Assessing the Quality & Effectiveness of Academic, Mental Health & System-Level Services

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will identify strategies for assessing the quality and effectiveness of academic, mental health & system-level services from the perspective of a consumer of these services.

Beyond Traditional Assessments

Human service agencies usually have some means of assessing the quality and effectiveness of their programming. This might involve reporting on the number of clients served, pre and post tests, types of service provided, client satisfaction surveys and staff reported evaluations. Let's take a look at a scenario that illustrates a client's experience assessing program quality or efficacy. This creates a different perspective than expressed on the standardized forms.

Leigh is a young woman who has mild developmental, mental health and learning disabilities and frequently interacts with service providers. For Leigh, assessing program quality and effectiveness isn't something she can express in a survey, but she does know how to tell if a program is working for her.

Academic Services

Leigh's school provided individualized instruction based on her needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides equal access and accommodations to those who have a disability. The federal government provides funding to schools for extra tutoring. With hard work, a little extra time, appropriate accommodation and support, Leigh graduated from high school.

Leigh's guidance counselor connects her with a job skills training program that teaches her how to feel comfortable talking to people, how to apply for jobs, and what to wear and say in an interview. She takes an apprenticeship at the pet groomer where she learns some skills that will help her achieve her goal of being a pet sitter. She likes being an apprentice because it's like school, but with puppies.

Leigh is lucky to have people helping her look at different ways to get by in the world that doesn't involve college. Not everyone's academic needs are the same so her academic program is effective because it realistically meets the needs and wishes of everyone, even if they don't have the same goals.

Mental Health Services

Sometimes Leigh gets frustrated when she can't think clearly or feels like she is being mistreated. With encouragement from her loved ones, Leigh realizes that she needs to talk to someone about her anxiety and anger.

Asking for help was easy because the local mental health agency has lots of flyers in the guidance counselor's office and some people from the agency used to give talks at her school every semester encouraging people to call them if they need to. This kind of community outreach let Leigh know that she is not alone and help is available.

Even though she is not comfortable talking with strangers or official people, the intake operator at the mental health clinic was friendly and kind. She walked Leigh through setting up the first appointment, explained what to expect with the visit, and reassured her that they have several counselors on staff, if she doesn't feel comfortable with the one they match for her.

She then asked Leigh questions about how she's been. This let Leigh know that the agency is interested in who she is and what she needs. Before finishing the call, she gave Leigh a number to a hotline, in case she needs to talk before her first appointment. After a few sessions, Leigh begins to feel more comfortable with a stranger and even learns some coping skills. The therapy as helping and she explores the groups and other services she can do.

Efficacy of mental health is heavily dependent on how a condition impacts one's ability to maintain daily functioning, go to work, develop close relationships, and find meaningful activities. Leigh thinks talking to a counselor is effective and talks with her counselor and psychiatrist about the possibility of medications. They explained how her brain works so medicine doesn't seem so scary. If things become unmanageable, she will give it a try. Leigh is glad that she doesn't feel pressured into getting pills right away.

System-Level Services

Because Leigh has co-occurring issues, she occasionally finds herself interacting with governmental systems-level services to help with some of the other challenges he faces as a result of her disabilities.

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