Children's Mental Health Services Research

Project Title

Links to Learning

Marc Atkins, Ané Maríñez-Lora, Elisa Shernoff, Tara Mehta

Project Description
Links to Learning is funded by the NIMH from 2005 to 2010 to study a model for school-based mental health services for urban low-income children and families that is guided by empirical evidence for schooling as critical for children’s social and emotional adjustment, and by evidence for the direct and indirect benefits of academic achievement for children’s mental health. A primary hypothesis is that aligning mental health resources to support children’s learning will lead to stronger mental health outcomes for children, relative to mental health services as usual. The model builds on cumulative evidence from a program of NIMH-funded research based in inner city Chicago Public Schools in which community mental health providers collaborated with (1) parent advocates to effectively maintain families in a school-based mental health program, (2) classroom teachers to enhance children’s academic performance, and (3) peer-identified influential teachers (key opinion leaders) to influence classroom teachers’ use of behavior management strategies. This study replicates and extends these collaborative models to focus on the most robust teacher and parent predictors of student learning. Children with one or more Disruptive Behavior Disorder in Kindergarten through 4th grades were identified by teacher screening and follow-up standardized parent and teacher ratings. Schools were randomly selected and assigned to either a comparison mental health services-as-usual condition, or to the experimental intervention condition, in which mental health providers (MHPs) are working in collaboration with key opinion leader (KOL) teachers, and parent advocates (PAs) to provide consultation to children’s classroom teachers and parents on evidence-based strategies for targeted predictors of children’s learning. It is hypothesized that, relative to comparison sites, the experimental school mental health intervention will lead to improvement in urban children’s academic performance, behavior at home, and behavior at school relative to the treatment-as-usual comparison.

Roles for Psychology Interns:

  • Provide consultation to classroom teachers on implementation of class-wide academic and behavioral intervention strategies
  • Provide consultation to mental health agency providers on implementation of targeted intervention strategies for children with disruptive behavior problems
  • Work with key opinion leader teachers to create sustainable structures that support class-wide and targeted intervention strategies

Project Title
Project NAFASI (Nurturing All Families through After School Improvement)

Marc S. Atkins, Tara Mehta

Project Description
In response to the need for alternative venues for mental health service delivery for underserved children and families, Project NAFASI links mental health resources with publicly-funded after-school programs in urban, high poverty communities. This NIMH-funded program of research is a partnership with the Chicago Park District and examines how mental health consultation and support can strengthen the benefits of after-school programs for children's academic, social, and behavioral functioning. Early collaboration with after school program staff led to the development of our initial intervention, based on the efficacy-based, manualized Summer Treatment Program (Pelham et al., 1997) and focused on facilitating positive peer socialization, reducing disruptive behaviors, increasing prosocial behaviors, and improving academic performance. Collaboration and intervention consultation at each program site proceeds in three stages: (1) relationship building, needs assessment, and resource mapping, (2) intervention adaptation and implementation, and (3) implementation support, problem-solving, and sustainability. Initial findings suggest that the NAFASI intervention was both feasible and very well received by staff, had a positive impact on prosocial behavior, but was not sufficiently intensive to reduce aggressive behavior. Building on this early work and reflecting a growing literature linking organizational social context with service quality and outcomes, we are beginning to examine setting-level social processes that may enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions in the after school setting. Findings will be used to inform the expansion of the NAFASI intervention through the development of organizational intervention components, including intervention manuals, training materials, and fidelity checklists, that will be tested in a subsequent clinical trial.

Roles for Psychology Interns
  • Provide consultation to after-school program staff around behavior management, activity instruction, and coaching behaviors
  • Assist with data analysis and interpretation towards the refinement of intervention and research goals
  • Assist with development and pilot test of organizational intervention components