Addressing Mental Health and School Safety

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Project Details

  • Principal Investigator: Edmund McGarrell, Michigan State University
  • Lead UM Investigator: Justin Heinze
  • Project Dates: 2015-2018
  • Funding Source: National Institute of Justice


Violence remains a pressing concern in American schools: in 2013, nearly 20% of high school students were bullied at school, while 8% had been in a physical fight on school property. Even by ages 10-11, more than half of boys and one-third of girls are either victims of or engage in delinquent behaviors. Among girls, victimization and delinquency increase significantly between ages 11 and 12; among boys, a corresponding jump occurs between ages 13 and 14. Similarly, over half of lifetime mental health concerns become evident before age 14. Thus, interventions to promote safety likely need to focus as early as elementary school (Cuevas et al., 2013).

This study is examining a comprehensive multi-component intervention for 4-6th graders (i.e. 9-12 year olds), using primary and secondary prevention approaches. It includes three main components: 1) a restorative justice framework for managing violence and conflicts between students; 2) timely assistance via Mental Health First Aid; and 3) promotion of a positive school environment (e.g., by improving the physical surroundings).

At each school, the intervention will be headed by a three-person leadership team consisting of one mental health professional, one police officer, and one school staff member, with support from parental leadership.

To evaluate intervention outcomes, we will conduct a cluster randomized controlled trial with staged entry over two school years in Genesee County, Michigan (n=20 elementary schools, with 10 participating per school year). We will make use of data currently collected by Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) schools, including the School Wide Information System (SWIS) database, to record behavioral referrals and truancy, and the annual MiPHY student survey (with standardized measures of school safety, violence, climate, mental health). Students and teachers will receive a follow-up survey at the end of the school year regarding their perceptions of school climate and safety. Complementing the quantitative assessment, we will examine intervention management, implementation, and sustainability, through focus groups with key stakeholders, teachers, and students. Finally, we will conduct a cost-benefit analysis with regard to violence outcomes.