Innovation Brief: Schools Turn to Treatment, Not Punishment, for Children with Mental Health Needs describes new knowledge and innovations emerging from Models for Change, a multi-state juvenile justice reform initiative. Models for Change accelerated movement toward a more effective, fair, and developmentally sound juvenile justice system by creating replicable models that protect community safety, use resources wisely, and improve outcomes for youths. The briefs are intended to inform professionals in juvenile justice and related fields, and to contribute to a new national wave of juvenile justice reform. 

Mental health experts have long contended that it is best to treat children and youth with behavioral health needs in community settings, outside of the correctional system. It is also essential that these children remain in school, with all necessary academic supports to keep them engaged and working at grade level. What is needed are programs that identify children at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system, and that divert them to appropriate services and treatment in the community 

The National Center for Youth Opportunity and Justice (NCYOJ) originally developed and maintained this resource. The NCYOJ was operated by Policy Research, Inc. and operated from 2001 to 2022 and was formerly known as the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. The NCYOJ improved life opportunities for youth through systems and practice improvement initiatives.  

This resource should be viewed as a reference document. It has not been updated since its publication. In addition, this document has not been made 508 compliant. If you would like a 508 compliant version of this document, please email 

This resource was first shared in 2013. 

(PDF, 172KB)