Building A School Responder Model

Guidance From Existing Diversion Initiatives for Youth With Behavioral Health Needs

This site is a peer resource created by four teams of state and local system leaders in Nevada, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin as a result of their work in the 2015-16 Policy Academy-Action Network to develop pilot school-based diversion initiatives for youth with behavioral health needs.

To learn more about their stories and the 2015-16 State Policy Academy-Action Network, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, please visit https://www.ncmhjj.com/topics/diversion/.

What?

A SCHOOL RESPONDER MODEL (SRM) is a response to school infractions that aims to

  1. Address behavioral health needs
  2. Reduce the likelihood of juvenile justice involvement

Click here for an overview of School Responder Models & their origin

Why?

An SRM is an alternative to a law enforcement response or exclusionary discipline, the cornerstones of the School-Justice Pathway.

started-icon-expelled

Students who have been suspended or expelled are nearly 3x as likely as their peers to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the next year.

started-icon-arrested

number of youths arrested in schools during the 2011-12 school year.

started-icon-iep

of students have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

started-icon-disabilities

Students with disabilities are twice as likely as students without disabilities to receive an out-of-school suspension

started-icon-iep-arrested

of students arrested have IEPs

started-icon-race

Black students are suspended or expelled 3.5 times more often than their white peers.

1 Form a Cross-Systems Collaborative Team

What?

Voices from a range of stakeholders should be at the table from the outset of planning. Active involvement from law enforcement, schools, service providers, and families lays the foundation for a robust program structured for success.

How?

Activity A

Define key partners and stakeholders

Activity B

Address common barriers to stakeholder buy-in & engagement

Activity C

Strategies and activities for initial stakeholder engagement

Activity D

Address stakeholder- specific barriers to buy-in & engagement

Activity A

Defining Key Partners & Stakeholders

Your collaborative should include key people who represent various roles and different system perspectives aligned with a shared vision.

text graphic
around the table

School Leadership and Staff

School personnel bring expertise that will be essential to the design and implementation of new programs and pathways.

Your school-based partners should include leadership/administration, faculty, and staff. This includes superintendents and principals with decision-making authority, lower-level administrators who may have more time but similar authority, and teachers, guidance counselors, and other school health and mental health staff who have direct insight about students and will be key to implementing diversion practices on a daily basis.

Law enforcement

Law enforcement officers are often key partners to school staff in responding to school infractions and are essential partners in implementing alternative responses that will avoid justice contact. They may bring key insight that will be critical to planning diversion responses, including an on-the-ground understanding of student needs and safety challenges. Both law enforcement leaders with decision-making authority and police officers working in schools or the broader community will be essential to implementation.

Community Behavioral Health Providers

Community behavioral health organizations provide the alternative intervention for youth in an SRM. Community providers bring a behavioral health perspective to youth disciplinary challenges and provide the direct services that constitute the diversion model. Leadership of local mental health and substance use agencies and key agency staff who will work directly with the school in the SRM should be included.

Juvenile Justice System Partners

The buy-in and engagement of system partners that are responsible for a justice response to youth infractions in school will strengthen the school’s movement away from using the justice system for these cases.
Essential partners include:

  • The local prosecutor (who may be the system gatekeeper, determining which cases are filed)
  • The probation department (often responsible for system intake and front-line diversion)
  • The court (which may be invested in diverting low-level cases and serve as a powerful convener and ally)

Youths

Youth provide valuable, first-hand insights. They are critical resources for program design and offer unique perspectives on the most effective ways to engage and assist students. If youth are involved in planning diversion programs, they are also more likely to buy in and become spokespeople for the programs with their peers.

Parents, Families, and Caregivers

The parents and family members of youth have a personal stake in youth success and intimate knowledge of youth needs and challenges and must provide buy-in and partnership necessary for the implementation of any diversion effort. Parental consent will be required for youth to participate in diversion programs, and it is likely that parental participation will be essential to the success of diversion service plans for youth. Incorporating a parental perspective into the design of diversion programs puts those programs in a much better position to later achieve the individual buy-in and engagement of families of referred youth.

Activity B

Address common barriers to stakeholder buy-in and engagement

Click each section of the pie chart to learn more about common barriers to buy-in and engagement and strategies for overcoming these hurdles.

Barriers

Initiative overload
“Too many reform initiatives going on”

Even where stakeholders can see that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, they may feel oversaturated with a long list of other reform initiatives already underway. They may wonder how an SRM will accomplish anything new, or they may be disillusioned from participating in initiatives that they have found ineffective.

Strategies

  • Integrate school-based diversion planning into existing, related efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of each individual effort
  • Utilize infrastructure established for other, related initiatives (e.g., working groups) that may have established knowledge or resources useful in planning and implementing an SRM
  • Develop a map of existing initiatives showing how each contributes to common goals
  • Frame the SRM as an operational and school culture shift, not as a discrete initiative

Barriers

Lack of confidence in diversion as a solution
“I haven’t heard of this working elsewhere”

Stakeholders may be skeptical that diverting young people to community-based behavioral health resources will successfully address youth misbehavior because they:

  • Do not understand the link between youth behavior and mental health needs
  • Do not feel satisfied that youth will be held accountable for their behavior, and
  • May never have heard of the SRM and may not know anything about the successes that SRMs have achieved in other localities.

Strategies

  • Present case studies and data from programs that have demonstrated the success of a school responder model
  • Engage stakeholder champions of successful diversion initiatives, including school leadership, law enforcement, or community behavioral health partners, and youth and families who can tell personal success stories

Barriers

Lack of ownership of the problem
“This is not my issue”

Click each section of the pie chart to learn more about common barriers to buy-in and engagement and strategies for overcoming these hurdles.

Strategies

  • Frame the issue to each stakeholder group as a community problem requiring a community solution that meaningfully and appropriately addresses youth behavioral challenges
  • Highlight the myriad challenges that may be contributing to the problem
  • Direct group discussions away from blame
  • Tailor messages that will speak to and motivate specific types of stakeholders, focusing on their individual goals and responsibilities

Barriers

Lack of understanding of the problem
“We don’t have this problem”

Stakeholders may not understand that a problem exists, or may not understand the full scope of the problem. They may not know how many youth are being suspended, expelled, or arrested for school misbehavior, may not know what happens to youth who are arrested or expelled, or may not understand the full scope of unmet youth behavioral health needs. Stakeholders can usually unite around the common purpose of achieving the best outcomes possible for youth, in terms of well-being and safety. Examining data revealing poor outcomes can achieve buy-in for implementing a new strategy and response.

Strategies

  • Generate awareness that current practices are not achieving desired outcomes by analyzing and presenting existing data on school expulsions, suspensions, disciplinary referrals, and in-school arrests, with specific focus on youth with disabilities and youth of color
  • Gather or analyze existing qualitative data about school climate using tools such as surveys for students and staff
  • Develop case studies of disciplinary actions against individual youth with behavioral health challenges

Lack of  understanding  of the problem

“We don’t have  this problem”

Lack of ownership of the problem
“This is not my issue”

Lack of confidence in diversion as a solution
“I haven’t heard of this working elsewhere”

Initiative overload
“Too many reform initiatives going on”

Activity C

Strategies and activities for initial stakeholder engagement

Establish infrastructure for ongoing engagement

The core team should be intentional in establishing an infrastructure that facilitates productive and valuable use of time, including a workplan; regular meeting schedule; thoughtful and productive agendas that assign roles and assignments to various team members; and consistent communication patterns.

Sample action steps timeline from Wisconsin

Sample meeting agenda from Wisconsin

Sample community engagement work plan from New York

Define and align initiative with collective stakeholder goals

Initial planning should include a focus on integrating the SRM into existing initiatives and should make clear how the goals of school-based diversion align with the goals of these efforts. Stakeholders can then see how the various efforts competing for their time come together, maximize shared resources, and reinforce collective goals.

Sample map of existing initiatives from Nevada

Engage the broader community of stakeholders

The core team should use surveys, needs assessments, and focus groups to include the perspectives of a broad range of community stakeholders on the potential role of an SRM in their community—as the cross-systems team takes these ideas into planning it should include regular reports back to stakeholders about planning progress and offer opportunities for feedback

Sample student, parents, and staff surveys from New York

Sample needs assessment from Connecticut (pages 22-24)

Build a cross-systems core team

This core team will be responsible for identifying and executing all planning activities necessary for initiative development and implementation, and should include stakeholders from a variety of systems

Sample team membership list

Activity D

Address stakeholder-specific barriers to buy-in

Effective messages to achieve buy-in often speak to the unique goals, motivations, and roles and responsibilities of particular stakeholder groups. Messages that explain how an SRM can address these role-specific “bottom lines” can be effective both in gaining the initial buy-in of stakeholders into the SRM and in engaging stakeholders in the planning and implementation of these programs.

Hover over each stakeholder to learn strategies for addressing stakeholder-specific barriers to buy-in

School Staff

Potential barriers:

  • School personnel have likely tried many things to help youth and may believe that their current policies are the best they can do.
  • School personnel are held accountable for positive school attendance rates, academic performance, and student and staff safety, things they may not connect to an SRM.

Strategies:

  • Use data that show how current discipline policies and unmet student behavioral health needs may be negatively impacting outcomes important to school personnel (i.e., attendance and academic performance).
  • Share information about sites that have improved school accountability measures through an SRM.
  • Explain how diversion programs can decrease time spent managing behavior and increase instructional time, particularly if those programs address behavioral health needs.

Law Enforcement

Potential barriers:

  • Police and school security may be skeptical that social service programs to address unmet behavioral health needs will be successful in deterring misbehavior or in holding youth accountable.
  • Law enforcement may have been playing the role of referee to services and may not want to lose their power to help youth.

Strategies:

  • Use messaging that speaks to public safety and the need to conserve scarce resources for serious crime, including data that underscore the current use of disciplinary measures and arrests for low-level school infractions.
  • Provide case studies or law enforcement testimonials from other jurisdictions showing the effectiveness of an SRM.

Community Behavioral Health Providers

Potential barriers:

  • Providers may have experienced challenges in gaining access to schools in the past or worry that competing priorities in the school may keep them out. They may be skeptical about the ability and willingness of schools and law enforcement to make referrals, and to engage with providers as collaborative partners in school-based diversion.

Strategies:

  • Invitations for provider participation should come directly from school and law enforcement partners and should explain their need for partnership with and buy-in from behavioral health providers.
  • Frame the school as a hub for referrals to services, and consider allowing service providers to meet privately with students in a dedicated space within the school.

Juvenile Justice System Stakeholders

Potential barriers:

  • Some stakeholders may feel that they themselves have been playing the role of service provider or case manager in the absence of more formal diversion programs, and may be reluctant to cede that role or skeptical that others will be as effective in that role.

Strategies:

  • Use data that reveals the drain of low-level school infractions on juvenile justice resources with minimal returns.
  • Use messaging that emphasizes the mandate of the justice system to focus on serious crime in order to encourage the diversion of low-severity cases to the behavioral health system.
  • Use case studies showing the effectiveness of behavioral health responses in addressing the underlying needs of low-level youth offenders and preventing future justice system contact.

2 Engage Family & Youth

WHY? The Foundation of an SRM

When these four principles of family and youth engagement form the foundation of an SRM it dramatically increases the model’s likelihood of success.

HOW? Overcoming Barriers to Buy-In.

family

Potential Barriers:

  • Families may feel overwhelmed and powerless to help after many unsuccessful efforts to help their children
  • Previous adversarial relationships with schools, law enforcement, or other justice authorities may have led to accumulated mistrust and skepticism
  • Families may have experienced challenges working with schools and service providers such as inflexible meeting times that conflict with work or child care schedules or not feeling like their perspective is respected in conversations about their children

Strategies:

  • Warm and consistent engagement efforts provide families with compelling evidence that system professionals are genuinely committed to using diversion as an alternative to exclusionary school discipline and that they will support family access and participation in these efforts
  • Outreach from other parents who have struggled with similar issues within the community can be helpful in overcoming mistrust or skepticism

Click here for a sample community engagement work plan from New York

youth

Potential Barriers:

  • Youth may not trust school or law enforcement authorities with which they have come into conflict in the past over school discipline, especially when they believe they have previously been treated unfairly
  • Youth may have experienced programming at school or in the community that they have found ineffective

Strategies:

  • As with parents, outreach by other youth from their own community can be helpful in overcoming skepticism and engaging youth
  • Examples of peer successes in an SRM can also bolster youth buy-in

3 Implement a Behavioral Health Response

RESPONDER

Your behavioral health response will be coordinated by a responder, a role which takes different forms in different communities, depending upon local resources. Communities have used the following entities to act as responders:

  • Mobile Mental Health and Crisis Stabilization Services
  • Family Resource Centers
  • School social workers
  • Staff from a community-based behavioral health agency using validated tools

RESPONSE

Screening

Brief triage process for every youth; often done by non-clinical staff; identifies youth in need of a clinical assessment, at urgent risk of harm, or both.

Your responder will begin the response by screening the youth.

Assessment

Done by clinical staff; in-depth, time-consuming process; identifies clinical needs and forms the basis for a treatment plan.

If a youth ‘flags’ on the screening, they should be connected to a clinician for formal assessment.

Treatment

Develop a comprehensive list of local resources; establish formal referral processes between the responder and providers; institutionalize communication loops between the school responder and providers.

The results of the assessment form the foundation for a case plan that connects youth to services.

3 Defining a Population of Focus

Youth who are in need of school-based behavioral health diversion have two key characteristics:

  1. They are at risk of referral to the juvenile justice system for school behaviors, and
  2. They have indicators of potential need for behavioral health supports.

Defining your population of focus requires deciding who qualifies as “at-risk.” No tools have been developed to screen for likelihood of juvenile justice system referral so schools must decide how widely to cast their net. The range of options for defining “at-risk” are depicted in a circle graphic (hover over each circle for the pros and cons of each definition).

Indicators of behavioral health needs are best identified using validated screening tools.

Hover over each circle to learn the pros and cons of four populations of focus.

Learn more about screening

PROS

  • This earliest intervention point provides the broadest opportunity for prevention.
  • More behavioral health needs are likely to be identified and addressed within the population of the school, bringing the added potential benefit of significantly enhancing school culture and climate.

CONS

  • This largest pool of youth will require the greatest amount of resources to identify and address behavioral health needs.
  • There is no validated tool that will perfectly identify this population. Depending on how the initiative is framed, over-identifying youth may cast a net that is too wide, unnecessarily labeling youth as at-risk for juvenile justice system referral.

PROS

  • Earlier intervention offers an opportunity for supports prior to a serious event that may not be appropriate for diversion.
  • These youth are clearly on a path toward potential juvenile justice system referral.

CONS

  • This approach starts down the slope of providing services for youth who would not otherwise be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, creating potential for casting a net that could be too wide.
  • Structures will need to be developed to clearly define this population and to ensure that measures are put in place to prevent youth penetration into the juvenile justice system.

PROS

  • These youth are clearly at-risk of referral to the juvenile justice system, as an arrest is imminent.
  • New protocols to identify youth prior to a call to law enforcement are not necessary.
  • No new training on this portion of the identification process will be required across a broad range of staff.

CONS

  • There is no preventive component to this approach. Law enforcement will be involved at the time an incident occurs.
  • This approach may ignore smaller problematic behaviors and provide an intervention only at the point where behavior is so serious that it cannot be diverted.

PROS

  • These youth clearly have an existing connection to the juvenile justice system and any new arrest puts them at risk for confinement in a juvenile placement setting.
  • This population may be easy to identify through existing structures in the school or through agreements between schools, probation, and aftercare agencies.

CONS

  • This is likely to be a much smaller population of youth than the population that is at risk of juvenile justice system referral from the school setting.
  • Information-sharing agreements between schools, probation, and aftercare agencies regarding information that identifies members of the population of focus may be difficult to obtain.
Youth with identified risk factors Youth with escalating arrestable behaviors Youth about to be arrested in school Youth currently engaged with the JJ system

3 Screening to Identify Behavioral Health Needs

Once programs have made a decision about how to identify the population of youth who are at risk of referral to the juvenile justice system, a decision will need to be made about how to identify which of those youth may have a behavioral health need. There are two main strategies for this preliminary identification of potential behavioral health needs: teacher referral and screening.

Teacher referral is the traditional and most common method. It relies on teachers to recognize needs and make referrals. Research has shown teacher referral often misses internalizing behaviors and opens the door for personal bias.

Screening, while requiring more structure and protocol, is also far more objective and picks up on internalizing behavior in addition to externalizing behavior.

If you decide to begin identifying youth with behavioral health needs by using screening, you will need to select a validated tool that best suits your age group/grade range, possible behavioral health needs, and available resources.

There are several screening instruments that have been successfully used to identify youth with potential behavioral health needs in the school setting. Several such instruments are included in this chart (click to enlarge).

Link to tool for selecting a behavioral health screening tool

3 Respond with a Case Plan

Screening

Brief triage process for every youth; often done by non-clinical staff; identifies youth in need of a clinical assessment, at urgent risk of harm, or both; use of validated tools is critical.

  • Once you have identified eligible youth (who are both at risk of referral to the juvenile justice system and who may have a behavioral health need), those youth should be referred for school-based behavioral health diversion as an alternative to law enforcement involvement.
  • You will need formal processes to ensure that youth who “screen in” then have access to a clinical assessment.

Assessment

Done by clinical staff; in-depth, time-consuming process; identifies clinical needs and forms the basis for a treatment plan.

  • A screening alone is not enough to provide information necessary for case planning – only a clinical assessment can provide diagnostic or treatment need information.

Services

Develop a comprehensive list of local resources; establish formal referral processes between the responder and providers; institutionalize communication loops between the school responder and providers.

4 Create Formal Structures

Responder initiatives must be institutionalized through formal structures that will endure and preserve objectivity through changes in leadership and staff turnover.

Key structures include:

Ready to Go?

Check your readiness by clicking on the box in each row that corresponds with your team’s progress.

FORMING A CROSS-SYSTEMS COLLABORATIVE TEAM
A few more steps could dramatically increase your initiative’s likelihood of success. See step 1.
Interested stakeholders have begun conversations
A few more steps could dramatically increase your initiative’s likelihood of success. See step 1.
All key stakeholders have been invited into the effort.
Looks like you might be ready to press go! Keep working on engaging members of each stakeholder group as you progress and begin to see the impact of your initiative.
Some key stakeholders share vision of need and desire for action.
Looks like you’re ready to press go! Focus on establishing feedback loops and maintaining continued engagement.
All key stakeholders are aligned, engaged, and consistently communicating.
ENGAGING FAMILY AND YOUTH
A few more steps could dramatically increase your initiative’s likelihood of success. See step 2.
Your team is planning to get youth and family input.
Looks like you might be ready to press go! Keep working to establish buy-in and participation and to ensure that the program is informed by family/youth lived experience.
Youth and family input has been incorporated into planning process.
Looks like you’re ready to press go! Focus on establishing feedback loops and maintaining continued engagement!
Youth and families play a critical role on your team.
IMPLEMENTING A BEHAVIORAL HEALTH RESPONSE
A few more steps could dramatically increase your initiative’s likelihood of success. See step 3.
Your team is working to identify a population of focus.
A few more steps could dramatically increase your initiative’s likelihood of success. See step 3.
Your team has a plan for screening, assessment, and referral to services.
Looks like you might be ready to press go! Follow up with responders so that your initiative can stay responsive to challenges as they arise.
You have protocols and plans for data collection and training.
Looks like you’re ready to press go! Focus on establishing feedback loops and adapting your model. Collect and analyze data.
You have piloted your planned response.
CREATING FORMAL STRUCTURES
Your efforts could be bolstered by formalizing and standardizing training and decision-making.
You have plans but no formal structures.
Your efforts could be bolstered by standardizing decision-making and formalizing policy/procedure changes made necessary by your model.
You have plans for training your workforce and responders.
Looks like you might be ready to press go! Formalizing relationships and information-sharing agreements among stakeholders can ensure continuity despite turnover.
Policies and procedures incorporate "the response" into standard practice.
Looks like you’re ready to press go and are prepared for sustainability and continuity of your model.
MOUs formalize relationships between stakeholders.

Thanks!

Project Staff

Olivia Allen
Project Assistant | National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice

Joseph J. Cocozza, Ph.D.
Former Director | National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice

Katie Eklund, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor | University of Missouri

Jacqui Greene, JD
Program Area Director | Policy Research Associates

John A. Morris, MSW
Independent Consultant | Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc.

Theresa Sgobba, JD
Independent Consultant

State Action Network Delegation Contributors

Nevada

Victoria Blakeney
Nevada Dept. of Education

Christine McGill
Healthy Communities Coalition

Kevin Quint
NV Division of Child and Family Services

Kelly Wooldridge
NV Division of Child and Family Services

New York

Thomas Andriola
NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services

Dekida Hamler
Schenectady County Probation Department

Darin Samaha
Schenectady County Office of Community Services

West Virginia

Jacob Green
West Virginia Dept. of Education

Beth Morrison
WV DHHR Bureau for Behavioral Health

Gloria Shaffer
Region III Fast Program, Legal Aid of WV

Karen Yost
Prestera Center for Mental Health Service, Inc.

Wisconsin

Katherine Luster
Rock County Human Services

Melissa Meboe
Rock County Human Services

Teresa Steinmetz
WI Dept. of Health Services

Coordinating Partners

tacncmhjj

Additional Resources

This website was produced by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates, Inc. and the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. as a part of the 2015-16 Policy Academy-Action Network Initiative. This effort was sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Website created by Next Step Digital.