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NAMI Promotes Crisis Intervention for Youth

by Dana Markey, Program Coordinator, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center, and Laura Usher, NAMI Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Coordinator

An alarming number of youth with serious mental health treatment needs continue to enter the juvenile justice system as a result of the lack of psychiatric crisis intervention services available in schools and communities. Schools in particular have proven to be a pipeline into the juvenile justice system with school personnel contacting law enforcement when students engage in inappropriate behaviors as a result of a psychiatric crisis.

In response to this national crisis, NAMI’s Child and Adolescent Action Center and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Resource Center are working on a new initiative, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to promote crisis intervention programs that focus on responding to youth in psychiatric crisis in schools and in the community.

As part of the project, NAMI is publishing a guide to crisis intervention programs for youth for children’s mental health advocates. The paper will include information about existing crisis intervention programs and highlight key components of a successful program. The paper will be accompanied by two fact sheets that will provide advocates and law enforcement personnel with practical strategies on how to implement and promote these programs in their states and communities. The findings from this research will be presented at NAMI’s Leadership Institute in February, and the guide and fact sheets will soon be available online at NAMI’s CIT Resource Center Web site.

CIT programs, which have until recently focused on adults, bring together law enforcement personnel, mental health providers, and family advocates to collaborate on reducing arrests and incarceration of individuals with mental illness. CIT programs train law enforcement personnel to respond safely and humanely to individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis. CIT programs are low- cost and have produced extraordinarily positive outcomes with adults, including: keeping adults with mental illness out of jail and into treatment; reducing officer injuries, SWAT team emergencies, and the amount of time officers spend on the disposition of mental disturbance calls; and working successfully with rural communities. It is incredibly important that all crisis intervention programs for youth include an evaluation component so comparable outcomes can be proven for youth.

Several innovative communities have adapted and expanded CIT programs to better meet the needs of youth.  These communities are highlighted in NAMI’s guide, and leaders from these communities were also invited to present at the 2008 CIT National Conference as part of NAMI’s new initiative.  Slides and handouts from these presentations are available on NAMI Georgia's Web site.

One such innovative community is Denver, Colo., which has developed an advanced CIT program for youth called Children in Crisis.  The Children in Crisis program has been in existence since 2002 and is now undergoing revision. It offers a 24-hour block of training on addressing the needs of children and youth in crisis. The training is offered to school resource officers (SROs) and other school personnel who interact with children.

In Chicago, Ill., the Chicago Police Department is developing a 40-hour advanced CIT training focused on the needs of youth with mental illness. The program will build upon Chicago’s basic CIT training. The program will train officers in all of Chicago’s police districts, and will include, in one district, a simultaneous roll-out of NAMI’s Parents and Teachers as Allies program to help inform school personnel of early-onset mental illness and the importance of early identification, which may prevent psychiatric crises in the first place.

There are many steps children’s mental health advocates can take to help promote and facilitate the implementation of crisis intervention programs for youth, including:

  • Build Momentum. Reach out to community stakeholders who are key players to successfully implementing and sustaining a crisis intervention programs for youth. These partners include law enforcement personnel, school personnel, community mental health providers, juvenile justice system administrators, and university researchers (to evaluate the program’s effectiveness). Community partnerships are critical and advocates are in a unique position to build bridges and connect these stakeholders together.
  • Work with School Administrators to Improve the School Environment. It is important that schools offer a continuum of supports and services to prevent situations from escalating to the point of a psychiatric crisis. There are many school-based programs available that advocates can encourage schools to implement, including Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. These types of programs will complement the efforts of crisis intervention programs for youth.
  • Reach Out to Law Enforcement.  Dedicate time to building a relationship with law enforcement personnel and understanding their culture. They are primary players in any crisis intervention program for youth and need to be “sold” on the program’s benefits, since they will have to attend trainings and use the skills they learn in the field. Outreach efforts can include publicly sharing positive experiences with police officers and participating in “ride-alongs” with law enforcement personnel.

Advocates can also play an important role once crisis intervention programs for youth are brought to their states or communities, including providing the youth or family perspective in trainings, serving on the program’s steering committee, and providing valuable feedback on the program’s effectiveness.

For more information on NAMI’s work on crisis intervention programs for youth, please contact Laura Usher, NAMI CIT Coordinator, at or Dana Markey, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center Program Coordinator, at

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