In The News

Expanding the Comprehensive School Mental Health Approach in Connecticut

Middle school aged girl and teacher sit together at a desk in a classroom, smiling and high fiving.CHDI is excited to announce the expansion of the Comprehensive School Mental Health (CSMH) initiative for the 2023-24 school year. With support from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and State Department of Education (CSDE), CHDI will provide consultation, training, and technical assistance to nine districts across the state.

Defining Comprehensive School Mental Health

Comprehensive School Mental Health systems provide a full array of supports and services that promote a positive school climate, social-emotional learning (SEL), behavioral health and well-being while reducing the prevalence and severity of behavioral health issues and crises. As opposed to handling individual student behavioral health concerns as they arise, schools with an effective CSMH system proactively integrate health promotion, prevention, screening and early intervention, and evidence-based treatments, leading to better, more equitable outcomes. 

Schools and districts working with CHDI will follow a five-step CSMH approach:

Step 1: Assess their behavioral health interventions and processes using The School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation (SHAPE) System

Step 2: Create customized plans to target areas of growth

Step 3: Provide staff training

Step 4: Implement needed interventions

Step 5: Review outcomes to inform future efforts (ongoing monthly)

This CSMH approach builds a school climate, culture, and system that supports student well-being, increases students’ academic success, and decreases staff burnout.

CSMH is not a one-size-fits-all approach. CHDI provides free consultation, training, and technical assistance to help school districts design and implement sustainable, custom CSMH systems tailored to their specific interests, needs, funding, and capacity. 

Benefits of Implementing a Comprehensive School Mental Health System

While shifting to a comprehensive system does require an initial investment of time and energy, research indicates that it can lead to significantly improved student outcomes, including:

  • Improved academic performance
  • Fewer special education referrals and restrictive placements
  • Improved school climate and culture
  • Greater engagement and connectedness
  • Decreased disciplinary actions
  • Higher graduation rates

By preventing and reducing the frequency of behavioral health crises, CSMH also helps strengthen teamwork and reduce burnout among school staff.

CHDI’s Associate Vice President of School and Community Initiatives, Jeana Bracey, Ph.D, said that districts with effective CSMH systems have a few things in common. “They’re working as a team, sharing collective responsibility for school climate and culture,” she explained. “They thoroughly document their activities and have strong data collection systems. Mental health training is incorporated into their professional development requirements, and they’re well-connected with services in their community.”

Implementing a CSMH system can also lead to more equitable identification of students and referral to treatment. By consistently monitoring and analyzing data on students’ behavioral health identification, referral, and outcomes, schools can identify and address any disparities to ensure equitable access to services and supports.

Expanding CHDI’s CSMH Work to More Connecticut Districts in 2023-24

In partnership with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and State Department of Education (CSDE), CHDI is currently engaged in two initiatives that will help more districts across the state develop and expand their CSMH systems.

During the 2022-23 school year, the DCF-funded CSMH program was implemented with Bristol Public Schools (BPS), with all fifteen district schools participating. Bristol already had a strong foundation for its CSMH system, with district leaders who directly support SEL/climate infrastructure and a clearly defined school climate team in each building. The district made significant progress in several key areas in its first year and received positive feedback from school staff.

"The assessment was a good way to reflect on our intervention processes and receive outside feedback on areas for improvement,” reported a Bristol staff survey respondent. Another respondent noted, “Meeting with the team regarding our SHAPE assessment was helpful in prioritizing our next steps.”

Informed by the assessment results, CHDI’s school mental health team helped the district develop a customized implementation plan with short and long-term action steps. The district then conducted staff training, began refining its data collection processes, strengthened connections with key community services, and began implementing new activities aimed at improving school climate and culture.

For the 2023-24 school year, Norwich Public Schools will join this DCF-funded initiative along with Bristol, which will continue to strengthen and refine the system developed in its first year. CHDI will provide ongoing training and technical assistance to guide both districts throughout the process.

The State Department of Education is also supporting an expansion of CSMH work this year by funding a pilot program in seven districts: Manchester Public SchoolsNew Hartford Public SchoolsKillingly Public SchoolsGriswold Public SchoolsNorwalk Public SchoolsChaplin Elementary School, and Highville Charter School. The goal of the pilot is to help participating districts and schools develop and implement scalable, sustainable, comprehensive mental health systems, using a similar process as the one used in Bristol. 

Next Steps

CHDI hopes to see the CSMH approach continue to expand in future years. “We want to see more districts benefit from a comprehensive system, moving away from a crisis-driven approach to one where they are building their capacity to identify and respond to behavioral health challenges among their students,” Dr. Bracey said.

She also pointed out that one school year is not enough time to conduct a self-assessment and design and implement a comprehensive school mental health system. “Transforming systems is a long-term commitment that requires buy-in, support, and funding at the state, district, and school levels over multiple years,” she said. “But it’s well worth the effort.”

School district leaders and local and state policymakers interested in learning more about Comprehensive School Mental Health Systems should review our recent Policy Brief: Supporting Student Mental Health: Is Connecticut in Good SHAPE?, which shares strategies for aligning statewide policies to support comprehensive school mental health using the SHAPE System.

Schools interested in creating their own custom Comprehensive School Mental Health system to address students' behavioral health needs should contact Dr. Jamie LoCurto ( to inquire about free technical assistance and other resources.

Learn more about CHDI’s School Mental Health Initiatives here

Staff Contacts

Jeana Bracey, Ph.D. - Associate Vice President of School and Community Initiatives

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