Rethinking universal and targeted services

15 Aug 2008

 In supporting young children and their families, we need to use the available resources in ways that are both effective (that achieve the outcomes we are seeking) and efficient (that do so with least amount of effort and cost). Among other things, this involves knowing what combination and balance of universal and additional or targeted services are needed and how these should be deployed.

One of the key ways in which human services vary is according to their aims or target groups. Three forms of services that are usually distinguished are universal, targeted and treatment services, and defined as follows:

• Universal services are available to the whole of the population and are designed to promote positive functioning and thereby decrease the likelihood of specific disorders developing.

• Targeted services are available to selected groups or individuals who are known to be at risk of developing a particular health or developmental problem, and are designed to reduce the incidence of the problem developing.

• Treatment services are available to individuals or families who have an established condition or problem and are designed to minimise the negative impact of the condition or problem.

This paper seeks to rethink these forms of service and the relationship between them. It proposes an alternative relationship, a tiered system of universal, secondary and tertiary services that are more closely integrated than the existing universal, targeted and treatment services, and that are designed to strengthen the capacity of the universal services to be truly inclusive and to cater more effectively for the diverse needs of all children and families.

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