Best Practices

School-based Health Centers

School-Based Health Centers

If adolescents are reluctant or unable to access health care services and younger students parents/guardians are concerned about requesting time off work to take their child to an off-site medical provider, why not bring the services to them? This is what school-based health centers do. In the 2007-2008 school year, there were over 1,900 school-based health centers across the United States.  During that same time, Colorado had 44 centers that served over 26,000 youth.


School-Based Health Centers emphasize prevention and early intervention.  At a minimum, they offer primary medical services, mental health care, oral health screenings and health promotion activities.  Extended services, including substance abuse treatment, oral health sealants, and fluoride treatments are also provided at some locations. School-based health centers support the mission of schools to have high-achieving students. Students miss less school seeking needed health services, and are better able to concentrate when health and behavioral health problems are addressed. Simply put, healthy students are better learners.


Research has shown that School-Based Health Centers:

  • Reduce the use of expensive emergency room care and reduce overall Medicaid expenditures, while increasing use of preventive well child/adolescent services. (4,7,1,5)
  • Assist students in accessing mental health services which helps identify problems early, reduce stigma for getting help (3) and decrease school discipline referrals.(8)
  • Serve students with less access to healthcare and with greater healthcare needs. (3,5)
  • Provide more preventive healthcare visits and counseling for behavior risks. (5)
  • Facilitate declines in depression and suicidal thoughts. (7)
  • Help students stay in school.  (2,8)

(1)  Adams EK, Johnson V., An elementary SBHC: can it reduce Medicaid costs? Pediatrics 2000 Apr;105(4 Pt 1):780-8.


(2)  Gall G, Pagano ME, Desmond MS, Perrin JM, Murphy JM. Utility of psychosocial screening at a SBHC. J Sch Health. 2000;70:292-298.


(3)  Juszczak L, Melinkovich P, Kaplan, D, Use of health and mental health services by adolescents across multiple delivery sites. J Adol Health 2003:32S:108-118.


(4) Key JD, Washington EC, Hulsey TC, Reduced emergency department utilization associated with SBHC enrollment, J Adol Health 2002; 30:273-278


(5) Kisker EE, Brown RS, Do SBHCs improve adolescents¿ access to health care, health status, and risk-taking behavior? J Adol Health 1996;18:335-343.


(6) Riggs S, Cheng T. Adolescents¿ willingness to use a SBHC in view of expressed health concerns. J Adol Health. 1988 9: 208-213.


(7) Santelli J, Kouzis A, et al. SBHCs and adolescent use of primary care and hospital care. J Adol Health 1996; 19: 267-275.


(8) Dallas Youth and Family Centers Program: Hall, LS (2001). Final Report - Youth and Family Centers Program 2000-2001 (REIS01-172-2). Dallas Independent Schools District.



Background Documents



Related Colorado Programs


Additional Resources