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Promising Programs for Troubled Youths Highlighted

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Although little is known about "what works" for children with behavioral and emotional disorders, a comprehensive new study on how schools serve these children contends there are some approaches that show promise.

The authors of At the Schoolhouse Door: An Examination of Programs and Policies for Children with Behavioral and Emotional Problems, visited 26 programs in 13 states, talked by telephone with staff members from 130 other programs, and reviewed program materials.

Based on these site visits and anecdotal reports, they came up with a number of approaches they deemed to be encouraging. The following are among the programs they cite:

Children with behavior and social problems in St. Paul elementary schools are first referred to a "behavior management" team led by a psychologist. Other members of the team include a paraprofessional trained to be a "behavior manager," an administrator, a special educator, and the child's classroom teacher.

The team is responsible for devising strategies to help students remain in the regular classroom. The job of the "behavior manager," who is paid out of regular education funds, is to temporarily move into the classroom and help students follow the programs.

Of the 300 to 400 children typically referred to the teams each year, only 1.5 percent must be referred to special education and labeled emotionally disturbed, according to the report.

The School-Based Mental Health Program of Children's Hospital in Washington seeks to provide culturally appropriate mental-health services to the large numbers of Hispanic immigrant children living in that city--many of whom have witnessed war and violence in their native countries.

The bilingual staff includes two child psychiatrists, a clinical psychologist, and four mental-health specialists. Working in four public schools from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. each day, they provide the children and their families with crisis intervention, individual and group therapy, parent education, and referrals to community agencies. Children are usually referred to the program by their teachers.

  • School officials in Montgomery County, Md., are strengthening the kinds of services disturbed children receive in self-contained, special-education classrooms through daily "classroom therapy" or problem-solving sessions.

Teachers lead the groups four days a week, and consulting mental-health professionals preside over8the meetings one day a week. The teachers and psychologist or psychiatrist also meet to talk about the kinds of problems that might come up during the classroom meeting.

And children who have left special education are allowed to continue participating in the groups to ease their transition to the regular classroom.

A benefit of this approach, according to the report, has been an unusually low turnover among the special-education teachers in the program.

  • In rural Vermont, Project Wraparound uses intensive support services in both the school and the home to successfully mainstream virtually all of the most seriously disturbed children in local school systems.

The school-based interventions are designed and carried out by "integration specialists" who are doctoral-level psychology interns. Family-support specialists, trained with funds from the state human-resources department, work in the home to develop strategies supporting the school-based efforts.

The home-based intervention, lasting up to three months, also includes a built-in "weaning process." The family-support specialists meet biweekly with the families for an additional eight weeks and then visit monthly for six months.--dv

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