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URBANA — Not new, just formalized.

After a school board vote this week on an operations agreement, that could be the status of the partnership between the Urbana school district and Champaign County Youth Assessment Center.

Although the center has long offered its services to those in the district, the agreement formalizes the two groups' relationship and establishes responsibilities on both sides. Establishing that formality has been a goal for Jonathan Westfield since he assumed the center's directorship two years ago.

"What it does is that the operations agreement will be a better exchange of information between both parties that will give the staff the ability to come into the school and meet with people there and do more support and wrap-around as opposed to pulling kids out," he said. "We know that if a child is in school, better that we go over where they are than to take them out."

Although anyone can refer "at-risk" youths aged 10-17 to the assessment center — which then has case managers screen individuals to determine what kind of resources are needed — the follow-up to that referral typically happens on-site, meaning families were responsible for providing transportation.

"A lot of times, it's difficult for families to get their children to services and a lot of times, they don't make it to an appointment," said Urbana's director of grant-based programs, Linda Gibbens.

The operations agreement, if approved, sends case managers into the schools, streamlining communication between individuals served and school officials and easing the burden of families who otherwise would have had to find a way to the center's Champaign location.

"It's a real convenience for our families and our students," she said.

Westfield noted that early intervention comprises much of the services the assessment center will provide; Gibbens said the case managers complement additional mental-health staffers the district hired earlier in the school year.

"I think this opens up the possibility of services," she said. "We've put a lot of mental health services in our buildings this past school year and while that has been good, some needs are more intensive. This gives a connection to those services and to their experts, too."

Designated district staff will keep in touch with case managers from the assessment center and the students they serve.

"The lines of communication are open and would be better," Westfield said.

Urbana school board members will vote Tuesday whether to approve the agreement — which comes at no additional costs for the district.

Reporter

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter covering education at The News-Gazette. Her email is ljones@news-gazette, and you can follow her on Twitter (@__lyndsayjones).