An MST expert responds to the blog on SROs published Tuesday Feb., 7
My experiences with school resource officers (SROs) differ from the viral videos that make the media rounds. The SROs that I was fortunate to build relationships with as a Multisystemic Therapy (MST) therapist and supervisor produced a picture different from the image of officers arresting kids in school hallways or physically restraining them in their classrooms. Granted, it took some effort to establish rapport with the SROs.
Identifying and building common ground
The MST programs I worked with were a way to continue the positive impacts of a federal grant. The grant included different community resources, with the local police department being a key among them. The grant directors connected the newly formed MST teams with the police chief, and through a series of interactions, a relationship was formed. The MST program staff, from the program manager down to the therapists, and the police department worked hard to understand the mission and objectives of each system and to determine how best we could support one another in reaching a common goal—getting fewer juveniles involved with law enforcement. During this process, schools were identified as an ideal area to intervene. It was also determined that collaboration with the scholl resource officers would be vital. While there wasn’t an increased number of school charges and students weren’t ending up in court due to school behavior more frequently, SROs were getting more referrals for behavioral concerns, and they were concerned about this trend.
Building relationships to curb the trend
The MST program then went to work forming and solidifying relationships with the SROs. Therapists spent hours in the schools focusing on building off of that shared goal of what was in the best interest of the youth/student and what was in the best interest of the school. We are all familiar with the idea of “MST friendly” police, and the idea was to make the SROs just that. By increasing program presence, looking to understand their missions and culture, and seeing how MST could add value to and maybe remove some of the work of SROs, inroads were made. The MST therapists helped the schools and families understand one another’s perspective and find common ground in problem-solving using the SROs as a positive resource in that process. Some of these steps were paradigm shifts for therapists who originally viewed the role of police as simply to charge and move on.
Finding the ‘nobel intent’
Plenty of time was spent “finding the noble intent.” That is, finding the good in what the SROs were doing and how to use that. SROs were also a bit weary of having MST therapists in the schools and working with them. Some SROs believed that “hugging it out” wasn’t what they needed to change what was going on in the schools. To change this attitude, MST therapists realized that families needed to show their commitment to holding the young person accountable for school-based behaviors. With each demonstration, SROs’ perceptions were altered,
As the relationship and the value of that relationship became more cemented, the SROs reached out to MST therapists to find out about successes or difficulties in the school and seek assistance in moving toward goals. The MST therapists reciprocated.
In the end, everyone wins
Having the SROs involved in treatment allowed the MST team and families to gain allies in the schools and maintain our work with the police departments. The SROs gained further understanding of different aspects of the youth’s life and skills, which meant the schools could better manage students overall.
In the end, everyone wins when a strong collaborative relationship is established between the family,
Nick Angers is an expert with Community Solutions Inc. in Connecticut.
For more information about factors related to school safety, visit our School Safety Resources page by clicking here.