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Supporting Children and Youth with Mental Health Challenges
Carole J. Neag Endowed Chair and Professor of Special Education
Neag School of Education
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06268
Prepared for Diane Shinn, Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations, Council for Exceptional Children
1. What long-term steps do you recommend to ensure that students with mental health issues receive the right services?
Each of us has many ways that we can support and advocate for all children and youth, but especially those with disabilities and mental health challenges. I like to think about support and advocacy at four levels.
First, we must actively encourage policy makers, such as school board members, legislators, and advocacy groups, to develop and enact policies that are based on sound research, defendable theory, and good implementation science.
Second, we must give policy implementers feedback on how well their efforts are enabling educators, family members, and others to effectively support all children and youth, but especially those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
Third, we must give supportive feedback and encouragement to professionals who provide direct support to all children and youth, but especially those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
Finally, we, ourselves, must be active in directly using and modeling the use of effective practices (see 2. below) with all children and youth, but especially those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
2. What can you do to support children with mental health issues?
Advocacy is necessary, but insufficient. All of us can do things daily that contribute to positively supporting all children and youth, but especially those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
Everyday, each of us should (a) actively monitor, supervise, and improve the quality of settings in which we live, move through, and work; (b) regularly and overtly acknowledge and recognize the efforts of others (colleagues, students, family members, etc.); (c) preventively rearrange for success those settings that have a history of promoting behavioral challenges; (d) provide preventive supports to children and youth before they enter challenging social and learning environments; and (d) increase our positive, supportive, and preventive engagements with children and youth with disabilities and mental health challenges, rather than decrease them.
3. What general guidelines do you use in your own support efforts for children and youth with disabilities and mental health challenges?
Regardless of whether IÕm developing a behavior intervention plan for an individual student, establishing a classroom or school-wide behavior support system, or enhancing a district-wide implementation system, I like to consider the following guidelines:
First, invest in practices that have the strongest evidence and likelihood of achieving the desired benefits for children or youth (empirically supported).
Second, select the smallest number practices that are likely to have the biggest and most durable effects in the shortest amount of time (efficiency).
Third, consider the culture or learning history of the intervention implementers and the children and youth who will experience the intervention (relevance).
Fourth, set high, realistic, and clear expectations for implementers of a practice and child and youth success (implementation fidelity and goal setting).
Fifth, continuously use information to judge the accuracy of implementation and child and youth progress and benefit (continuous progress monitoring and data-based decision making).
Sixth, consider the success and support of the individual child or youth within the context of the success and support all children and youth (inclusiveness).
Finally, for the addition or adoption of each new intervention or practice, strive to eliminate or combine two or more ineffective or inefficient ones (efficiency).