Photo of the printed cover of the publication "The CMHS Approach to Enhancing Youth Resilience and Preventing Youth Violence in Schools and Communities"    

The CMHS Approach to Enhancing Youth Resilience and
Preventing Youth Violence in Schools and Communities

For more information contact: Bernard S. Arons, M.D., Director, Center for Mental Health Services,
The Parklawn Building, 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 17-105, Rockville, Maryland 20857
1-800-789-2647 •


Table of Contents



The Need for Resilience Enhancing and Violence Prevention Initiatives

Understanding Youth Violence
Patterns of Adolescent Violence
Perspectives on Violence
Risk and Protective Factors and Processes
Ethnic Minority and Cultural Issues

The Public Health Approach to Enhancing Resilience and Preventing Violence in Schools and Communities

Preventing Violent Behaviors–Mental Health Interventions
The Role of Schools

How to Intervene: What Programs Work?

What Are the Issues?
Evidence-Based Interventions



Exhibit 1—Model and Promising Programs
Exhibit 2—Evidence-Based Programs That Foster Resilience
Exhibit 3—Exemplary, Model, and Promising Programs to Strengthen Families


link to next section

Promoting safe and healthy environments in which children can learn and develop is a universal goal. Fortunately, most American schools offer such an environment. At some schools, however, there are problems of crime and violence, and in some cases these problems are severe. School crime and violence put teachers and children in danger, which undermines their ability to teach and learn.

Contrary to public perception, crime and violence in our schools have been decreasing. The 2000 Annual Report on School Safety shows that since 1992 rates of serious crime, including violent crime, have steadily declined in our schools, and the number of nonfatal crimes in schools is down by more than 21 percent.

Recent trends are encouraging, but more work needs to be done. An environment in which students feel safe is only the beginning. A safe school environment is also one in which adults work together to provide a positive setting in which all children and youth can function and learn. Providing a positive environment, however, is not enough for the most vulnerable students. For a variety of reasons, some children need additional, targeted support at the individual level to help them develop the prosocial skills and behavior necessary to function well in school. Resources devoted to a safe school environment must be balanced by and integrated with resources that address the needs of high-risk, individual students.

We now understand the processes that can lead to youth violence and what strategies can be effective for prevention and intervention. Over the last ten years, researchers from a variety of disciplines have identified the individual, familial, and societal factors that increase the risk of youth engaging in violence, suicide, and other problem behaviors, as well as factors that contribute to promoting healthy youth development and the prevention of violence. Using this knowledge, prevention scientists have developed a variety of programs that increase protective processes and decrease risk factors for youth violence.

Because incidents of youth violence are not limited to any particular State or community, Federal efforts are critical. The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), in collaboration with Federal, State, and local partners, is taking a leadership role in supporting the implementation of evidence-based violence prevention programs throughout the country. This document will describe the CMHS approach to helping communities enhance the resilience of their children and youth and prevent violence.

CMHS provides national leadership for policies, programs, and activities designed to improve mental health treatment and prevention services for adults with major mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances and their families, as well as for adults and children at risk for mental illness. Acknowledging the mission of the CMHS and the key role it plays in fostering a public health approach to nationwide, health-related issues, Congress, over the past three years, has appropriated to CMHS a total of $210 million for school violence prevention activities. These funds are to be used specifically to improve mental health services for children with emotional and behavioral disorders who are at risk of violent behavior. Mental health services that provide an integrated continuum of prevention, early intervention, and treatment are an important tool for addressing the issue of school violence.1

A central component of CMHS's youth violence prevention effort is the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative. It promotes comprehensive, integrated, community-wide strategies for school safety and development. This approach is based on evidence that the more the whole community takes responsibility for the healthy development of children, youth, and families, the better the results are for youth. The initiative involves an unprecedented collaboration among the Federal Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services.

Youth violence is a complex and persistent problem that requires a sustained commitment of attention, effort, and resources if it is to be ameliorated. Our Nation’s schools and communities have shown us that with the right partners and with comprehensive approaches, we can build strong communities in neighborhoods that support healthy development of children and youth and prevent youth violence.

Bernard S. Arons, M.D.
Center for Mental Health Services
April 2001

1 U.S. House of Representatives, October 19, 1998