Helping troubled children: The ‘Reconnecting Youth Program’

30 Oct

Many children arrive at school with mental health and social issues. In School psychologists are needed to treat troubled children:

Mark Phillips, professor emeritus of secondary education at San Francisco State University wrote the article, School psychologists: Shortage amid increased need which discusses the need for psychological support in schools.

The adolescent suicide rate continues to rise, with each suicide a dramatic reminder that the lives of a significant number of adolescents are filled with anxiety and stress. Most schools have more than a handful of kids wrestling with significant emotional problems, and schools at all levels face an ongoing challenge related to school violence and bullying, both physical and emotional.

Yet in many schools there is inadequate professional psychological support for students.

Although statistics indicate that there is a significant variation from state to state (between 2005- and 2011 the ratio of students per school psychologist in New Mexico increased by 180%, while in the same period the ratio decreased in Utah by 34%), the overall ratio is 457:1. That is almost twice that recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

THE NASP noted a shortage of almost 9,000 school psychologists in 2010 and projected a cumulative shortage of close to 15,000 by 2020. Mental Health America estimates that only 1 in 5 children in need of mental health services actually receive the needed services. These gross statistics also omit the special need of under funded schools and the increased roles school psychologists are being asked to play….

Even with the psychological services that should be provided and often aren’t, schools can’t fully prevent suicides, acts of violence, bullying, or the daily stresses that weigh on kids shoulders. The malaise runs deeper and broader.

Still schools need more resources than they receive in order to provide more programs that actively identify and counsel those kids that need help. At the very least, they need to alleviate some of the stress these kids are experiencing and to help improve the quality of their daily lives.

It is important to deal with the psychological needs of children because untreated depression can lead to suicide. In addition to psychological programs, schools can offer other resources to help students succeed in school and in life.

Rebecca Jones of Ed News Colorado writes about the Reconnecting Youth Program in the article, Reconnecting Youth program boosts teens:

Seventeen-year-old Chris Malcolm is the first to admit he squandered a lot of his high school years because he just didn’t care.

Members of Robin Albert’s Reconnecting Youth class at Summit High School in Frisco.

I was like, I don’t care about school, I don’t care if I’m here, it’s so boring I can’t deal with it,” said Malcolm, a senior at Summit High School in Frisco. “But now, I can tell myself the day’s gonna be fine, I’m fine, and I’m capable of doing school.”

Malcolm will graduate in the spring and intends to enroll in Colorado Mountain College. He hopes to become either a distiller or a meteorologist, and eventually he wants to live in New York City. Whatever, he’s got a plan, and he’s working to make it happen.

He credits the turnaround in his life to one class, which he’s taking this year. It meets second period, three days a week.

It’s called Reconnecting Youth, and it’s a special class for at-risk youth. In Summit County it’s offered in partnership between the school district and county Department of Youth and Family Services. Elsewhere around the state a handful of schools also partner with social service agencies to offer the class…

The program has been shown to improve more than just grades, though that and a decrease in absenteeism are the easiest markers to quantify. Nationwide, students enrolled in the class have exhibited a 50 percent decrease in hard drug use, a 75 percent reduction in depression, an 80 percent reduction in suicidal behaviors, a 32 percent decline in perceived stress and a 23 percent increase in “self-efficacy” or a sense of personal control. Since its creation in the 1990s, Reconnecting Youth has been touted as one of the strongest evidence-based programs for decreasing teen suicide, drug involvement and poor school performance.

As Malcolm describes it, the class has taught him how to talk himself out of helplessness. “I just tell myself that things aren’t ever as bad as they look,” he said. “They’re only as bad as I let them be. I have control….”

Program focuses on decision making, personal control

The curriculum can be taught in a semester or over a whole year. It focuses on self-esteem, decision-making, personal control and interpersonal communications. Strategies for establishing drug-free activities and friendships outside of class are also stressed.

The program was developed at the University of Washington over the course of three federal grants spanning seven years in the 1990s. Since then, training in the program has been repeatedly offered around the country in almost every state, said Beth McNamara, director of program and training for Reconnecting Youth.

Here is what Reconnecting Youth says about their program:


Reconnecting Youth Inc. is dedicated to researching, developing, testing and disseminating prevention programs for youth at risk and to training those who use our programs to implement them with fidelity. Our award-winning programs have been recognized for over a decade as models for evidence-based prevention and are included on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Our company has received generous support to develop and test our programs and the effectiveness of our training from the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the US Department of Education.

We are confident that together we can make significant gains in assisting youth to succeed in school and in life.


We have numerous publications documenting the efficacy of the Reconnecting Youth (RY) and Coping and Support Training (CAST) Programs.

Read about the participants, prevention mechanisms and theory behind the numerous RY Studies and CAST Studies. Review the outcomes for the youth involved in our efficacy trials by viewing the RY Findings and the CAST Findings.

In order for schools to help many children succeed, they will have to look at the “whole child approach.”

In The ‘whole child’ approach to education, moi said:

Many children do not have a positive education experience in the education system for a variety of reasons. Many educators are advocating for the “whole child” approach to increase the number of children who have a positive experience in the education process.

The National Education Association (NEA) describes the “whole child” approach to learning in the paper, Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child:

Meeting the needs of the whole child requires:

Addressing multiple dimensions, including students’ physical, social and emotional health and well-being.

Ensuring equity, adequacy and sustainability in resources and quality among public schools and districts.

Ensuring that students are actively engaged in a wide variety of experiences and settings within—and outside—the classroom.

Providing students with mentors and counselors as necessary to make them feel safe and secure.

Ensuring that the condition of schools is modern and up-to-date, and that schools provide access to a broad array of resources.

Reducing class size so that students receive the individualized attention they need to succeed.

Encouraging parental and community involvement.

ASCD, (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) along with the NEA is leading in the adoption of the “whole child” approach.

In order to ensure that ALL children have a basic education, we must take a comprehensive approach to learning.

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©


Johns Hopkins study finds ‘Positive Behavior Intervention’ improves student behavior                                        

Pre-kindergarten programs help at-risk students prepare for school                                                                         

A strategy to reduce school suspensions: ‘School Wide Positive Behavior Support’                                       

U.S. Education Dept. Civil Rights Office releases report on racial disparity in school retention                           

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2 Responses to “Helping troubled children: The ‘Reconnecting Youth Program’”


  1. There are too few counselors in schools | drwilda - March 24, 2013

    […] It is important to deal with the psychological needs of children because untreated depression can lead to suicide. In addition to psychological programs, schools can offer other resources to help students succeed in school and in life. […]

  2. ‘Peer Counseling’ in schools | drwilda - April 28, 2014

    […] teens. Another model many schools are trying is peer […]

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