The Big Picture: Illinois Families and Their Use of Multiple Service Systems

The public system that has developed over the past half-century to address social issues—from juvenile delinquency to child maltreatment to mental illness and substance abuse—is a set of fragmented funding mechanisms, services, and programs. Families with multiple members facing these problems are likely to struggle to fulfill basic normative roles. Because of these challenges, such families should be of special concern to policymakers and practitioners. With limited resources at their disposal, jurisdictions need a deeper understanding of families’ circumstances and the many service systems the family is involved with to comprehensively address their needs.

What We Did

We combined data from multiple Illinois state information systems at the individual level to form more than 500,000 family clusters of families in 2008. Using probabilistic record-linkage and information about what individuals were grouped in cases, individuals who were associated with each other across datasets were placed into these family clusters. We then merged episodes from adult and juvenile incarceration records, child protective services, substance abuse and mental health treatment to understand the aggregate service use of the family clusters.

What We Found

We found that 23% of the families in our study have members receiving services in two or more of the areas we investigated. This concentration of families accounts for 86% of the funding for the services used. Mental health treatment was the single most provided service, and institutionalization in all domains accounted for the majority of costs. We also found over 80% of families had experienced violence in the home.

What it Means

Policymakers should consider whether a greater focus on families as a whole rather than just on individuals who experience high-cost services. Shifting to a whole-family perspective may be a way to improve outcomes for families and more effectively use fiscal and service resources. Practitioners should be aware of family members’ service histories, regardless of when service involvement happened, as those problems may affect others in the family over the life course. Tracking family assets and strengths is one way to begin to develop approaches for improving the well-being of all members of the family.

Recommended Citation
Goerge, R. M., Smithgall, C., Seshadri, R., & Ballard, P. (2010). Illinois Families and Their Use of Multiple Service Systems. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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