Friday, August 5, 2011

School Districts Must Implement Multiple Intervention Programs for the Sake of Our Children, Parents, and Society - Part II


In Wednesday’s post I discussed some of my own background and that of the Student Assistance System (SAS). Also, I explained how the program was financed. This post will take you through the creation of a SAS school-based assessment and intervention teams. Subsequent posts will also discuss the nuts and bolts of other aspects of a SAS. My hope is that parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, or anyone interested in the welfare of children will be able to use these posts as a guide to creating a SAS in their districts.

As I stated in the first post, I was prompted to write this series by the decision of the Obama administration to investigate and possibly eliminate disciplinary policies that prevent students from receiving an education, punitive actions such as expulsion from school or extensive stays in detention or in-school suspension,. The Dept. of Justice refers to these disciplinary actions as “Schools to Prisons.” My impression after reading the report is that it lacks an early intervention piece, a method to identify students well before the serious misbehavior begins. The beauty of the SAS is that at-risk students are identified early and receive prevention services. Another benefit of an SAS is the reduction of discipline problems in the classroom, allowing the teacher to focus on academics rather than classroom management. Most importantly is the fact that countless lives of children and teens will be saved and families healed.

Before any SAS is put into place, CARE Teams need to be trained and established at every school. These teams are not to be confused with academic assessment teams. While the CARE Teams are drawing up the most effective referral, assessment, and intervention plans for their schools, other staff should be going through the SAS training so every school has a handful of SAS advocates. Eventually, every single person on the staff, from the principal to the custodian should be trained.

Once the CARE Teams are in place and the faculty educated on the purpose of the team, every staff person should be given blank referral forms. The referral form should focus on risky behaviors only, not speculation about students’ alcohol/drug use. Referrals can come from any staff member. They simply fill out the referral form and give it to a team member. In the meantime the CARE Teams need to identify and train staff who would make good student group facilitators.

Additionally, each team needs to identify all the referral services in the community and the school district. Remember that the function of the CARE Teams is not to serve as a referral system for students with learning difficulties but only for students with behavioral problems. Of course, both issues do go hand-in-hand more often than not. Frequently, the two different teams should meet and discuss the students who have been referred to both teams and assign students to one team or the other or work jointly on particular students. Again, training of staff should continue, but I will discuss the details of the training in Part III. Initially many teachers on the staff who will complain about the extra paperwork (and who can blame them) will experience a complete turnaround after the training. Garnering support of 90% or more of a school’s staff guarantees the success of the SAS at every school.

Soon student referrals will come into the CARE Team, and members will hand deliver the one-page behavior check list to every one of the student’s teachers plus school secretaries, nurse, counselor, aids, and custodians. Secrecy about the referrals is repeatedly stressed to the staff as well as the need to avoid speculation about reasons for a referral. Other members will check current academic progress as well as checking on the history of the student’s academic performance. Others will look into the disciplinary records of every referred student and interview the school counselor, nurse, and principal for family history and insights into the student’s behavior, attitude, etc. Students who are referred are assigned a case manager within the team so it is likely that team members will certainly have more than one student.

After as much personal information is collected, a file is opened on the student and a case manager is assigned. The CARE Team has a locked, fire-proof file cabinet, and the key is in the possession of the team leader. Absolutely no one but team members will have access to the files. If a student leaves the district, the file is shredded. Otherwise, the file moves from school to school as the student moves until s/he no longer needs SAS services or graduates from high school. Team members strictly follow HIPPA guidelines and never discuss students outside of the team meetings. In fact, one difficulty team members will face is questioning by staff about progress of the student’s referral or the final referral decision. Balancing between the staff’s need to know and the student’s right to privacy can be like walking a tight rope.

When a decision is reached about where to refer a student—to an outside mental health program, addiction program, school-based support group, etc—the parents and their child are invited to attend a conference (some might say an intervention) with the case manager and team leader. The team members are careful to explain that the SAS is not a punitive program, but a support system. After the history and current behaviors/academic progress or lack thereof is discussed, a recommendation is made to the parents. The recommendation might be to outside counseling service, the school’s social worker, or school-based support group. The process from beginning to end should never take longer than a month.

Some students will simply be put on hold because there is not enough information to make a referral; however, the students’ behavior and grades will be monitored by occasionally asking staff to fill out another referral form. Other students find their way into the SAS because of discipline problems, which is the topic of another post.

That is the basic structure of the CARE Teams, their function, and training. Creating CARE Team at each school is a school district is the essential first step in establishing an effective SAS. I’m sure I’ve omitted many details, but I hope those details will be brought to light in the comments section. In Part III, I will discuss what the training is like, and how the training can serve as an intervention on a school’s entire staff.

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