The Bazelon Center believes that children’s mental health needs can best be met by serving children with intensive community-based services like wraparound services. Wraparound services are individualized community-based services that focus on the strengths and needs of the child and family. Wraparound services are developed through a team-planning process, where a team of individuals who are relevant to the well-being of the child (such as family members, service providers, teachers, and representatives from any involved agency) collaboratively develop and implement an individualized plan of care, known as a wraparound plan.
The services in a wraparound plan are designed to meet the goals set by the child and family team and to provide flexible support to the child and family. The services in a wraparound plan, also known as direct support services, differ from traditional mental health services because they:
- Are primarily provided in the homes of families and in settings in the community rather than in an office setting;
- Are available when families need them, including after-school, in the evenings or on the weekends instead of only during office hours;
- Emphasize treatment through participation in purposeful activities, giving children the opportunity to practice life skills and make positive choices through involvement in community activities, instead of focusing on treatment through talking about problems; and
- Are built around engaging the child and family in activities that interest them and meet their goals instead of just around a goal of stopping negative behaviors.
Wraparound services are generally considered among the most effective interventions for children with emotional, behavioral and mental health needs and are essential to any children’s mental health system. Studies have has found that these children make substantial improvements when provided wraparound services instead of institutional care, including that they:
- Are hospitalized less often;
- Have fewer arrests and stays in detention;
- Sustain their mental health improvements;
- Have less suicidal behavior; and
- Have better school attendance and achievement.
The Surgeon General has embraced the effectiveness of community-based services like wraparound services, both in the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health and the Report on Youth Violence. Moreover, wraparound services not only have better outcomes but also cost far less than more restrictive institutional and group care.