The Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities provides the following information on student assistance:
"Providing quality education to all children and designing schools that promote the development of intellectually, personally and socially competent youth is a multidimensional and long-term process. Today's children face many challenges. Unmet developmental needs create personal and social conditions that impair students' ability to learn and reach their fullest personal potential.
Student assistance is a school-based, systematic, and professional process of early identification, screening, referral and support for students with identified needs which may affect school performance and healthy development. This process utilizes concrete observable data such as the student's grades, attendance, behavior and social skills to help identify needs. Student assistance must be available to, and understood by, all school staff, parents and students.
Effective student assistance is an integral part of the school system and should be embedded in school change efforts. Administrators and school boards must support, understand and recognize the need for student assistance so they can establish clear, concise and enforceable policies as a foundation for the student assistance process. These leaders will guide the district's efforts to develop healthy children. Policy articulates this philosophy and plan. District policy should also include standards of conduct and sanctions for both students and staff, as well as strategies designed to pursue the mission of positive youth development.
The basic student assistance process has several elements including:
The team is composed of six to eight trained school staff. Members may include administrators, counselors, teachers, coaches, school psychologists, social workers, support staff, and others. The primary purpose of the team is to receive and screen students who are referred to them. The team will also have a variety of other responsibilities, including developing the referral process, marketing student assistance, assisting in policy development, and evaluating progress.
Generally, teams meet weekly to plan or screen referrals. The way in which referrals reach the team can vary from school to school. However, typically the process begins with a student behavior of concern. Referral may be either the result of a disciplinary action or a concern of a staff member, parent or student. If a violation of school rules has occurred, the course of action should be outlined by policy and procedures. After the consequences have been applied, it is crucial that the student be referred to the team for follow-up services.
If the concern originates from school staff, parents or students, the process begins with completion of a referral form. This form provides the referent with an instrument to document and describe his or her concern. This form is completed and given to a Student Assistance Team member or placed in a locked box in the office. Once the referral has been received, information is collected regarding the referred student. Information about the student's academic performance, attendance, extracurricular activities and behaviors of concern may be pertinent. In addition, it is good to collect information from the attendance and disciplinary offices, school nurse and any other source that may be able to provide valuable data about the physical and emotional health and activities of the student.
This information is taken to the team for screening. Team members review the data, and make a determination as to what might be appropriate next steps. The compiled information provides team members with concrete data used to help determine the need for further action and explore possible avenues for assistance. The data also provide specific, observable information that can be shared with the student and parent about identified concerns. At times, the team may choose to 'table' a referral. Sometimes a referral is based on hearsay, and the data collection process suggests no reason for concern. The most common next step is talking to the student and/or parent.
Referral and Support
The procedure for contacting students or parents varies depending on many factors. Team members will have personal preferences. Some helpers always prefer to speak to the student first. This gives the student an opportunity to share what he or she thinks explains the behavior of concern. Other helpers prefer to talk to the parent first. The school-based helper shares his or her concern with the parent and obtains the parent's perceptions. Staff can also gather information from the parent about what may be happening at home, such as divorce, a new job, a death in the family or other events. After talking to the student, parent, or both, the team member will generally have some additional information with which to make suggestions for appropriate interventions. Intervention may be as simple as getting a tutor for the student or as complicated as referring to an outside agency for further evaluation. Once the next step is determined, it should be documented in the student assistance file and necessary arrangements made for the follow-through on the intervention. Results should be taken back to the team and shared. In addition, a follow-up plan should be developed and a case manager assigned to ensure that follow up occurs." (p. 105-107)