The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice is pleased to announce the release of Building a School Responder Model: Guidance From Existing Diversion Initiatives for Youth With Behavioral Health Needs. This interactive web product provides guidance and tools to support localities in building a school-based diversion initiative for youth with behavioral health needs.

This peer resource was developed by four state and local teams participating in the 2015-16 Policy Academy-Action Network Initiative sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (the MacArthur Foundation). Teams from Nevada, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin worked to develop School Responder Models (SRMs) in geographically diverse settings and to encapsulate cross-site learnings from their experience in this new resource.

Traditional methods for responding to school disciplinary infractions have resulted in high rates of exclusionary discipline, a single instance of which increases the likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system threefold, and school-based arrest. These common practices have been correlated with escalating justice system involvement for students as they age (rather than improved behavior) and diminishing school safety and climate. Such disciplinary methods also disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color, increasing pre-existing educational disparities.

The SRMs developed by the four participating teams are modeled on successful school diversion initiatives in Connecticut (the School Based Diversion Initiative) and Ohio (the School Responder Program) that were spearheaded through the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative. These structures provide schools with an effective strategy to address behavioral health needs as a root cause of school infractions while also reducing the likelihood of juvenile justice involvement.

The participants in the 2015-16 Policy Academy-Action Network chose to create this resource to fill a need that they identified for concrete tools and resources that could guide a team’s efforts to develop an SRM. Over the course of their work they filled this need by gathering and creating tools and guidance that were or would have been helpful in their work. Users will find guidance on how to begin an SRM and concrete tools to support SRM development, such as: a summary of potential behavioral health screening tools; considerations for defining the population of focus; targeted messages to engage various stakeholders; sample presentations and training structures; community engagement tools; flowcharts; Memorandums of Understanding; and consent forms.

This web product is intended for use by any stakeholder interested in improving outcomes for students with behavioral health needs who are at-risk of referral to the justice system from the school setting in their state or locality. The creation of this product was coordinated by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, and any questions may be directed to