Identifying Barriers to School-Based Programming for Children with Emotional Disturbances

Posted by: Lori Walls on November 15, 2011 4:22 pm

Students identified in schools as emotionally disturbed often suffer from a number of complex social, emotional, and neurocognitive issues that lead to academic difficulties, problems establishing and maintaining peer relationships, and overall unsuccessful adaptive functioning. Students with emotional disturbances are often labelled by teachers and other students as disruptive or bad due to the high level of intervention required by school officials due to the interference these issues can cause with the teaching and learning process. Unfortunately, emotionally disturbed children remain an underserved population within most school settings (Reddy & Newman, 2009). However, even when programming is implemented for this group of students it is often fraught with many challenges.

Reddy and Newman (2009) offer a tri-part model to help conceptualize the common barriers to program design, implementation, and evaluation of interventions for students with emotional disturbances. The first dimension in the model addresses the complex externalizing behaviours that teachers and parents observe in relation to the student’s school and family functioning. This dimension encompasses child/family-focused barriers. For students with emotional disturbances, externalizing behaviours are the expressions of many internal issues such as neurocognitive deficits or emotional regulation deficits.  These outward behaviours are often so severe that parents and teachers are consumed with the management of the external behaviours that internal problems go undiagnosed. This confluence of internal and external issues presents many challenges to assessment and intervention planning. Additionally, school personnel attempting to implement interventions for emotionally disturbed students face the added challenge that many students from this population come from families with high rates of psychopathology, have ineffective parenting skills, and limited supports (Reddy & Newman, 2009).

The second dimension in the model identifies information and skill based barriers that commonly exist among the school personnel responsible for the education of these students. The complexity of the issues facing these children demands skills and resources from multiple domains. Unfortunately, current service delivery models make it difficult for teachers seeking resource support as each service provider adheres to a different language and terminology making it difficult to identify, classify and treat this student population. Additionally, untrained school personnel, classroom structure, numbers of students, and time present barriers to frequent and consistent monitoring of intervention implementation (Reddy & Newman, 2009).

The third dimension in the model is the organizational and community barriers which present obstacles that are typically inherent within and across agencies (Reddy & Newman, 2009). Service delivery models are limited in their information and resource sharing abilities often resulting in a duplication of services or gaps in service delivery for this student population (Reddy & Newman, 2009). This limited sharing of information and resources often leaves school personnel with fragmented assessment results leading to inappropriate decision making or conversely the thwarting of any programming.

Schools are increasingly faced with diverse student populations, and students categorized as emotionally disturbed are often among the groups demanding the most time and resources from school personnel. Reddy and Newman (2009) noted that when programming is established for this group of students it is mostly successful in creating positive change. It is therefore important for school counsellors, and other school personnel, to be aware of the barriers that can be associated with program implementation. For suggestions on how to overcome these barriers see the following reference.

Reddy, L., Newman, E. (2009). School-based Programs for Children with Emotional Disturbance: Obstacles to Program Design and Implementation and Guidelines for School Practitioners. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 25, 169-186.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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