Welcome to our second 5 Things Digest from the NTTAC School Based Services Transformation Team (if you missed the first issue, access it here). Our team’s work focuses on bridging school-based services to support students, staff, and school members with or potentially with mental health and related challenges.
You can turn to our team for these five themes that guide our programming and products that support fostering culturally responsive, coordinated, and comprehensive networks and partnerships in and with schools and school-based services:

  1. Competency building: Fostering school-based providers’ knowledge, awareness, and skills to support trauma-informed, systems-focused policies and practices 
  2. Ensuring a continuum of care: Developmentally appropriate, strengths-based, culturally competent school-based mental health promotion, prevention, early identification, and intervention services
  3. Power with: Commitment to and content on school-based providers sharing power, choice, and autonomy with staff and students
  4. Restorative relationships: Partnerships and networks in and with schools thrive with positive, safe, and real relationships
  5. Communication and collaboration: Facilitating communication and collaboration within and among service providers and systems, so that students and their families receive consistent and predictable care
Each School-Based Services “5 Things” will focus on one of these themes. This issue brings you 5 Things to know right now about:
Ensuring a continuum of care: Developmentally appropriate, strengths-based, culturally competent school-based mental health promotion, prevention, early identification and intervention services
A main shift that this work asks of us is to shift from the system provider being the frame of the service to the young person and those who care for them being our frame of our services. Their needs, not our needs.  

To do so, school-based and community-based mental health professionals collaborate, problem solve, and refine our policies, practices, and procedures together to reduce barriers to care. In the field of community mental health, this is known as the "continuum of care."

Addressing needs holistically and through a developmentally appropriate, strengths-based, and culturally responsive lens builds relationships between schools and their communities and maximizes outcomes. Here are 5 Things for educators and school mental health professionals to know about ensuring a continuum of care for all students:
#1: Early Identification: The beginning of family and caregiver-centered partnerships
Identifying developmental or mental health challenges early is ideal, as children and families can begin receiving beneficial services at the beginning of the student’s education journey. Schools do not have to engage in early identification alone. Partnering with community-based organizations that specialize in infant and early childhood mental health and developmental assessment improves this process, increases school staff competency around screening, and includes families as health partners. 

Another resource to consider is your state’s Parent Training and Information Center, which supports families with children ages birth to twenty-six with disabilities. They can provide resources on how to engage with families and address potentially uncomfortable topics, such as the initial evaluation of their child. 

Resources to support early identification and nurturing protective factors include: 
#2: Community Involvement: Community is the answer

Community is a critical part of the continuum of care. Community is who the youth and families identify as their natural supports. It can also be the barber down the street, places of worship, mentorship programs, and cultural centers. Many times, systems of care focus on other systems, like social services, to wrap around children and families; however, recent restorative justice work demonstrates that families thrive when they are supported by those with similar experiences and who understand their community. This can include both formal and informal supports and organizations.  

Talk to your students and their families about the people, supports and organizations that mean the most to them. Partnership with community members and organizations can result in creative and innovative approaches to supporting student mental health and well-being and building a more robust continuum of care. 

An example of an innovative approach to community partnership at the local level is Seattle’s Community Passageways. Community Passageways partners with schools to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. They offer school-based programming, including healing circles, culturally relevant curricula and training, and mentorship opportunities.

Community engagement exists on a continuum that requires dedicated attention and accountability. Schools and other members of the continuum of care can utilize frameworks and other resources to strengthen their collaboration with communities.

Resources for school-based services to support community engagement for continuity of care: 
Families thrive when they are supported by those with similar experiences and who understand their community.
#3: Family & Caregiver Engagement: Partnership and trust ensures the continuum of care.
Children do not come to schools or mental health services alone; rather, they live within ecosystems of families who often drive decisions about their health and education. Families are essential to a robust continuum of care and schools will see great benefit if they invest deeply in these relationships. Partner with caregivers and learn about their cultures, the services they are interested in, and their academic, health, and social goals for their children. Include families in your mental health policy development and professional learning. 

Community organizations can help you learn about how to authentically and meaningfully partner with families in your area. Your school may also consider implementing a family and caregiver engagement framework that integrates mental health services, strengths-based approaches, and equity. The Office of Head Start’s Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework is a good example that is adaptable for K-12 schools.

Resources for school-based services to support family engagement and trust building: 
Partner with caregivers and learn about their cultures, the services they are interested in, and their academic, health, and social goals for their children.
#4: Youth of Transition Age: Connecting services for young people with intention and attention
Historically, systems lacked services for youth and young adults of transition age; this led to service delays, unaddressed needs, and lost support teams when young people aged out of the youth-serving systems. However, in recent years there has been increased focus on the need to support young adults of transition age. The best way to understand how to support young people in this transition age is to: 

  1. Partner directly with the young person on what care looks like for them, and
  2. Partner with child welfare and other young-adult serving organizations to support young adults as they transition into adulthood and learn to navigate complex systems of care and develop their own wellness strategies. 

Resources for school-based services partnerships to support youth of transition age include:
#5: Restorative and Healing-Centered Partnerships and Policies: The heartbeat of wellness and care
As we reframe students at the center of our work, the continuum of care must come alive, from the classroom to the counselor's office to the hallway to the administrative office to the school doors and beyond. How we care for our students and their wellness – how we discipline ourselves in our care for our students – is an essential part of our school service practice. 
Beginning in early childhood, students of color are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school compared against their white peers (Luchsinger & Lindstom-Johnson, 2020). The Office of Civil Rrights 2015-16 discipline estimations found that while Black children make up eighteen percent of preschool enrollees, they represent half of all out-of-school suspensions. Research overwhelmingly demonstrates the negative impact of punitive school discipline policies and find they push students directly into the juvenile justice system (Perman, Curran, Fisher & Gardella, 2019).  
We can work to disrupt this inequity by partnering with families, communities, and mental health staff around school discipline policies. When we partner with community-based organizations, mental health staff, and families in the development of discipline policies, we ensure the higher possibility for developmentally appropriate, equitable policies center student needs. In doing so, our continuum of care becomes less stigmatized, and more trauma informed, restorative, and healing centered. 
Resources to for school-based services to foster restorative and healing centered partnerships and policies:

Luchsinger, Y., & Lindstrom-Johnson, S. (2020, October) Addressing Social Emotional Determinants of Education: Leading with Equity in Mind [Session]. Presented at the 25th Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health, virtual due to COVID. 

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2015-16 Preschool Discipline Estimations by Discipline Type, Washington, D.C., 2017. 

Pearman, F. A., Curran, F. C., Fisher, B. W., & Gardella, J. H. (2019). Are Achievement Gaps Related to Discipline Gaps? Evidence From National Data. AERA Open.
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Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).