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PBS and At-Risk Youth: A Continuum of Needs and Supports. C. Michael Nelson University of Kentucky Matthew Cregor Southern Poverty Law Center Jeff Sprague University of Oregon Kristine Jolivette Georgia State University. Agenda. Introductions Needs of At-Risk & Adjudicated Youth

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pbs and at risk youth a continuum of needs and supports

PBS and At-Risk Youth: A Continuum of Needs and Supports

C. Michael Nelson

University of Kentucky

Matthew Cregor

Southern Poverty Law Center

Jeff Sprague

University of Oregon

Kristine Jolivette

Georgia State University



Needs of At-Risk & Adjudicated Youth

Front End: Prevention

Mid Depth: Diversion Programs

Deep End: Residential Treatment; Secure Confinement

youth in juvenile corrections
Youth in Juvenile Corrections
  • Characteristics that relate to behavior:
    • Special education classification
    • Mental disorders
    • Drug and alcohol abuse
    • History of abuse, neglect, and witnessing violence
              • J. Gagnon, 2008
youth in juvenile corrections4
Youth in Juvenile Corrections
  • Of students with disabilities in public schools
    • 8.1% are classified with emotional disturbance (ED)
    • 48.3% with a learning disability (LD) (U.S. Department of Education, 2006)
  • Of students with disabilities in JC schools
    • More than 42% are classified with ED
    • 42% are classified with LD

(Gagnon et al., 2008; Quinn et al., 2001; Quinn et al., 2005)

J. Gagnon, 2008

youth with mental disorders
Youth with Mental Disorders
  • Youth with mental disorders may have a greater likelihood of arrest, due to problems with interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and with impulsivity

(Mulford, Reppucci, Mulvey, Woolard, & Portwood, 2004)

youth with mental disorders in juvenile corrections
Youth with Mental Disorders in Juvenile Corrections
  • Compared to youth in the general population, youth in juvenile correctional facilities
    • Are about ten times more likely to be identified as having a diagnosis of conduct disorder or psychoses
    • Are two to four times more likely to have ADHD
    • Girls were 2-4 times more likely to have major depression and boys were twice as likely

(Fazel, Doll, and Langstrom, 2008)

J. Gagnon, 2008

youth with mental disorders in juvenile corrections7
Youth with Mental Disorders in Juvenile Corrections
  • Excluding conduct disorder, 2/3 of males and 3/4 of females met diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders (Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006; Teplin et al., 2002)
  • More than half of youth have oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder (Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002)
                  • J. Gagnon, 2008
youth with mental disorders in juvenile corrections8
Youth with Mental Disorders in Juvenile Corrections
  • One in ten youths in juvenile detention has recent thoughts of suicide and another one in ten has attempted suicide (Abram et al., 2008)
  • Youth in custody are three times more likely to complete suicide than youth in our communities (Gallagher & Dobrin, 2006)
  • Youth involved in child welfare and juvenile justice are five time more likely to complete suicide than youth in the general population (Farand et al., 2004)
  • Approximately 2/3 of incarcerated youth attempters used violent means that (e.g., cutting, hanging) that are more likely to succeed. About 85% of adolescents in the general population who attempt suicide, do so by overdose, which has less likelihood of completing suicide (Penn et al., 2003)
                  • J. Gagnon, 2008
youth in juvenile corrections drug abuse
Youth in Juvenile Corrections-Drug Abuse
  • About half of detained males and almost half of detained females have a substance use disorder (Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002)
                  • J. Gagnon, 2008
youth in juvenile corrections history of abuse neglect and witnessing violence
Youth in Juvenile Corrections-History of Abuse, Neglect, and Witnessing Violence
  • 11% of detained youth were identified as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • About 90% of youth in juvenile corrections have witnessed someone hurt very badly or killed

(Abram, Teplin, Charles, Longworth, McClelland, & Dulcan, 2004; Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002)

  • 16% of youth have themselves sustained a gunshot or stab wound in the previous year (Shelton, 2000)
                  • J. Gagnon, 2008
youth in juvenile corrections history of abuse neglect and witnessing violence11
Youth in Juvenile Corrections-History of Abuse, Neglect, and Witnessing Violence
  • 70% of females had been physically abused and 70% sexually abused (Evans, Alpers, Macari, & Mason, 1996)
  • Evans et al. also reported that of males, over 50% had experienced physical abuse and 20% has been sexually abused
  • In another study (Shelton, 2000), 35% of detained youth reported being physically abused and 18% reported being sexually abused
                • J. Gagnon, 2008

Why do these troubled and disabled youth end up in the juvenile justice system?

When do their problems first emerge?

What role do social institutions (family services, early childhood programs, schools) play in either addressing or exacerbating these problems?

How does positive behavior support fit?


Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Matthew Cregor

Southern Poverty Law Center


Referral to

Juvenile or

Adult Court

Juvenile Detentionor Secure Commitment

Adult Prison




Juvenile Detentionor Secure Commitment



Suspension & Expulsion

Adult Prison




Nationally, African-American children in public school are suspended or expelled at three times the rate of white students.


70% of children in juvenile correctional facilities have significant mental and emotional problems



  • Worst graduation rate; nationally, only 35% graduate high school (compared to 70% for all students)
  • More than three times as likely to be arrested before leaving school as all students
  • Twice as likely to be incarcerated as an adult




East Baton Rouge





  • First in nation
  • Appointment of special master
  • Positive behavior interventions for ALL students
  • Psychological services
  • Eliminate illegal practices
  • End segregation
  • Vocational training services







Special Education Students Removed For More Than 10 Days

Special Education Students

Regular Students








Special Math or Reading Instruction for ED students








pbs in alternative education
PBS in Alternative Education

Jeffrey Sprague

  • University of Oregon
pbs in alternative education35
PBS in Alternative Education
  • Status of alternative ed in the U.S.
    • Who is served?
    • Who is overrepresented?
  • Alt Ed Definitions
  • Alt Ed Research
    • What do we know?
    • What do we need?
  • An applied example
alternative education
Alternative Education

39 percent of public school districts administer at least one alternative school or program for at-risk students

1.3 % of all public school students, are enrolled in public alternative schools or programs for at-risk students

33% to 75% of students in alternative and residential programs are identified as emotionally and behaviorally disordered

alternative education37
Alternative education
  • “Alternative education” (AE) can refer to any non-traditional educational service, but is often used to indicate a program provided for at-risk children or youth
    • (Aron, 2006).
  • 10,900 public alternative schools and programs in the nation served at-risk students during the 2000-01 school year (NCES, 2001).
    • Urban districts, large districts (those with 10,000 or more students), districts in the southeast, districts with high minority student enrollments, and districts with high poverty concentrations are more likely than other districts to have alternative schools and programs for at-risk students.
  • Students from ethnic minority groups tend to be over-represented in AE programs involving involuntary placement due to disciplinary problems
    • They are more likely to be under-represented in voluntary charter or magnet schools that focus on specialized themes or content areas, such as foreign language immersion schools.
what works for the few in alternative ed
What works for the “few” in alternative ed?
  • Universal Screening (clear criteria for entry and exit)
  • Individualized support and school-based adult mentoring
  • Intensive social and life skills training
  • Alternatives to suspension and expulsion
  • Stronger reward systems
  • Increased monitoring in school
  • Parent/Family collaboration
  • Multi-agency service coordination
  • Service Learning and/or community service

(Tobin & Sprague, 2002)

alt ed characteristics
Alt ed characteristics
  • Small class size and small student body
  • Choice to attend versus involuntary placement (although students may be placed in AE involuntarily for a variety of reasons)
  • A personalized school environment
  • High expectations for success
  • Students feel included in the decision making process
  • Special teacher training
  • Flexible teaching arrangements
  • Parent involvement and collaboration
  • Effective classroom management
  • Transition support.
    • Whether these characteristics are functionally related to student outcomes (positive or negative) is unknown (Quinn & Poirer, 2006; Tobin & Sprague, 2000a, 2000b, 2002).
alt ed configurations
Alt Ed Configurations
  • Sponsoring agency
    • Public school
      • charter or magnet schools
      • “turn around” schools for students who have been expelled
      • collaborative efforts with businesses or non-profit charitable organizations
    • Mental health agencies, particularly hospitals and institutions providing residential treatment, operate AE programs for their school-age patients.
    • Juvenile justice agencies provide AE programs for youth who are detained in a correctional facility or, sometimes, who are on probation and who may be placed in a group home or other institution where they cannot attend their neighborhood schools
    • These various agencies may serve the same student at different times, creating a need for collaboration and coordination to facilitate transitioning from AE provided by one agency to AE provided by another, and sometimes to a traditional neighborhood school
  • Location
    • 59% of all public alternative schools and programs for at-risk students are housed in a separate facility
does it work
Does it work?
  • No experimental study of efforts to implement PBS in separate alternative schools’ has been published to date
    • School within a school
      • Gottfredson (1997; 2001)
      • Sprague & Nishioka (2001; 2005; in preparation)
    • Exemplary alt ed programs
      • Quinn & Poirer, 2006
case study jos
Case Study: “José”

José is a seventh grade student. Spanish is the primary language spoken in his home; English is considered his second language. José has difficulty sitting still and often engages in horseplay with other students by pretending to choke, hit, or kick them. This sometimes leads to fights and is viewed as disruptive by his teachers.

jos s presenting problems
José’s Presenting Problems

Cultural and language issues

Frequent discipline referrals for fighting, disruptive, and abusive language

Failing grades

High rates of aggressive behavior with peers

Attention problems in class

interventions for jos
Interventions for José
  • Adult mentoring
  • Daily check-in and check-out
    • Self-management training and practice
  • Intensive social skills training and academic support
  • Alternative discipline with stronger rewards
  • Bi-lingual communication with family
outcomes for jos
Outcomes for José
  • José’s grades improved greatly.
    • In 6th grade, his overall GPA was 1.25.
    • In his first semester of 7th grade, his GPA was 3.11.
  • Attendance:
    • Satisfactory attendance maintained
  • Behavior referrals:
    • Behavior referrals decreased from 16 referrals in 6th grade to 3 referrals in 7th grade
school within a school example
School within a school example
  • Seven Schools
    • Three years implementation
    • Skills for Success
      • PBS plus school w/in school
  • Implementation fidelity
  • Student outcomes
    • Sprague & Yeaton (in preparation)


97% Implementation Fidelity 99% Combined Implementation Fidelity by year 3


Math & LA teachers for 80 students who were participating in either the Skills for Success Classroom or receiving Mental Health services were surveyed. The teachers reported that during the last semester:

  • 62% of the students were more attentive in class
  • 68% of the students were behaving better in class.
  • 75% of the students were getting along better with other students.

The average improvement in these three indicators was 68%

results skills for success
Results: Skills for Success

Prior to SFS Math & LA grades averaged 0.50 (D-).

Both Math & LA grades increased 1 full grade from D- to C-

results skills for success50
Results: Skills for Success

Absences dropped from an average of almost 7 per term to below 5 and

Referrals dropped from an average of almost 2.5 per term to below 1.

alt ed issues and recommendations
Alt ed Issues and Recommendations

The absence of clear research evidence regarding promising AE practices impedes the definition of optimal program characteristics and assessment of intervention fidelity

The relative impact of individual program characteristics on overall student outcomes should be examined

Research also should guide the development of a tool to aid in identifying the optimal alternative school placement based on individual student educational needs and the philosophy and programmatic components of alternative programs.

Link the he National Alternative Education Association (http://the-naea.org/) with (Association for Positive Behavior Supports, www.apbs.org).

translating positive behavior interventions supports pbs into residential settings as a 24 7 model

Translating Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBS) into Residential Settings as a 24/7 Model

Kristine Jolivette, Ph.D.

current status
Current Status
  • Residential Schools
    • 24-hour monitoring of social, emotional, educational needs; involuntary enrollment (Gagnon & Leone, 2005)
    • 13% enrollment increase among students with EBD in past 10 years
    • ½ to ¾ total population receive special education services under EBD
    • Program philosophy: Behavioral (53%), Psychoeducational (28%)(Gagnon & Leone, 2005)
    • Students: high prevalence of mental health diagnoses, minorities, anti-social behaviors
call for action
Call for Action
  • National Council on Disability (2003) call for PBS in JJ
  • Researcher call for PBS extension to AE, Residential, and JJ settings
      • (Houchins, Jolivette, Wessendorf, McGlynn, & Nelson, 2005; Nelson, Sugai, & Smith, 2005; Scott, Nelson, Liaupsin, Jolivette, Christle, & Riney, 2001)
  • Limited experimental studies implementing PBS in AE, residential, or JJ settings
    • Unknown application in residential settings
    • NM & NC implementing PBS in all JJ educational settings
    • AL, ID, VE considering PBS for JJ
    • CA, IA, IL, WA PBS in at least one JJ facility
      • (National Center on the Education of Children who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk, 2007)
pbs links to these settings
PBS – Links to These Settings
  • Two youth development principles
    • Appropriate Structure
      • Predictable routines, rules, and expectations
      • Consistent implementation of supports by staff linked to positive expectations
    • Positive Social Norms
      • Teaching and modeling of appropriate, expected behaviors
      • Reinforcement for displaying these behaviors
          • National Council on Disability (2003)
  • Incorporation of evidence-based interventions
    • Comprehensive -Durable
    • Relevant - Positive


Behavior Support

in School Systems


Setting Systems


Setting Systems

Individual Student






Behavior Support

in Residential Systems

Housing Units

Education Program

Security Programs

Facility-wide System

Nelson, 2004

systems issues
Systems Issues
  • Disconnect between:
    • Educational programming
    • Housing unit programming
    • Security programming
    • Mental health programming
    • Recreation programming
    • Other programming
      • Must work together to form a seamless system for the youth
systems issues59
Systems Issues
  • Hierarchies and politics within and across systems
    • Power
    • History
      • Changing adult behavior = a positive change in youth behavior
      • Make “peace” with the history and move forward
data issues
Data Issues
  • Different types of and reporting mechanisms for data collected
    • Anecdotal, frequency, duration
    • Daily, weekly, monthly, semester reports
      • A common “merger” of data collected required
  • Limited sharing of data
    • Across staff within and outside of systems
      • A shared data set with a schedule for sharing
  • “Big Picture” of whats going on often missing
    • Disconnect between morning, school, lunch, after-school, afternoon, evening, nighttime events
      • Common “debriefing” on a daily basis
practice issues
Practice Issues
  • “Saboteurs”
    • Lack of “buy-in” by ALL staff across systems
      • Administrator for each system sets the tone
      • Needs to be a job expectation
  • Use of non-scientific strategies, interventions, and curricula
    • Lack of “knowing” or time to investigate/staying with current practices
      • Effectiveness related to the practices employed
  • Differential & low expectations of youth
    • Lack of administrative and staff consensus on strategies/interventions
      • A team (reps. from each system) needs to take the lead
    • Expectations change dependent on the environment, staff, time of day, etc.
      • Consistency is a key in prevention
      • Common policies and procedures
    • Trying to catch youth being “bad” (punishment focus)
      • Equitable reinforcement for positive social and academic behavior a must
        • Freedom, control, independence
      • Reinforcement for implementation by staff a must
    • Matthew Effect – self-fulfilling prophecy
      • High & challenging yet achievable individual, grade, cottage, and facility goals a must
residential facility demographics
Residential Facility Demographics
  • Residential School
    • For students with severe EBD referred by schools, mental health agencies, and the courts
    • 1 – 12 grades
    • ½ Year 1 = 75 students; Year 2 = 75 students
    • 11 teachers and 1 staff person per class
  • Residential Units
    • 8 units; 2-3 staff per shift
    • Students on-site 24 hours, 7 days a week
    • Students eat lunch on the units
residential school unit wide expectations

Show Respect

Take Responsibility

Accept Adult Directions

Respond Appropriately

I have proven I am a star

because I can:

E&S Staff saw it all!

Residential School/Unit-wide Expectations
  • Be a STAR
    • Show respect
    • Take responsibility
    • Accept adult directions
    • Respond appropriately
sample school student rft
Sample School Student Rft.
  • 5-10 S.T.A.R.s Pens or pencils
  • One night homework pass
  • 11-12 S.T.A.R.s 30 minutes of computer access
  • Word search book
  • Puzzle
  • 21-30 S.T.A.R.s Leisure books
  • Teacher helper
  • Library helper
  • Kidz Club access
  • 31-40 S.T.A.R.s Blockbuster gift certificate
  • S.T.A.R store helper
  • On-campus lunch with staff of your choice
  • 41-50 S.T.A.R.s Movie pass
  • Bike ride with staff
  • Garden time with staff
  • 51 or more S.T.A.R.s Off-campus movie with staff
  • Off-campus lunch with staff
  • Picnic in the park with staff
sample housing student rft
Sample Housing Student Rft.
  • 1-5 S.T.A.R.s Pens or pencils
  • General school supplies
  • Candy
  • 6-10 S.T.A.R.s 15 minutes of computer access
  • Journals
  • Crayons
  • 11-20 S.T.A.R.s Blockbuster gift certificate
  • On-campus lunch with staff
  • 21-30 S.T.A.R.s Mr. Bill’s helper
  • Art project with art teacher
  • Picnic in the park with staff
  • Lack of school baseline data
  • School and housing not interested at same time
  • 24/7 concept a continual challenge for
    • Training
    • Buy-in
    • Implementation
considerations for the facility
Considerations for the Facility
  • Level of Support
    • How much? (initial training plus follow-up)
    • How configured? (all staff at one time or by individual systems)
    • By whom? (university/local personnel, different based on staff)
  • Staff Issues
    • Fusing of different philosophies and educational backgrounds
    • Attitude (negativity, “catching youth being bad”)
    • Securing buy-in (how so across all staff)
  • Logistics
    • Time(release time, reconfiguration of duties)
    • Staffing (will it look different, impact on facility)
    • Resources (SWIS, research articles, behavioral strategies)
  • Financial
    • Training costs (substitute teachers, more security)
    • Reinforcement(youth versus staff)
words from the field
Words from the Field
  • Start small
  • Obtain endorsement & support at the state level
  • Link to an ongoing statewide PBS or related initiative
  • Adapt a data collection & decision model
  • Incorporate PBS into an existing treatment or discipline model, if compatible
        • Nelson, Sprague, Jolivette, Smith, & Tobin, 2009
concluding remarks
Concluding Remarks

We need to work together to:Raise public awarenessImprove outcomes

Work smarter, not harder

Questions, comments?

contact us
Contact Us

Mike Nelson cpdmiken@email.uky.edu

Matt Cregor matthew.cregor@splcenter.org

Jeff Sprague jeffs@uoregon.edu

Kristine Jolivette epeksj@langate.gsu.edu