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The Missing Link

September 11, 2015

The Missing Link: How the Symptoms of Mental Health in Children and Their Educational Needs Often Times Clash

For many years, and through many classroom observations, educational trainings and meetings, I’ve wondered why educators, at times, struggle with understanding children with mental health issues.  They often times don’t see that these children are not trying to wreak havoc in the classroom or hinder anyone else’s educational experience, but rather they are just suffering.  Due to this suffering, they often times resort to using maladaptive behaviors due to unmet needs of their own.  These maladaptive behaviors cannot be punished and/or disciplined away, and certainly cannot be rewarded away through a token economy system, as those systems do not teach skills or improve the functioning of the child, and they most certainly do not cure their mental health disorders.  To say it simply, and to quote Dr. Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can”. Often times these children have been horrifically physically and sexually abused, verbally abused, used controlled substances to cope with these traumatic events, and in many cases have been taken out of their home or familiar living situation. How can we than say that the child is just not motivated? At Hillcrest Family Services Anna B. Lawther Academy, we see these types of children every day, and CHOOSE to view them as highly motivated individuals who have severe skills deficits as a result of the above mentioned actions and circumstances.  We also view it as our duty to serve these children in a way that produces outcomes and meets our mission.

We believe in approaching students with a relationship based and trauma informed care approach. We firmly believe if this is done with fidelity, our students will be able to feel comfortable addressing their mental health and educational deficits and thus gain a greater control of their educational learning experience all while bettering themselves as people.


Collaborative and Proactive Solutions Approach (CPS)

Dr. Ross Greene’s approach to helping young people with challenging behavior, Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, is a philosophy and approach that sees challenging behavior as communication that the child does not have the skills to do well. This philosophy leads to a relationship based, collaborative skill building approach without the use of “motivational” interventions. As a result, we assume that the child wants to do well, but lacks the necessary social, emotional, behavioral skills to respond adaptively to the demands of the situation. Thus, we view challenging (maladaptive) behavior as a skills deficit similar to a skill deficit in reading and other academic subjects. Challenging behavior occurs, often reliably and predictably, when there are demands placed on the child for the very skills the child is lacking. Since challenging behavior, in response to specific unsolved problems, is usually highly predictable, problems can be solved proactively and collaboratively.


Trauma Informed Care

Trauma Informed Care is an approach that “incorporates knowledge about trauma, prevalence, impact and recovery in all aspects of service delivery. It minimizes re-victimization and leads to services that are hospitable and engaging to survivors” (Fallot, 2005). Hillcrest Family Services has adopted a trauma informed/ trauma sensitive approach in the provision of services to the children in our care. This approach encourages us to implement highly individualized plans of care that center around the person served and their recovery.


It is through these above philosophies and efforts that the Anna B. Lawther Academy remains not only viable in today’s educational landscape but continues to afford students the opportunities to gain better control of their lives through its educational offerings.


John Bellini, M.S., Vice President Anna B. Lawther Academy, Hillcrest Family Services