A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Biennial Evaluation Report - FY 93-94

Chapter 315

Program for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbance

(CFDA 84.237)

I. Program Profile

Legislation: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C, Section 627, contained in the 1990 Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments, P.L. 101-476 (20 U.S.C. 1426)(expires September 30, 1995).

Purpose: To establish projects for the purpose of improving special education and related services to children and youth with serious emotional disturbance. Projects may have purposes such as the following: demonstration of innovative approaches, facilitation of interagency and private sector resource pooling, and training or dissemination of information to parents, service providers, and other appropriate people.

Funding History:

Fiscal Year Appropriation
1991 1,952,000
1992 4,000,000
1993 4,146,560
1994 4,146,560

II. Program Information and Analysis

Performance Indicators

Effectively serving and meeting the needs of children and youth with serious emotional disturbance (SED) and their families is a national problem and concern. The necessity of addressing the needs of these children and youth has become increasingly apparent. Failure to do so threatens the success of the Nation's educational objectives (e.g., GOALS 2000) and limits life-long opportunities for many individuals. The following data suggest the magnitude of the problem:

Compared to all students with disabilities: (1) students with SED are more likely to be placed in restrictive settings and are more likely to drop out of school; (2) their families are more likely to be blamed for the student's disability and are more likely to make large financial sacrifices to secure services for their children; and (3) their teachers and aides are more likely to seek reassignment or leave their positions.

Population Targeting

During school-year 1991-92, approximately 400,000 children and youth with serious emotional disturbance, ages 6 to 21, were served under the Chapter 1 Handicapped (ESEA) and Part B (IDEA) programs. There was an increase of more than 9,000 (2.6 percent) students with serious emotional disturbance between 1990-91 and 1991-92 in the Part B program. Since 1976-77, there has been an increase of more than 118,000 students (48 percent) served with this disability. These students comprise 8.4 percent of the total population of students with disabilities in 1991-92, compared to 7.5 percent in 1976-77. Despite these increases, there exists concern that students with serious emotional disturbance are under-identified. Under-identification may occur because some characteristics of serious emotional disturbance, such as withdrawal or depression, may be easily overlooked in school settings. In addition, some parents and professionals may be reluctant to classify a child with the serious emotional disturbance label since they often view it as pejorative.


This program currently funds multiple activities including: facilitating interagency and private sector resource efforts to improve services; school preparedness for promoting the personal and social development of students with emotional and behavioral problems; enhancing professional knowledge, skills, and strategies; and reducing out-of-community residential programs by improving services to children and their families. The program is also completing a multi-year effort to develop, validate, and confirm a national agenda to improve services for children and youth with, and at risk of developing, serious emotional disturbance. This process involves program staff in continual discussions with stakeholders in special education, general education, and mental health, to improve services for these students.

Types of projects that may be supported under this program include, but are not limited to, research, development, and demonstration projects. Eligible applicants are State and local education agencies, and other appropriate public and private nonprofit institutions or agencies. In FY 1993, the SED program funded five new and 22 continuing activities. The five new awards occurred under the priority for Development and Support for Enhancing Professional Knowledge, Skills, and Strategies:

Management Improvement Strategies

In 1990, Congress authorized programs for children and youth with SED under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA mandates a participatory planning process, involving multiple stakeholders in the development of program goals, objectives, strategies, and priorities for all programs administered by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), including the new program for children and youth with SED.

In order to help frame and guide the planning process, OSEP defined its mission as "Achieving Better Results for Individuals with Disabilities," and implemented a strategic planning process that had three goals: (1) to develop a national agenda that would focus the attention of educators, parents, advocates, and professionals from a variety of disciplines on what must be done to encourage, assist, and support our Nation's schools in their efforts to achieve better outcomes for children and youth with SED; (2) to provide recommendations for OSEP initiatives and funding opportunities aimed at providing better outcomes for children and youth with SED; and (3) to provide background for the IDEA-authorized program for children and youth with SED. This planning process incorporated one-on-one interviews, literature reviews, focus groups, stakeholder meetings, an interactive national teleconference, presentations, and the solicitation of oral and written responses.

Significantly improving results for children and youth with SED requires a vision of transformed service systems, reoriented professional attitudes, and an emphasis on positive outcomes. Toward these ends, OSEP and the participants in the planning process identified the following seven interdependent strategic targets:

Target 1
Expand Positive Learning Opportunities and Results - to foster the provision of engaging, useful, and positive learning opportunities. These opportunities should be result-driven and should acknowledge as well as respond to the experiences and needs of children and youth with serious emotional disturbance.

Target 2
Strengthen School and Community Capacity - to foster initiatives that strengthen the capacity of schools and communities to serve students with serious emotional disturbance in the least restrictive environments appropriate.

Target 3
Value and Address Diversity - to encourage culturally competent and linguistically appropriate exchanges and collaborations among families, professionals, students, and communities. These collaborations should foster equitable outcomes for all students and result in the identification and provision of services that are responsive to issues of race, culture, gender, and social and economic status.

Target 4
Collaborate with Families - to foster collaborations that fully include family members on the team of service providers that implements family-focused services to improve educational outcomes. Services should be open, helpful, culturally competent, accessible to families, and school- as well as community-based.

Target 5
Promote Appropriate Assessment - to promote practices ensuring that assessment is integral to the identification, design, and delivery of services for children and youth with SED. These practices should be culturally appropriate, ethical, and functional.

Target 6
Provide Ongoing Skill Development and Support - to foster the enhancement of knowledge, understanding, and sensitivity among all who work with children and youth with and at risk of developing serious emotional disturbance. Support and development should be ongoing and aim at strengthening the capacity of families, teachers, service providers, and other stakeholders to collaborate, persevere, and improve outcomes for children and youth with SED.

Target 7
Create Comprehensive and Collaborative Systems - to promote systems change resulting in the development of coherent services built around the individual needs of children and youth with and at risk of developing serious emotional disturbance. These services should be family-centered, community-based, and appropriately funded.

Underlying the seven targets are several key assumptions that embody an understanding that a flexible and proactive continuum of services must be built around the needs of children with SED and their families. Furthermore, services must not only be available, but must be sustained and comprehensive, and they must collaboratively engage families, service providers, and the children and youth with serious emotional disturbance. Finally, both the needs of these children and increasing demographic diversity of our Nation call for cross-agency, school- and community-based relationships that are characterized by mutual respect and accountability with the child always in focus. Accordingly, OSEP identified the following three cross-cutting themes that reflect this understanding:

OSEP is using the framework provided by its SED National Agenda--of mission, targets, and cross-cutting themes--to plan and develop appropriate priorities and activities under the program authorization, and to work collaboratively with other agencies, both within the Department of Education and externally, e.g., the Center for Mental Health Services in the Department of Health and Human Services.

III. Sources of Information

  1. Annual Reports to Congress, including: Fifteenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1993).

  2. Intra-Departmental Reports, including: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Program Funded Activities, Fiscal Year 1993 (OSEP, 1993).

  3. Program files.

IV. Planned Studies

OSEP's national SED agenda has targeted these areas:
  1. Expand positive learning opportunities and outcomes.
  2. Strengthen school and community capacity.
  3. Value and address diversity.
  4. Collaborate with families.
  5. Promote appropriate assessment.
  6. Provide ongoing skill development and support.
  7. Create comprehensive and collaborative systems.

Program staff are currently examining the alignment of past and current investments with these goals, to foster strategic planning of activities in the future. Under a current (FY 1993) subtask of a task-ordering contract, OSEP is evaluating and validating the targets and developing vehicles for their expanded dissemination to broader audiences.

V. Contacts for Further Information

Program Operations:
Doris Andres, (202) 205-8125

Program Studies:
Manny Smith, (202) 401-1958

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