The Behavioral Health and Public Schools Framework

Introduction to the Framework

The Framework as set forth below was developed by the Task Force members and then edited to reflect suggestions and feedback from schools’ use of the Assessment Tool (the first pilot in fall 2009 and a larger assessment in 2010). It is a living document designed to be updated periodically and revised as the Commonwealth‘s public schools address behavioral health; connect behavioral health to other initiatives; and weave together many existing initiatives, such as dropout and truancy prevention, trauma-sensitivity, and anti-bullying – all of which are necessary to create safe, healthy, and supportive environments with collaborative services.

The organizational structure of the Framework is designed to enable schools to tailor local solutions to address the needs of their communities. It recognizes that in some communities district administrators may be the catalyst for implementing the recommendations, and in others leadership will start at the school level but will require district backing. The Framework goal is not to have each school implement all the activities below, but rather, to choose those particular activities the school or district finds helpful to address its own needs. An Assessment Tool was developed by the Task Force to be aligned with the Framework and help schools assess their capacity to promote behavioral health. The Tool provides a structure for reflection and for schools to identify the degree to which they are implementing various strategies, and to determine which areas warrant a new course of action. The areas identified for change would inform a school’s action plan and can be incorporated into district and school improvement plans. The goal of these action plans is to create supportive environments with collaborative services that will enable all students – including those with behavioral health needs – to achieve at their highest potentials.

The Framework includes the concepts of the three-tier public health triangle. The first tier fosters the emotional wellbeing of all students through school-wide safe and supportive environments. The second tier calls for supports and services that enable schools to intervene early when behavioral health symptoms and other barriers to school success are identified. The third tier includes intensive services and schools’ participation in coordinated care for the small number of students demonstrating significant needs. These three levels – whole school, preliminary intervention supports, and intensive services – should not be treated separately or as silos. Activities to address each level must take place throughout the whole school, in classrooms, in small groups, and with individuals and families. Coordination will be essential both to develop safe, healthy, and supportive school environments, and to ensure that services connect students to a supportive school culture.

This three-part design is woven among each of the six main sections of the framework:

I) Leadership by school and district administrators to create supportive school environments and promote collaborative services that reliably address each of the three levels.

II) Professional development for school administrators, educators, and behavioral health providers, both together through cross-disciplinary trainings and separately.

III) Access to resources and services by identifying, coordinating, and creating school and community behavioral health services to improve the school-wide environment. The framework recognizes the need for resources that are clinically, linguistically, and culturally appropriate for students and their families.

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IV) Academic and non academic approaches that enable all children to learn, including those with behavioral health needs, and that promote success in school.

V) School policies, procedures, and protocols that provide a foundation for schools to implement and support this work.

VI) Collaboration with families where parents and families are included in all aspects of their children’s education.