National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Feature Story: NAMI Promotes Crisis Intervention for Youth

Contributors: Dana Markey and Laura Usher

An alarming number of youth with serious mental health treatment needs continue to enter the juvenile justice system because 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 CIT Resource Center are working on a new initiative, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to promote CIT 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 CIT for Youth programs for children’s mental health advocates. This guide will include information about crisis intervention programs that exist and highlight key components of a successful CIT for Youth program. The guide will be accompanied by two fact sheets that will provide advocates and law enforcement personnel with practical strategies for how to implement and promote these programs in their states and communities. Our research findings will be presented at NAMI’s Leadership Institute in February, and the guide and fact sheets will be available online at NAMI’s CIT Resource Center website later in February.

Until recently, most CIT programs focused on adults. Several innovative communities have begun adapting and expanding their 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. 

One such innovative community is Denver, Colorado, which has developed a CIT for Youth program 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, Illinois, 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 CIT for Youth programs, including:

  • Build Momentum. Reach out to community stakeholders who are key players to successfully implementing and sustaining a CIT for Youth program. 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 CIT for Youth programs.
  • 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 CIT for Youth program 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 CIT for Youth programs are brought to their states or communities, including providing the youth or family perspective in CIT trainings, serving on the program’s steering committee, and providing valuable feedback on the program’s effectiveness.

For more information on NAMI’s CIT for Youth initiative, please contact Laura Usher, NAMI CIT Coordinator, at or Dana Markey, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center Program Coordinator, at