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Implementing CIT Programs for School Resource Officers

NAMI has been part of a growing national effort to adapt the CIT model to better respond to children and youth in crisis. During this workshop, law enforcement leaders from two crisis intervention team (CIT) programs shared the challenges and successes their programs have faced in creating specialized CIT for Youth programs.

Lt. David Anders, the coordinator of the Lake Charles (La.) CIT program, offered CIT training to school resource officers (SROs) who work in schools in Calcasieu Parish and neighboring parishes in 2008. A year after the training, these officers were part of a focus group that NAMI conducted to learn more about their experiences in schools.

What the officers revealed was striking. Their concerns about the lack of resources in schools to respond to children with mental health needs echo the concerns that NAMI has heard from families for years. Specifically, the officers called on schools to provide more on-site mental health services and better linkages to services in the community as well as better teacher training on mental health.

The officers also asked to be involved proactively in planning to assist students rather than simply being called in a crisis to arrest the student. The officers asked for more training on issues they encounter in schools, including suicide attempts, self-injurious behaviors and substance abuse. In response to these requests, Lt. Anders, along with Major Ginny Higgins from the St. Martin’s Parish Sheriff’s Department, is in the process of developing a 40-hour CIT training specifically for SROs that will be focused on youth issues. Lt. Anders and Major Higgins will be working with McNeese University, NAMI Southwest Louisiana and a variety of other community partners to make this project a reality.

For his leadership on CIT, including efforts to expand CIT to veterans and children’s populations, Lt. Anders was the recipient of the CIT Coordinator of Year award at the CIT International Conference in May.

The workshop’s second speaker, Detective Ron Bruno, is the CIT coordinator of CIT Utah and an officer in the Salt Lake City police department. Detective Bruno is working with NAMI Utah to plan a CIT for Youth program in Salt Lake City and St. George. Lt. Bruno also conducted a focus group with SROs in his program, and they reflected very similar concerns to those we heard in Louisiana.  

Since CIT Utah already has strong partnerships with law enforcement, mental health and NAMI, their strategy has been first to build partnerships with schools. To that end, they have developed a memorandum of agreement to lay out all the roles of partners in better responding to students in crisis.

CIT Utah also created a crisis contract, which will be used to make a plan for individual students within the school. The crisis contract helps define safe and unsafe behavior, rules at home and school around students’ behaviors and lays out a plan of action if the student experiences a crisis. The crisis contract is agreed to by the student, his or her parents, a wraparound facilitator for mental health services and others on the student’s care team. The plan is designed to get all parties on the same page so that whether a crisis occurs at home or at school, there is a plan in place.

CIT Utah is also planning to conduct further trainings for SROs. SROs will be required to attend the standard 40-hour CIT academy and will receive an additional eight-hour training specifically on children’s issues.

Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of NAMI’s Child and Adolescent Action Center, introduced and moderated the workshop.

NAMI is excited to be working with such dedicated leaders in law enforcement. Their efforts are the seeds of a new movement to improve responses to children’s mental health crises in schools and the community. To learn more, you can read handouts from the presentation here and here. You can also visit NAMI’s CIT Center to read the report from our SRO focus group, and other resources on CIT for Youth.