopping on their own, or be able to provide their own income. Additionally, they are at greater risk of abuse and neglect. Their vulnerability means that extra measures need to be taken by social services to ensure that the children are protected.
While extremely important, these additional obstacles show just how difficult care coordination can be. It also speaks to the need for case management.
Case management helps community services coordinate with one another and share important information. As the needs of children indicate that even more resources must be used, case management ensures that communities and organizations effectively pool their solutions. Doing so means a better outcome for both the individual and the program.
Three of our partners recently shared their experience utilizing case management in their programs for youth. You can check out how JASMYN improved services for LGBTQ+ youth, how Safe Horizons better stands for child victim advocacy, and how Bridges from School to Work helped even more in-need teenagers enter the workforce.
Changing a Child’s Path
While children may have higher demand for social services, they also have higher success outcomes. Effective social services for children can literally change that individual’s path and improve their social determinants of health for generations.
Children who receive social services (proper food/nutrition, health care, transportation, support for education, etc) have significantly better outcomes than their similar counterparts who do not receive such resources. For example, these children are more likely to:
- Graduate high school
- Hold a steady job
- Live above the poverty line
- Become pregnant after adolescence
- Avoid the criminal justice system
- Experience healthy mental and behavioral health
- Avoid addiction, drugs, and other harmful substances
Importantly, any and all social service organizations can play a part in improving these outcomes. Food banks, refugee resettlement agencies, homeless shelters, school counseling centers, primary care physicians, and other social workers all play an important part in the positive impact on a child.
If you or someone you know is aware of a child in need, know that there is help. Please consider the resources below:
- Child violence and abuse, call ChildHelp at 1-800-422-4453
- Child hunger, call the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY
- For other child welfare, call Child Protective Services at 1-855-323-3237