Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Center for Effective Schools

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PBIS in Child Welfare

Recently, the Center for Effective Schools was host to members of the Ministry of Social and Family Development of Singapore.  The 12 person contingent from Singapore was conducting a study trip to several states within the U.S. to futher their understanding of PBIS in residential, particularly child welfare, and school settings.  In preparation for their visit, the Ministry posed several question to our PBIS experts on PBIS in child welfare, which we have shared below.

Is PBIS used in child welfare settings, and in particular, is there research on its effectiveness in settings such as residential children homes and foster care?

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is in use in many schools and school districts across the U.S., for individuals with and without disabilities. PBIS is also implemented with adults with developmental disabilities and with children/adolescents served in juvenile justice and child welfare facilities, albeit information on the latter is more limited. Included below are references for studies or case examples of PBIS in residential (child welfare and juvenile justice) and foster care settings:

Crosland, K., Dunlap, G., Hewitt, B.C., & Neff, B. (2009). Delivering behavior support in the foster care system. In W. Sailor, G. Dunlap, G. Sugai, and R. Horner (Eds.), Handbook of positive behavior support (pp. 279-304). New York: Springer.

Jolivette, K., Patterson, D.P., Swoszowski, N.C., McDaniel, S.C., Kennedy, C., & Ennis R.P. (2014). School-wide positive behavior interventions and supports in a residential school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: First years of implementation and maintenance follow-up focus groups. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, 31, 63-79.

McCurdy, B.L., & McIntyre, E.K. (2004). “And what about residential…?” Reconceptualizing residential treatment as a stop-gap service for youth with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Interventions, 19, 137-158.

Sidana, A. (2006). PBIS in juvenile justice settings. National evaluation and technical assistance center for the education of children and youth who are neglected, delinquent, or at-risk. Retrieved October 19, 2007, from

For additional information on the implementation of PBIS in schools, families and communities (including work in juvenile justice, early childhood and mental health), please refer to the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Technical Assistance Center at

The literature shows that PBIS has been implemented in different ways. For example, a school may only have some staff trained in PBIS and they function as a specialist team that would trouble-shoot and support the other staff in incidents management. We have also read of agencies where all the staff were trained in PBIS. However, there were no such examples of implementation in child welfare settings. Would you be able to share how PBIS can be implemented in child welfare settings?

We recognize that PBIS involves practices delivered at both the individual and systems level. In programs in which there may be only a few people trained, it may be that they are “behavior specialists” providing support at the individual level.  Programs using systems level PBIS would, on the other hand, require all staff to be trained.

Specific to the individual level, the Crosland et al. (2009) chapter, referenced above, is a good example of PBIS delivered in child welfare settings at the individual level. At Devereux, many of our residential programs deliver PBIS services to children/adolescents at the individual level. However, we are currently involved in a systems-level implementation of PBIS across all of our residential (including community-based group homes) programs nationally. The systems-level PBIS implementation, similar to school-wide positive behavior support, involves the development of a tiered support system ranging from universal supports for all individuals (Tier I), to targeted supports for individuals at risk for continued problem behavior (Tier II) and intensive supports for individuals with the most chronic needs (Tier III). We have presented on this implementation at both the 11th and 12th International Conferences on Positive Behavior Support. 

Devereux has been involved for the past three years in bringing PBIS services to residential settings for children and youth with EBD.  Would you share more on this, such as the scope of services, the training necessary for the staff, as well as more information on these children?

Our earliest work in this regard began with the Stop-Gap model (see McCurdy & McIntyre reference above) defining a tiered system of behavioral supports for children/adolescents in residential treatment. Today, we have a fully developed training program of ten modules that we deliver remotely (using video conferencing technology) to provide training to teams in our residential programs across the country. Once the products of PBIS are developed (e.g., behavioral expectations, lesson plans to teach expected behaviors, etc.) we encourage the teams to roll out the system in one pilot site. Staff from the Devereux Center for Effective Schools then visit the program, conduct a fidelity measure (SET-adapted, or SET-A) and provide feedback. There is a national steering committee that meets monthly to guide this development across the Devereux organization. Our team also provides monthly “external” coaching support to teams involved in PBIS development, and we host a quarterly “remote” meeting with all “internal,” or program-based, coaches (using video conferencing) to help problem-solve any issues with the large-scale implementation.

We are currently implementing this training for all Devereux programs serving children/adolescents with emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD). We are implementing the same “tiered” approach for Devereux programs serving individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) and for programs serving children with autism, but the model and subsequent training differs based on population need.

Upon reading the Devereux Center for Effective Schools website, you indicated you use a PBIS-TIC approach. Can you share the difference between PBIS-TIC and PBIS, and which one will be more effective and relevant for the child welfare population?

Many of the individual children/adolescents served in Devereux programs have significant trauma histories resulting from abuse and neglect. Generally, we view the practices associated with PBIS as “trauma-informed” -  intended to protect against re-traumatization. Trauma-informed practices reduce coercive interactions between staff and the individuals served. For a segment of our population, we implement trauma-specific practices intended to specifically address the trauma history. An example of a trauma-specific practice is trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (TF-CBT).