To date, few studies have examined the use of a system of services or the broader ecological and cultural context for service use, which includes the beliefs and values underlying decisions to use services. This study was designed to examine use of a broad array of health, educational, and social services by families in targeted low-income communities, patterns of service use over time, barriers and facilitators of service use, and how service use is related to family functioning, child development, and school readiness. Study methods include (1) an 8-year administrative data study on service use and key outcomes of a cohort of over 12,000 children born in the targeted areas during 2004-2005; (2) a 5-year study of a baseline sample of 530 families, employing annual in-person surveys and linked administrative data; and (3) a 3-year qualitative study of a subsample of 45 families.
This symposium will present four years of findings on the effectiveness of the Healthy Beginnings system in identifying mothers with service needs and linking them to other services (paper 1), the barriers and facilitators of service use (paper 2), and how service use is affected by families' household context and daily lives (paper 3). With an outside practitioner (TBD) as discussant, we will discuss the policy and practice implications of findings indicating that although mothers with more needs are more likely to receive services, many families in the targeted communities appeared to be receiving only some of the services they were eligible for. Improving the service system will require more effective screening of families, new ways to engage “hard-to-reach” families, more flexibility in service delivery, and better data systems to monitor service use over time.