Aligning Organizational Priorities with ARC to Improve Youth Mental Health Service Outcomes

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Objective: The Availability, Responsiveness, and Continuity (ARC) organizational intervention is designed to improve community-based youth mental health services by aligning organizational priorities with 5 principles of effective service organizations (i.e., mission driven, results oriented, improvement directed, relationship centered, participation based). This study assessed the effect of the ARC intervention on youth outcomes and the mediating role of organizational priorities as a mechanism linking the ARC intervention to outcomes. Method: Fourteen community-based mental health agencies in a midwestern metropolis along with 475 clinicians and 605 youth (ages 5–18) served by those agencies were randomly assigned to the 3-year ARC intervention or control condition. The agencies’ priorities were measured with the ARC Principles Questionnaire (APQ) completed by clinicians at the end of the intervention. Youth outcomes were measured as total problems in psychosocial functioning described by their caregivers using the Shortform Assessment for Children (SAC) at 6 monthly intervals. Results: The rate of improvement in youths’ psychosocial functioning in agencies assigned to the ARC condition was 1.6 times the rate of improvement in agencies assigned to the control condition, creating a standardized difference in functioning of d = .23 between the 2 groups at the 6-month follow-up. The effect on youth outcomes was fully mediated by the alignment of organizational priorities described in the 5 ARC principles (d = .21). Conclusion: The ARC organizational intervention improves youth outcomes by aligning organizational priorities with the 5 ARC principles. The findings suggest that organizational priorities explain why some community mental health agencies are more effective than others.