When school administrators integrate mental and behavioral health support into their programs, school safety can improve, according to a study from the University of South Carolina and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

"Interconnecting PBIS and School Mental Health to Improve School Safety: A Randomized Trial" studied the school safety and security implications of an integrated behavioral and mental health support program in U.S. schools.

Researchers studied the Interconnected Systems Framework, a process to integrate holistic and mental health approaches to school safety, to address the underlying causes of negative behavior and replace punishment with efforts to develop positive behavior and social skills.

PBIS and mental health services

The Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) integrates two popular approaches, the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and school mental health services, which address the underlying causes of misbehavior, including exposure to violence.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is a proactive approach that emphasizes intervention to promote positive behavior through a comprehensive holistic, evidence-based approach for preventing and reducing aggression and other problem behaviors in school. School-based mental health services focus on early identification and access to mental health support for students with behavioral problems and have been shown to significantly improve early identification, intervention and access to care.

School safety improves with behavioral and mental health integration

The study found that the integration of both PBIS and mental health services was key to increased perceptions of school safety. According to the report, "Student and teacher surveys documented higher respect, engagement and perceptions of safety among students in ISF schools, and they were also rated as less likely to display acting out behavior or to be at-risk for behavioral disorder."

The report also noted a more pronounced reduction in out-of-school suspensions and office discipline referrals for Black students in schools that implemented ISF, highlighting the framework's potential for improving equity in school discipline.

Read more report findings here.