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UCLA School Mental Health Project
Center for Mental Health in Schools
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Continuing Education: Unit I

Addressing Barriers to Learning
New Directions for Mental Health in Schools

Section B Continued

The case of Jose and his family illustrates many of the complexities involved in working with families.

Jose's family had come to the U.S.A. four years ago. His father worked as a gardener; his mother worked in the garment district. Neither was fluent in English; mother less so than father.

Jose's parents were called to school because of his misbehavior in the classroom. The teacher (who did not speak Spanish) informed them that she was having to use a range of behavioral management strategies to control Jose. However, for the strategies to really work, she said it also was important for the parents to use the same procedures at home. To learn these "parenting skills," the parents both were to attend one of the 6 week evening workshops the school was starting. They were assured the workshop was free, was available in English or Spanish, and there would be child care at the school if they needed it.

After meeting with the teacher, Jose's father, who had reluctantly come to the conference, told his wife she should attend the workshop -- but he would not. She understood that he saw it as her role -- not his -- but she was frightened; they fought about it. They had been fighting about a lot of things recently. In the end, she went, but her resentment toward her husband grew with every evening she had to attend the training sessions.

Over the next few months, the mother attempted to apply what she was told to do at the workshop. She withheld privileges and confined Jose to periods of "time out" whenever he didn't toe the line. At the same time, she felt his conduct at home had not been and was not currently that bad -- it was just the same spirited behavior his older brothers had shown at his age. Moreover, she knew he was upset by the increasingly frequent arguments she and her husband were having. She would have liked some help to know what to do about his and her own distress, but she didn't know how to get such help.

Instead of improving the situation, the control strategies seemed to make Jose more upset; he "acted out" more frequently and with escalating force. Soon, his mother found he would not listen to her and would run off when she tried to do what she had been told to do. She complained to her husband. He said it was her fault for pampering Jose. His solution was to beat the youngster.

To make matters worse, the teacher called to say she now felt that Jose should be taken to the doctor to determine whether he was hyperactive and in need of medication. This was too much for Jose's mother. She did not take him to the doctor, and she no longer responded to most calls and letters from the school.

Jose continued to be a problem at school and now at home, and his mother did not know what to do about it or who to turn to for help. When asked, Jose's teacher describes the parents as "hard to reach."

You probably encounter many situations such as that described above.
In reflecting on such cases:
What went well? What didn't? What would you do next time?

The case of Jose and his family raises many issues.

For example, involvement of the home in cases such as Jose's usually is justified by the school as "in the best interests of the student and the others in the class." However, clearly there are different ways to understand the causes of and appropriate responses to Jose's misbehavior.

By way of contrast, another analysis might suggest the problem lies in ill-conceived instructional practices and, therefore, might prescribe changing instruction rather than strategies focused on the misbehavior per se.

Even given an evident need for home involvement, the way the mother was directed to parent training raises concerns about whether the processes were coercive.

Questions also arise about social class and race. For example, if the family had come from a middle or higher income background, would the same procedures have been used in discussing the problem, exploring alternative ways to solve it, and involving the mother in parent training? And, there is concern that overemphasis in parent workshops on strategies for controlling children's behavior leads participants such as Jose's mother to pursue practices that often do not address children's needs and may seriously exacerbate problems.

All this reflects the fact that schools have different agendas related to parent involvement, and the different agendas determine the ways they interact with the home.

Note: As a follow-up aid for you and your school, a copy of an introductory packet entitled Parent and Home Involvement In Schools -- prepared by Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA is available.

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Contents of Section B

Staff Needs for Social and Emotional Support

No one needs to tell school staff how stressful it is to come to work each day. Stress is the name of the game for all who work in school settings and, unfortunately, some working conditions are terribly stressful.

Some of the stress comes from working with troubled and troubling youngsters. Some is the result of the frustration that arises when everyone works so hard and the results are not good enough. Over time, such stressors can lead to demoralization, exhaustion, and burnout.

The cost of ignoring staff stress is that the programs and services they offer suffer because of less than optimal performance by staff who stay and frequent personnel turnover. As with family members, school staff find it difficult to attend to thee needs of students when their own needs are going unattended.

From this perspective, any discussion of mental health in schools should address ways to help the staff at a school reduce the sources of stress and establish essential social and emotional supports.

Such supports are essential to fostering awareness and validation, improving working conditions, developing effective attitudes and skills for coping, and maintaining balance, perspective, and hope.

Mother to son: Time to get up and go to school.
Son: I don't want to go. It's too hard and the kids don't like me.

Mother: But you have to go -- you're the principal.

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Contents of Section B
Contents of All Three Units

Continuing Education
Unit I Section B

  • Adelman, H.S. (1994). Intervening to enhance home involvement in schooling. Intervention in School and Clinic, 29, 276-287.

  • Adelman, H.S. (1995). Clinical psychology: Beyond psychopathology and clinical interventions. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 2, 28-44.

  • Adelman, H.S. & Taylor, L. (1994). On understanding intervention in psychology and education. Westport, CT: Praeger.

  • American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- DSM IV. Washington, DC: Author.

  • Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development's Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents (1989). Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Author.

  • Chase, A. (1977). The legacy of Malthus: The social costs of the new scientific racism. New York: Knopf.

  • Dryfoos, J.G. (1990). Adolescents at risk: Prevalence and prevention. London: Oxford University Press.

  • Dunst, C.J., Trivette, C.M., & Deal, A.G. (1991). Enabling and empowering families: Principles and guidelines for practice. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

  • Haynes, N.M., Comer, J.P., & Hamilton-Lee, M. (1988). The school development program: A model of school improvement. Journal of Negro Education, 57, 11-21.

  • Hobbs, N. (1975). The future of children: Categories, labels, and their consequences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  • Miller, D.T. & Porter, C.A. (1988). Errors and biases in the attribution process: A reexamination of the fact or fiction question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 56-71.

  • Sarason, S.B. (1996). Revisiting "the culture of school and the problem of change. New York: Teachers College Press.

  • Schact, T.E. (1985). DSM-III and the politics of truth. American Psychologist, 40, 513-521.
  • Return to
    Contents of Section B

    Test Questions-- Unit I: Section B

    (1) Which of the following can be barriers to student learning?

    ___(a) deficiencies in basic living resources
    ___(b) psychosocial problems
    ___(c) underlying psychological problems
    ___(d) family crises
    ___(e) transitions such as moving to a new school
    ___(f) all of the above

    (2) Health and social services are designed to address the full range of factors that cause poor academic performance, dropouts, gang violence, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and so forth.

    ____True ____False

    (3) List five major areas of focus in enhancing healthy psychosocial development.

    (4) Current diagnostic systems such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- DSM IV do not adequately account for psychosocial problems

    ____True ____False

    (5) Formal systems for classifying problems in human functioning convey the impression that all behavioral, emotional, or learning problems are due to internal pathology.

    ____True ____False

    (6) Most differential diagnoses of children's problems are made by focusing on identifying one of more internal disorders rather than first asking "Is there a disorder?".

    ____True ____False

    (7) Attributional bias is a tendency for observers to perceive others' problems as rooted in stable personal dispositions.

    ____True ____False

    (8) In the mental health field, the tendency is to see most student's problems as arising from environmental/social factors.

    ____True ____False

    (9) List three characteristics of family-oriented interventions.

    This is the end of Unit I Section B.

    Move on to:
    Unit I Section C

    Return to
    Contents of Section B