What Is Required to Implement a SAP?
"School boards must make an honest commitment of time, resources, and dollars...Who suffers when the program fails? It is the at-risk young person."
--Lawrence Newman, President, ComSAP(16)
Implementation issues can be grouped into the following categories: necessary supports, operations, training, and funding methods. Most of the recommendations are based on a 1995 survey of the Student Assistance Counselors in Vermont(17) , and a review of practices and minimum standards established in other states.
Successful SAP's are strongly supported by both the school administration and the community. More specifically, support from school administrators includes:
- commitment to having a counselor on-site a minimum of two days a week
- long term commitment to the program, and stable funding for at least 3-4 years
- office space on campus
- use the counselor as a school and community resource, not as a disciplinarian
- educate themselves about SAP's and inform students and community about SAP services
- commitment to and understanding of federal confidentiality regulations
At a minimum, SAP teams and counselors must be prepared to:
- meet each week for case management (for teams)
- inform students, parents and school directors about SAP's
- develop and revise existing drug policies
- negotiate and implement agreements with local mental health agencies
- maintain continual supervision by trained professionals.(6)
It is essential that SAP team members and counselors receive thorough training on all aspects of developing and maintaining an effective SAP at their school, as well as training on alcohol and drug issues. In Vermont, low cost SAP team training is available through the Vermont Free Masons. They pay for all room and board for team members at the training, while the Vermont Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs and the Vermont Department of Education coordinate the seminars. The purpose of this training is to assist schools in the creation or improvement of SAP teams and focus on how to identify, document. and refer students with problems, as well as how to revise school substance use policies. Trainings are held twice a year: once for high school teams and once for elementary school teams.
In recent years, federal funds have been used for SAP's, specifically Drug Free Schools and Communities Grants. However, 1/4 of those federal funds have been cut forcing schools and communities to find alternative funding for SAP's.
Some states dedicate certain taxes and fees to fund SAP's. For example, Rhode Island uses money collected from cigarette taxes and traffic violations to pay for 80% of the costs of SAP's, with the remaining 20% matched by the school. This method provides sufficient funding for a full time, Master's level counselor.(18) In Westchester county, New York, the school pays 60% of the SAP team costs.(18)
SAP's are also funded through partnerships among community agencies, such as police departments. In other states, SAP's are funded through charitable agencies such as United Way, or private grant foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In addition, communities or sponsoring agencies can apply for federal grants to create demonstration programs or research projects from agencies such as NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), CSAP (The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention), CSAT (The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment), and NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Finally, communities can apply to the Vermont Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs for federal Drug Free Schools grants. However, the availability and amounts of grants change from year to year.
There is reasonably strong evidence that Student Assistance Programs can be effective in:
- reducing negative social behaviors, such as violence and substance use
- increasing the ability of teens to cope with crises
- maintaining a positive drug-free environment for students, families, school personnel and communities
- reducing costs associated with school violence, vandalism, and other high risk behaviors.
Although Vermont has made some improvements in it's school services, the needs of many Vermont teens are not being addressed. SAP's bridge the gap between prevention and treatment by not only identifying teens in crisis and referring them to community mental health agencies, but also by promoting positive norms and values. Schools need SAP teams and counselors in order to enhance the effectiveness of substance use policies and prevention education programs.