Redesigning community mental health services for urban children: Supporting schooling to promote mental health.


Objective: This study examined a school- and home-based mental health service model, Links to Learning, focused on empirical predictors of learning as primary goals for services in high-poverty urban communities. Method: Teacher key opinion leaders were identified through sociometric surveys and trained, with mental health providers and parent advocates, on evidence-based practices to enhance children’s learning. Teacher key opinion leaders and mental health providers cofacilitated professional development sessions for classroom teachers to disseminate 2 universal (Good Behavior Game, peer-assisted learning) and 2 targeted (Good News Notes, Daily Report Card) interventions. Group-based and home-based family education and support were delivered by mental health providers and parent advocates for children in kindergarten through 4th grade diagnosed with 1 or more disruptive behavior disorders. Services were Medicaid-funded through 4 social service agencies (N = 17 providers) in 7 schools (N = 136 teachers, 171 children) in a 2 (Links to Learning vs. services as usual) x 6 (pre- and posttests for 3 years) longitudinal design with random assignment of schools to conditions. Services as usual consisted of supported referral to a nearby social service agency. Results: Mixed effects regression models indicated significant positive effects of Links to Learning on mental health service use, classroom observations of academic engagement, teacher report of academic competence and social skills, and parent report of social skills. Nonsignificant between-groups effects were found on teacher and parent report of problem behaviors, daily hassles, and curriculum-based measures. Effects were strongest for young children, girls, and children with fewer symptoms. Conclusion: Community mental health services targeting empirical predictors of learning can improve school and home behavior for children living in high-poverty urban communities.