Afterschool Focus: Behavioral Health

This spring, the Illinois Quality Afterschool team collaborated with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide an overview of social and emotional learning concepts and implementation strategies for Illinois 21st Century Community Learning Center practitioners. As our last installment of SEL-focused activities for the school year, this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly will focus on behavioral health.  

What is behavioral health?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes behavioral health as the following:

A state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness. Behavioral health problems include substance abuse or misuse, alcohol and drug addiction, serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental and substance use disorders. This includes a range of problems from unhealthy stress to diagnosable and treatable diseases like serious mental illness and substance use disorders, which are often chronic in nature but from which people can and do recover.1

Because behavioral health affects a youth’s ability to develop social and emotional competencies, 21st CCLC practitioners will find it is helpful to be familiar with key topics related to social and emotional learning. If you and your team have not had an opportunity to do so, we encourage you to review other Illinois Quality Afterschool resources on social and emotional learning: our January webinar introducing basic concepts of social and emotional learning, an in-depth exploration of the subject in our special topic workshop, our Winter 2017 newsletter on whole-child education, and our February webinar on trauma-informed practices. A foundational understanding of these topics will help your team develop and implement strategies for promoting behavioral health in your 21st CCLC.  

How Does Behavioral Health Affect Education?

A youth’s behavioral health is directly tied to academic outcomes, high school graduation, and the prevention of risky behaviors and disciplinary problems.2 Behavioral health problems may affect students’ short-term classroom engagement and hinder the development of social and emotional skills such as self-management, responsible decision making, and relationship skills. This can impact a student’s success in school and ultimately the workforce and life.3

Many risk factors influence a youth’s chances of developing behavioral health issues: individual factors such as a genetic predisposition to mental illness or addiction or prenatal alcohol exposure and environmental factors such abuse, maltreatment, poverty, or violence.4 Grantees who are familiar with trauma-informed practice will notice significant overlap between examples of child trauma and risk factors for developing behavioral health issues.  

Risk factors do not guarantee the development of behavioral health issues. Protective factors such as parental involvement, the availability of faith-based resources, and afterschool activities can mitigate the impact of risks or provide opportunities for interventions to address early symptoms of behavioral disorders.5

Supporting Behavioral Health in Afterschool

Even if your 21st CCLC does not have mental health and substance abuse professionals on staff, there are still ways that your team can support behavioral health. ISBE’s Comprehensive System of Learning Supports (CSLS) model shows the levels of programming and support that schools and districts, including afterschool programs, can provide to address behavioral health issues and promote the necessary conditions for learning. The CSLS is based on a public health three-tiered model, which offers a continuum of behavioral health programming.  

  • Tier I: Universal programming
  • Tier II: Targeted early intervention
  • Tier III: Intensive individualized support6

Tier I, or universal programming, focuses on wellness promotion and prevention and describes many of the things a high-quality 21st CCLC may already be doing:

  • providing strengths-based, student-centered activities in a safe and supportive environment;
  • modeling social and emotional competencies and providing opportunities for students to develop and practice these skills;
  • providing formats and guidance for activities such as dispute resolution, restorative practices, mediation, bullying prevention, suicide prevention, and other activities;
  • strong family engagement; and
  • implementing trauma-informed practices.7

Often, providing Tier I behavioral health support does not require afterschool practitioners to do a lot of new things if there is already a supportive afterschool environment. If a student is misbehaving, staff need to be open to thinking about what may have happened to a student to cause a behavior instead of simply trying to change the behavior. This involves developing strong relationships among students and staff and creating a dialogue with students so that they can get the support they need. Afterschool staff don’t need to solve every problem but instead be ready to identify risk among students and know where to seek help.  

Tier II, targeted early intervention, entails interventions such as early identification, screening and progress monitoring, youth mental health first aid, and more specialized support to address specific behavioral issues. Tier III, intensive, individualized support, may include using resources from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Screening, Assessment and Support Services program, partnering with care providers, or plans to help a student transition back into the school setting if he or she has been hospitalized. For Tiers II and III, afterschool programs will want to assess their team’s strength and expertise but also partner with schools and community organizations to provide consistent integrated support for students.  

As you and your team develop plans to support behavioral health in afterschool, consider some of the following resources:

Because 21st CCLC programs are intended to serve students who attend high-poverty, high-need schools, afterschool practitioners may work with youth who are at risk of developing behavioral health issues. By fostering a safe and supportive environment, learning to identify signs of problems, and knowing when and where to go for additional help, we can promote behavioral health in our afterschool programs.  


Carmichael, M. (2016, August). Children’s behavioral health supports in school communities. Presentation at Illinois State Board of Education’s Annual Special Education Directors’ Conference, Springfield, IL. Retrieved from

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (n.d.). Comprehensive system of learning supports. Springfield, IL: Author. Retrieved from

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (2017). Comprehensive system of learning supports. Springfield, IL: Author. Retrieved from

Knight, C. (2017, February and March). Social emotional learning and afterschool programs: Creating more and more spaces for student success. Presentation at Illinois Quality Afterschool workshops, Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning in Afterschool. Springfield and Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

National Association of School Psychologists. (2015). NASP position statement: Mental and behavioral health services for children and adolescents. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from

National Association of School Psychologists. (2016). ESSA mental and behavioral health services for decision makers. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from

National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2009).  Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: Progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2014). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 57. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4801. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2015). Risk and protective factors. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from



1 SAMHSA, 2014.

2 NASP, 2016.

3 National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009; NASP, 2015.

4 SAMHSA, 2015.

5 SAMHSA, 2015.

6 ISBE, 2017.

7 Knight, 2017; Carmichael, 2016; ISBE, n.d.