School-wide positive behavioral support (PBS) emphasizes the
importance of using proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and
supporting appropriate student behaviors. Positive behavior support is
increasingly being used to create positive school environments. While
numerous public schools have successfully adopted a PBS model, minimal
information is known about its implementation in Juvenile Justice
settings. The purpose of this study was to provide data on the
implementation of PBS in a juvenile justice setting. A focus group
comprised of administrators, teachers, and clinical personnel in a
juvenile justice facility in a Midwestern state were asked about the
implementation of PBS within their setting. Data were analyzed using the
Constant Comparative Method. Findings included eight interrelated
themes: (a) ecological congruence, (b) role clarity, (c) philosophical
shift and agreement, (d) cache of pro active / preventative strategies,
(e) consistent practices, (f) logistics, (g) data-based decision making,
and (h) achievement outcomes. Discussion is provided on how themes might
be used to guide the implementation of PBS in otheriuvenile Justice
Positive behavioral support (PBS) focuses on the prevention of
academic and social failure through a three-tier system. The first tier,
primary / universal interventions, focuses on enhancing protective
factors within the environment to prevent youth from experiencing
failure. The second tier, secondary / targeted interventions, focuses on
providing support to youth, for whom the first tier was not effective,
through more specific strategies. The third tier, tertiary / intensive
interventions, is for youth whose behaviors were not positively affected
by the first two tiers and focuses on comprehensive and individualized
strategies with additional support from persons (e.g., behavioral
consultants, mental health, social work) and environments (e.g., school,
The PBS literature is replete with examples of the effectiveness of
PBS on student academic and social performance across the three tiers
within public school settings. For example, at the universal tier an
overall reduction of 46% in office discipline referrals, 46% reduction
per student for disruption, and a 55% reduction per student for fighting
occurred after 2 years of implementation for an urban elementary school
(McCurdy, Mannella, & Eldridge, 2003). In another urban elementary
school, school-wide PBS efforts resulted in a 61% reduction in SAFE
(in-school suspension) and a 65% reduction in out-of-school suspensions
(Scott, 2001). At the targeted tier, reductions in the number of
talk-outs, incomplete assignments, and out-of-seat behaviors were
observed across three classrooms (Lohrmann & Talerico, 2004). At the
intensive tier, decreases in problem behavior and negative student-adult
interactions and increases in engagement were observed across activities
and transitions for a student in a middle school (Clarke, Worcester,
Dunlap, Murray, & Bradley-Klug, 2002). In another intensive tier
example, inappropriate behaviors decreased across several students when
intensive interventions were matched to the function of their
inappropriate behaviors (Newcomer & Lewis, 2004). In addition, the
literature provides examples of effective PBS across elementary (e.g.,
Lane & Mezies, 2003; Netzel & Eber, 2003), middle (e.g.,
Luiselli, Putnam, & Sunderland, 2002; Warren et al., 2003), and high
school (e.g., Bohanon-Edmonson, Flannery, Eber, & Sugai, 2004)
applications as well as districtwide and state-wide (e.g., Hawaii:
Nakasato, 2000; Illinois: EBD / PBIS Network-IL, 2004; New Hampshire:
Muscott et al., 2004; Oregon: Nersesian, Todd, Lemann, & Watson,
2000; Virginia: Shannon, Daly, Malatchi, Kvarfordt, & Yoder, 2001
Those students with severe behavioral challenges within restrictive
settings were the first to receive positive behavioral supports (PBS).
Over the years, PBS applications have been extended to those with
challenging behaviors in less restrictive settings and most currently to
all students with and without disabilities within school systems, most
notably in elementary and middle schools (Carr et al., 2002). In fact,
Carr and colleagues state, "there is growing evidence that PBS is
undergoing a rapid extension to other populations" (p. 14). The
application and extension of PBS practices to juvenile correctional
settings has yet to occur. In recent years, researchers have posited
that such an extension is warranted as well as feasible (Scott, Nelson,
Liaupsin, Jolivette, Christle, & Riney, 2002). Youth who are in
juvenile correctional settings are likely to display academic and social
deficits and be eligible for educational services through IDEA (Burrell
& Warboys, 2000); thus, eligible for positive behavioral supports.
Positive behavioral supports across the three tiers may be
exemplified in correctional settings through the following examples.
Juveniles within correctional facilities may need a broader and more
appropriate repertoire of academic and social skills so as to function
within the facility as well as transition back into their neighborhood
school and community. At the first tier, universal interventions may be
put in place which focus on an agreed upon set of expected behaviors
that are taught, modeled, and reinforced across and by all education
staff as well as security, cottage, and treatment staff with the support
of data-based changes to the facilities educational environment and
routines. In addition, contingent reinforcement may be provided to youth
by all facility staff for compliance with the expected behaviors as well
as for displays of the appropriate, alternative replacement behaviors.
For juveniles in which the universal interventions are not promoting the
desired positive effects on their academic and social performance, the
second tier would be put in place. At the targeted tier, educational
staff within the facility may focus on the groupings of these juveniles
to target more specific academic deficits through small group direct
instruction reading classes or remedial instruction and on more specific
social deficits through small group social skill classes or conflict
resolution classes. Additionally at this tier, all facility staff may
provide youth with pre-corrections, opportunities for the youth to
self-assess their academic and / or social behavior, and levels systems
based on appropriate, expected behaviors. For a small percentage of the
juveniles at the facilities, neither the universal or targeted tiers
will be effective in addressing all their academic and social problems.
For these youth, it will be important for the third tier, intensive
interventions, to be implemented. At this tier, the educational staff at
the facility may focus on interagency collaboration between the juvenile
court, public school, and mental health as well as with the family to
provide highly individualized services such as person-centered planning
and wraparound planning to support the youth within the facility and
plan for the transition of the youth back into the community. Youth with
needs at this tier also may require academic / social curricular
accommodations identified through functional behavioral assessment and
implemented through behavioral intervention plans.
The reasons for the extension of PBS into juvenile correctional
settings are many. First, juveniles being provided with educational
services within juvenile correctional settings need to be afforded
systematic and effective instruction that teaches and reinforces
appropriate academic and / or social replacement behaviors. Research
suggests that those who engage in antisocial behavior as youth probably
also experienced academic and / or social failures during earlier years
(Kerr & Nelson, 2002; Walker & Sprague, 1999). In particular,
these youth typically are functioning well below their same-age peers in
the areas of overall intellectual ability and academic achievement while
also displaying significant deficits in core areas (e.g., reading,
writing) (Foley, 2001). Second, these juveniles need to be provided with
preventative and proactive services that address their unique needs. For
instance, if patterns of failure are evident, then such patterns can be
reconstituted to result in success (Scott, Nelson, & Liaupsin,
2001). Thus, we can prevent predictable failures. Juveniles within
correctional settings come with unique needs and educational histories
and experiences. Third, these juveniles need to be provided with
consistent levels of support during and prior to transitioning back into
the community (Leone, Christle, Nelson, Skiba, Frey, & Jolivette,
2003). The juvenile correctional setting can be thought of as a
"host environment" to improve and support effective practices
(Sugal et al., 2000). In doing so, the juvenile correctional setting may
serve as a venue for multiple levels of prevention across its population
and the settings within (i.e., educational unit, housing unit,
recreational unit). Although youth within juvenile correctional settings
are not homogenous, they should be provided with a continuum of
preventative levels of support that are (a) comprehensive across the
setting, (b) durable in a variety of contexts, (c) relevant to the
youth's short- and long-term needs, and (d) positive with a focus
on teaching, modeling, and reinforcing appropriate behaviors and skills.
Research suggests that the prevention and remediation of academic and
social problems are not being implemented at various intensities across
the levels of prevention (McEvoy & Welker, 2000; Sugai et al.,
The four main PBS elements that intersect and influence all PBS
activities include outcomes, practices, data, and systems. From a model
shift viewpoint (traditional correctional model to a PBS model), these
elements may need to be altered to fit within JJ settings. For example,
outcomes are the short- and long-term academic and social goals youth
are to achieve through PBS activities which are agreed upon and
supported by stakeholders. Although the general academic and social
youth outcomes in JJ settings will be similar to those in typical public
school settings (e.g., students reading at or near grade level, one or
fewer office discipline referrals), the invested stakeholders will be
different. In JJ settings, stakeholders would include mental health
caregivers, security personnel, educational staff, school
administrators, and facility administrators to name a few. It will be
important that all stakeholders agree on how to address the concerns of
time, training, and belief systems as these stakeholders may wield power
to make proactive changes (e.g., schedule changes to promote training
across stakeholders). Practices are another PBS element that needs to be
addressed. Practices include the evidence-based strategies and
interventions (identified and agreed upon by the stakeholders) that
emphasize youth growth and development. For those in JJ settings, it may
take time, training, and a change in beliefs to be able to identify and
agree on strategies and interventions that are appropriate within the
confines of a JJ setting. This may mean that for some stakeholders, they
need to try new strategies and interventions and for others this may
mean ending the use of some currently used strategies and interventions.
In addition, a focus on skill building and safety with consistency in
implementation for whatever strategies and interventions are agreed upon
will need to occur. The third PBS element, data, refers to using data to
make programmatic and procedural decisions in relation to PBS practices.
That is, using the data to determine what is effective or not effective
in reaching the short- and long-term goals set for the youth. In JJ
settings, it will be imperative that data be shared across stakeholders.
This may mean that cottage staff, night staff, and security need to
debrief with educational staff in the morning as to the effects of the
strategies and interventions being implemented with suggested
modifications and to also receive updates from educational staff as to
youth behaviors. The last PBS element, systems, is directly linked to
outcomes, practices, and data. Systems refer to all the environments in
which the youth live and interact. Systems also are the primary
difference in juvenile justice settings and school settings
implementation of PBS. For JJ settings, this includes the school,
cottages, and recreation / leisure (e.g., after school programs). As the
PBS model is implemented within JJ settings, the stakeholders need to
agree on how the existing systems will influence and support PBS
efforts. For example, in a JJ setting should PBS be system-wide meaning
that PBS is implemented simultaneously across school, cottage, and
recreation / leisure environments? Or may PBS be started in the school
environment and then generalized into the other two environments. Unlike
typical school settings, JJ-PBS activities may need to step beyond the
current 8:30-3:30 pm model and move to a comprehensive 24 hour model.
Within JJ settings, the changes needed to systematically and
comprehensively implement PBS activities are many and will begin with
alterations to personnel time, training, and belief shifts.
The purpose of this study was to identify common issues and
concerns associated with the implementation of PBS in a juvenile justice
setting. To date, minimal data are available on how PBS is being
implemented in juvenile justice settings. Using a focus group format,
stakeholders from a juvenile justice facility were asked questions
dealing with the implementation of PBS in their facility. The goal was
to develop common themes that could provide information on the
applicability of PBS within juvenile justice settings and what PBS may
look like within juvenile justice settings.
During an all day site visit at the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls
State Training School, three focus groups (administrators, teachers,
clinical staff) were formed. Administrators consisted of six individuals
including the Iowa Juvenile Home Superintendent, the Educational Program
Principal, an Educational Administrator, the Treatment Services
Director, the Public Service Executive, and the State Director for the
Iowa Department of Human Services. The nine teachers included one math
teacher, one English teacher, a science teacher, one fine arts teacher,
two Title One reading teachers, two vocational education teachers, and
one school behavioral interventionist. Teachers were certified in their
area and in special education. The seven members of the clinical
treatment staff team consisted of one cottage director, three youth
service workers, one treatment director, one youth counselor, and one
youth service technician. All participants had been trained in PBS over
the last 1 1/2 years through an agreement with the state of Iowa. PBS
had been implemented in the facility since the training started. All
participants worked at the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training
School. See Table 1 for a description of participants.
The Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School is located in
Toledo, Iowa on 37 acres and is Iowa's only primary female juvenile
justice facility. The Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) was first established in
1920 as a home for orphans on a former college campus. The IJH operates
as a comprehensive non-secure residential treatment facility. This type
of facility provides care and treatment for youth who are cannot live in
a family situation due to social, emotional, or physical disabilities.
The level of supervision is determined by the individual treatment plan
developed by facility personnel. Services include individual, family,
and group treatment. Control rooms, locked cottages, mechanical
restraints, and chemical restraints may be used when appropriate.
All residents are placed only after adjudication by the Iowa court
system. Youth are housed in 5 gender specific cottages, allowing for 20
beds for males and 64 for females. The Clinical Department coordinates
treatment for all 5 cottages. Cottages are staffed at night through the
Security Department. The Clinical Department is responsible for medical
services, psychological services, counseling services, recreation, and
The Herbert Hoover Junior / Senior High School is located on the
campus. The educational program at the IJH is year round (252 days).
During 2004, the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School served
229 youth. General information about the type of youth who attend the
school include: (a) being in ten home placements prior to admission to
Iowa Juvenile Home, (b) being at least 2.1 grade levels below in
academics, (c) having their first sexual intercourse experience by age
12, and (d) starting illegal drug use at thirteen years of age.
Demographics of the youth served in the Iowa Juvenile Home program
during the 2003-2004 school year are provided in Table 2.
Questions were developed based on the positive behavioral support
literature. The questions were as follows: (1) What elements of PBS do
you see in your program now?, (2) What elements of PBS do you see
missing from your program now?, (3) How would you assess the
compatibility of the PBS model to your assessment / treatment approach?,
(4) What are the barriers you face in the full implementing the PBS
model?, (5) What training needs do you have in implementing the PBS
model?, and (6) What are the potential / actual benefits of PBS
implementation in your setting? These questions were asked by a
facilitator familiar with the focus group method and the nuances of the
facility. He encouraged participant discussion and maintained
neutrality. Detailed notes were typed into a computer and projected on a
screen for all participants to view for accuracy. All authors, except
the second, observed as the focus groups were asked the questions. By
not attending the focus group, the second author served as an external
safeguard against bias during the analysis of the data by only having
access to the typed participant comments.
Data Analysis Procedures
The Constant Comparative Method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss,
1967) was used. The Constant Comparative Method is a well established
qualitative method where data are analyzed to generate grounded theory.
This method was used since the focus of the research was on developing
common themes or categories related to the implementation of PBS in
juvenile justice. According to Hutchinson (1988, p. 135),
"comparative analysis forces the researcher to 'tease
out' the emerging category by searching for its structure,
temporality, cause, context, dimensions, consequences and its
relationship to other categories." This was accomplished by taking
the following steps:
1. Two researchers carefully examined the transcripts of
participant comments to agree upon the relevancy of the data. Irrelevant
data were discarded and not used in the analysis. Data were determined
to be irrelevant if both researchers agreed that it was off topic and
did not address one of the six questions asked during the focus group.
2. Researchers organized the data according to cohesive units of
information. Unit sizes varied in length based on how well each sentence
expressed a consistent thought or idea.
3. Researchers independently examined the unitized data for themes.
Themes were developed based on similar data patterns across participant
4. Researchers collectively reviewed the themes developed
independently. Consistent information units were agreed upon.
Inconsistent information units were eliminated.
5. Agreed upon themes were examined for their completeness and
reviewed for their interrelationships.
During this process, the reliability and validity of the data and
findings were taken into consideration. Reliability of the data was
increased by having the data inspected multiple times by five
researchers. This was done both orally and in written form. Validity of
the data was increased by conducting a members' check where the
facilitator asked each staff member about their agreement with the typed
notes. Notes were rewritten when necessary to reflect their comments.
Extensive quotes also were used to increase validity. Quotes are
provided in the results section of this manuscript. Finally, validity
was increased through the triangulation of data. All but one of the
authors observed the focus groups, took notes, and then compared their
notes to the notes of the focus group facilitator.
The findings produced eight interconnected themes including: (a)
ecological congruence, (b) role clarity, (c) philosophical shift and
agreement, (d) cache of pro active / preventative strategies, (e)
consistent practices, (f logistics, (g) data-based decision making, and
(h) achievement outcomes. See Figure 1 for a graphic representation of
the findings. Each is described below.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Ecological congruence focuses on issues of how PBS is unique in a
juvenile justice setting. Ecological congruence is at the core of what
makes juvenile justice positive behavioral support (JJ-PBS) different
than what occurs in general schools. It influences all other themes
necessary to establish JJ-PBS. It was the common subject discussed by
participants that influenced all other aspects of JJ-PBS. The ecological
congruence of JJ-PBS is vital if it is to be integrated into facilities
and valued byjuvenile justice personnel.
When considering the ecological congruence of JJ-PBS, participants
indicated the difficulty of changing from a correctional model to a PBS
model. A correctional model focuses on power, punishment, and
expediency. Security is the primary concern of the correctional model.
In contrast, a JJ-PBS model centers on giving students more control over
their lives, positive reinforcement, and long-term change. While not
unfamiliar to juvenile justice personnel, the concept of PBS is in
contrast to the traditional punitive correctional model. One
administrator indicated, "these concepts [PBS] don't seem to
be alien concepts to what we have been doing. A major barrier is when
the State imposes a rigid correctional model as the expectation."
Ecological congruence serves as an umbrella for all the other
themes described below. The remaining themes are all influenced directly
or indirectly by how well PBS is integrated or is perceived to integrate
into juvenile justice settings. All themes should be viewed through the
lens of ecological congruence.
Role clarity addresses concerns of power, position, and policies.
Participants expressed feelings of ambiguity in a JJ-PBS model where
students are given more power. A teacher stated, "we are putting up
with some things we didn't tolerate before." The inference is
that they were giving up control. Clinical staff also specified concerns
with control but appeared to turn the issue of control into something
positive. A clinical staff member indicated, "[There are] issues of
power. In the long-run kids are more involved. Your really aren't
giving up power you are gaining.
Closely related to power is the idea of position. The school had
hired an interventionist to better address student behavioral problems.
Students were referred to the interventionist for behavioral problems
that interfered with their education. The interventionist often provided
the students with counseling. Previously, teachers had provided such
services. Teachers expressed a loss in their therapeutic role and
ability to work with students on an emotional level.
Finally, participants expressed ambiguity with conflicting
policies. As one teacher indicated', "[There is] some
ambiguity in how we are operating." The policies developed under
the correctional model are in conflict with those under a JJ-PBS model.
The participants expressed uncertainty with which policy model should be
followed. For example, the correctional model policies concentrate on
punishment and removal of students from the classroom. The PBS model
suggests a different approach. The emphasis is more on addressing the
specific behavioral needs of the youth and dealing with problems through
teaching. Modeling, and reinforcing appropriate replacement behaviors.
Philosophical Shift and Agreement
Philosophical shift and agreement is a concern with changing staff
s beliefs and thinking processes. More comments were made about this
theme than any other one. Changing from a correctional model to a JJ-PBS
model takes time, self-awareness, and reflection. It has to do with
moving away from an 'I gotcha [being bad] model"' as one
administrator said. Teachers acknowledged, *'it is hard for us to
give up old ways." Clinical staff commented, "we used to be
compliance oriented. Now we are looking at what is happening and using
skills such as teaching and coaching. The whole milieu has changed to
how can we help rather than how can we catch [students] at what [they]
are doing wrong."
They recognized that they regress back to the correctional model
while striving toward a JJ-PBS model. An administrator commented,
"as you make the shift, you have people who want to work in a
strength-based but in times of crisis revert to control." This
regression has to do with the fear and uncertainty that the JJ-PBS
philosophy may not be effective. As a clinical staff indicated, "in
our unit we had to change our philosophy in how we approach the
children. How do we change so we don't overly focus on the history
of what has happened? How do we look at the positive qualities, not just
the problems? One of the most difficult sells here is the perception of
some that we are not holding students accountable for behavior."
Cache of Proactive/Preventative Strategies
A cache of proactive/preventive strategies focuses on having a
sufficient quantity of evidence-based interventions and appropriate
reinforcers available in the classroom. The emphasis is on
environmentally suitable interventions and reinforcers. Participants
indicated that accessing reinforcers that are not contraband is a
central concern. Common reinforcers used in general school settings such
as pencils might be dangerous. The nature of the juvenile justice
setting requires those who work in those settings to creatively identify
strategies and reinforcers that motivate but do not compromise security
In addition to the concern about security, selected strategies
should serve as a deterrence of future behavior problems. Participants
indicated it was difficult to come up with "good things" to
say and do for students. Reinforcement of what is simply expected takes
time and practice. Emphasizing the positive and downplaying the negative
requires a conscience effort.
Participants suggested there also are differences in strategies
based on gender. According to an administrator, "in an institution
serving females, acknowledgement may be particularly important."
Participants indicated the need to have a repertoire of reinforcers. In
addition, as the strength of the interventions/reinforcer dimishes,
there will be a need to provide and implement alternative
Consistent practices with JJ-PBS address issues of settings,
personnel, and time. Being consistent across all three areas takes
personal awareness and coordination. Setting is a concern for where the
youth and staff are located. One clinical staff member stated, "one
barrier is communicating and coordinating across staff in the cottage or
between cottages and schools. Night staff may still operate under a
control model. It would be good if night staff could participant with
our group." Youth spend portions of each day with three sets of
personnel, educational staff, cottage staff, and night staff, across
settings so consistency in behavioral expectations, strategies, and
reinforcers is important.
The topic of personnel is another area that impacts JJ-PBS
consistent practices. Participants indicated that there are varying
approaches to discipline in the facility due to their different
educational backgrounds. Security personnel, mental health caregivers,
school administrators, facility administrators, and teachers have all
been trained to implement philosophically different practices. For
example, one current method being used is the Circle of Courage. This
method of addressing behavioral issues is a cognitive-based approach to
dealing with behavior. Positive behavioral support is a behavioral-based
approach. Developing consistent practices across these very two
different theoretical points of view can be a challenge.
Finally, participants indicated that having time to implement
consistent practices is an issue. Seemingly simple issues like
developing a common JJ-PBS language across settings can be perplexing
without having the time to establish it. As one clinical staff member
expressed, "I would like to see the language consistent across the
cottages." A teacher voiced that the greatest barrier to developing
consistent JJ-PBS practices was "time."
Despite all the potential barriers to developing consistent
practices, it appears that progress is being made. As one administrator
indicated, "what I find attractive is the integrative aspects of
[PBS]. It presents a coherent model that can spread across the campus
and various roles of persons in the program." It appears that
consistent practices have the potential to be implemented over time.
Logistics highlights the issue of time. Participants indicated
having enough time for training, collaboration, communication, and
coordination as being a problem. Unlike general public education,
Juvenile justice personnel must be concerned with organizing staff
working around the clock and year long. Finding the time for day and
night personnel to get together is a challenge. Additionally, there are
other types of staff who must collaborate when implementing JJ-PBS as
compared to general public schools. Security personnel, mental health
caregivers, school administrators, facility administrators, and teachers
all need to find time across a 24-hour time period to work together.
Logistics also deal with the common issue of finding time to learn
and use new methods for addressing behavioral problems. Recent staff
reductions have complicated the process. For example, a teacher
referring to youth needing the intensive JJ-PBS tier of intervention
commented, "there may be a significant amount of time associated
with completing an FBA. It is a time concern. This should be better as
we get more staff in our school program."
Finally, logistics also are associated with the personal time it
takes to change. Change takes time and reflection. Being aware of
one's personal beliefs while changing from a correctional model to
a JJ-PBS model can be difficult. There were distinct differences between
the three groups of personnel regarding their level of change.
Administrators and clinical personnel indicated more progress as
compared to teachers. Teachers seemed less positive about JJ-PBS.
Data-based Decision Making
Data-based decision-making revolve around valuing data, using data
to make decisions, and having all personnel on board with the use of
data. Valuing data is the first step to using data. As one administrator
stated, "there are naysayers but the data and SWIS system is
important in showing how this program is working. An employee may be
resistant but data shows improvement. There are implications for
significant improvement." It also was stated that there might be a
need for a separate SWIS system just forjuvenile justice facilities due
to the different documentation requirements of a Juvenile justice
setting as compared to the general public school.
Using data to make decisions about students has increased. As the
clinical staff indicated, "we did our first FBA on a kid who was
driving us up the wall. We had to change our attitude in how we looked
at behavior. It took us a while to get there ... This kid was constantly
being restrained. Before she left, restraints ceased. This case got us
on track." Teachers also acknowledged the usefulness of data. One
teacher stated, "we have a tool (FBA). This information is used by
a committee to help generate solutions. This is another method to help
analyze the behaviors of a child. It helps unite use. It helps us with
long-term focus with this child."
Finally, while many personnel are making decisions based on data,
many still have not bought in to the process. As one administrator
indicated, "our challenge continues in how to more completely
involve all staff." The administrator admitted that it takes time
to convince others. As more personnel have additional positive
experiences with using data, the greater the chance others will buv-In
to the process; thus, achieving the minimum 80% staff buy-in necessary
for effective PBS.
The final theme is achievement outcomes. This theme was given the
least amount of attention as compared to the other identified themes.
Participants, particularly administrators, stated that they were aware
that examining the impact of PBS on achievement was needed. They stated
that one of their next goals was to connect PBS with achievement using
data. When an administrator was asked if he could show measurable
differences in rate of progress in academics, he indicated, "right
now we can't. Our achievement is struggling with short staff
situation. In building back, we expect this."
Another reason achievement had not been directly addressed was
because they were still working on the basics of implementing PBS.
Additionally, teachers were still dealing with the idea that JJ-PBS
could improve academics. As one teacher said, "it does take
teachers somewhat away from traditional classroom activities. It focuses
on relationship development but there is an academic tradeoff
here." This teacher was still grappling with the idea that
improving behavior through PBS also may improve academics.
The theme of ecological congruence is a critical factor in the
implementation of PBS in juvenile justice settings. Participants
discussed barriers such as communication with night staff at a 24-hour
facility, rigid correctional expectations, and using reinforcers that
would not be considered contraband. These observations represent an
important barrier with the implementation of JJ-PBS, that is, the belief
that using PBS may be completely opposite to how current practices are
being implemented in correctional settings. The belief that the two
systems (juvenile justice and PBS) are exclusive models, set the stage
for failure. The desired outcomes of having safe and successful youth
are usually very similar, but the approach used is different. Issues
with safety and security are paramount when trying to implement any
program in a juvenile justice setting. Safety and security are serious
issues in the juvenile justice setting and need to be a strong component
of any program to be implemented within JJ settings. Although it would
be nice to believe that a complete shift from a correctional model to a
PBS model would happen, change will not come easily or quickly until
juvenile justice personnel deeply ingrained in the "correctional
model" become comfortable with the fact that safety and security
can be strong components of PBS. The goal of the two systems
successfully blending together will probably be more successful than the
belief that PBS wipes out all things "correctional." The PBS
model takes into account the importance of safety and security. The
outcome of safe and successful youth is shared by both systems and
building on that may be more productive than competing for control.
Absent from this focus group were night shift staff and security
personnel which represents a common problem encountered while attempting
to implement a new/different program in juvenile justice settings. The
PBS model challenges a "rigid correctional model" to shift
from reactive and punishing practices to incorporate more proactive and
positive practices. PBS has been developed in school settings where
staff (teachers and administrators) generally work the same hours and
there is allocated time for staff to meet as a group. This does not hold
true for staff within JJ settings and poses a serious barrier to the
overall transition to a JJ-PBS.
Implementing PBS in JJ schools only covers about one-third of the
day for youth. The school setting may be the appropriate place to start
but a systematic plan that addresses the rest of the time needs to be a
well-developed component of JJ-PBS. Education, treatment, and other
types of programming may be viewed as being separate in the evening as
compared to during the day. To implement the PBS model that has been
successful in public schools, the time frames in which it is supported,
taught, and expected may very well need to be expanded to meet the needs
of the youth and staff in the JJ facility. Teachers, interventionists,
and administrators may have to re-examine their expectations and work
varying shifts to train and model PBS efforts if PBS is to be successful
outside of the classroom setting and across all JJ settings. If PBS is
to be implemented system-wide, all shifts and staff should be considered
during the planning stages. Thus, for youth to achieve the maximum
positive effects of PBS, seamless implementation is required.
Change can be difficult and cause role ambiguity. This may be even
more so in a correctional setting than a public school. Correctional
settings have a history of having long established policies and
procedures that are rigidly followed. The tendency is towards a military
position rather than a consensus building one. Evolving from an
inflexible setting where minimal decision-making is done beyond the
administrative level, to a PBS model that necessitates that personnel be
more involved in how behavioral issues are addressed, can be perplexing.
It may take a great deal of personal reflection by staff to examine
their own leadership and that of administration for PBS to be viable
within JJ settings.
Role ambiguity also was caused by the addition of the
interventionist. Teachers were still adjusting to having an
interventionist whose specific role was to address student behavioral
issues. Having the interventionist now attending to most student
behavioral situations seemed to remove the teachers from a role that was
reinforcing for them, counseling youth. Removing this reinforcer caused
conflict and confusion. The administration may consider creating a
situation where teachers are given an opportunity to interact with
students under circumstances that are as rewarding as counseling. It is
possible that juvenile justice teachers selected their teaching job for
different reasons as compared to public school teachers.
Cache of Proactive/Preventative Strategies
The participants in this study voiced a concern about accessing
reinforcers that would not be considered contraband as a serious problem
when developing appropriate, alternative strategies to support positive
behaviors in youth. This highlighted the distinction between education
and other areas of the facility. The reinforcers for positive behavior
do not need to come from the school setting only. Some correctional
settings have used facility-wide reinforcers such as extra TV time,
extra phone calls, and popcorn on movie nights to support positive
behavior in the classroom. Again, the distinction between education and
time outside of the school as completely unrelated systems hinders the
ability to design interventions appropriate for the entire juvenile
justice setting. Housing unit staff would probably be able to generate a
long list of reinforcers that would have a positive impact on youth
behavior in the classroom setting. As PBS is implemented system-wide,
the input from all areas can be very valuable in the design of
system-wide reinforcers along with a facility-wide plan for the delivery
of these reinforcers.
As teachers, administrators, and clinical staff discuss the
challenges of implementing PBS in JJ settings, there needs to be
awareness that there will be many different beliefs about the pui-pose
of corrections. In a public school setting, it is rare that you find a
staff member who believes that the youth in school are there because
they need to be punished. This may or may not be true in a JJ setting.
The staff in a correctional setting will have much more variance in what
they believe their role is than that of public school staff. To have a
consistent set of practices that could be used by all staff will take
coordination from the facility administration and finding of
"common ground" could very well take more time in JJ settings.
For example, the mission statement of the JJ facility could be
re-visited and edited with staff input across specialties (e.g.,
education, security, day/night, treatment staff) to promote buy-in for
the PBS model. This PBS component of "buy-in" will probably
need to be considered more acutely in a JJ setting than a public school
setting. As staff make changes in their behavioral expectations, they
also will need to see the expectation modeled for them. A security staff
may need to see the positive behavioral support practices modeled
successfully before they can be expected to make a dramatic shift in
their job expectations. As with any behavioral change, either staff or
student, the new behavior needs to be taught, practiced, and reinforced
before it can be successful. A possible way to deal with this is to
develop what each "division" would consider success for a
student and then develop a way to reach that goal using positive
behavior supports. From this, a facility could develop a system-wide
plan for the implementation of PBS.
The logistics of implementing PBS in JJ settings is one of the most
sensitive themes to emerge from the focus groups with concern about the
intersection of personnel time, training, and willingness to alter
one's beliefs (e.g., correctional versus PBS model). As with the
implementation of PBS in typical school settings, JJ settings share
common logistical concerns which oftentimes appear to be an obstacle for
PBS success. For example, both JJ and general school setting personnel
voice a) the time needed to form PBS leadership teams and time to
implement new PBS practices, policies, and procedures; b) the training
in proactive and preventative instructional and behavioral strategies;
c) the ongoing training needs to sustain PBS efforts; d) the difficulty
in securing 80% "buy-in" from all staff to implement PBS
practices; and e) the difficulty in changing how instructional and
behavioral strategies are to be delivered under the new model. Within
the JJ setting, logistical obstacles may be more prominent due to the
configuration of personnel time, training of a variety of personnel, and
work beliefs; however, using the elements of PBS to anchor JJ setting
logistics may address some of the obstacles.
Data-based Decision Making
The correctional setting is often full of data that can be used to
make decisions. Security usually keeps data on how often they are called
to a classroom for assistance, teachers take attendance and academic
achievement information, clinical personnel keep notes on counseling
progress, and housing unit staff keep data on significant issues on the
units. By developing a way to share existing data and collect data that
would be valuable to all who work with the youth should be a component
that is thought through before the implementation of PBS. If security
staff can show the number of restraints has declined and teachers can
show the increase in academic achievement due to more instructional
time, data can be a powerful tool in making decisions to continue
successful practices or modifying practices that are not producing the
desired results. Having data can remove the opinions that often hinder
positive behavior supports in more restrictive settings.
Overall emphasis on youth academic achievement was minimal with
these particular focus group participants, although participants agreed
that once youth social behaviors were addressed a shift toward academic
short- and long-term outcomes would occur and be addressed. Such a view
also has been mirrored by some typical public schools with PBS
initiatives whereby academic short- and long-term outcomes were added in
the second and third year of implementation. A primary focus of those in
JJ settings may be to provide a positive and safe leaming environment
for youth and to achieve such a focus, social behavioral concerns would
take precedent. In JJ settings, it may be more important as PBS
activities begin to occur to take a multi-faceted approach to achieving
academic achievement outcomes. For example, JJ settings may first focus
on implementing PBS in the school setting and then fade in the
recreation/lei sure setting and then the cottage setting. Once PBS is
being implemented across JJ setting environments then a second focus may
be on specific social outcomes expected
Based on the data collected, stakeholders could decide whether or
not the initial PBS implementation was having desired effects on youth
social behavior. At this point, if PBS was producing the desired and
expected social changes in the youth, then academic achievement outcomes
may be set. However, academic achievement data should be collected as an
ongoing process so that the first year of implementation can serve as an
Focus groups are useful in generating new hypotheses about a
particular topic that have a limited empirical database (Gall, Gall,
& Borg, 2003; Marshall & Rossman, 1999). In this case, the focus
group method was appropriate since no published studies on PBS being
implemented in JJ facilities exist. Focus groups allow for the
researcher to interact directly with the participants and collect rich
data in the participants' own words. They provide participants with
more stimulation and interaction with the potential for more responses
as compared to one-onone interviews.
The focus group method also has limitations (Gall et al., 2003;
Marshall & Rossman, 1999). The small number of respondents limits
the ability to generalize findings. This study only studied one facility
in a Midwestern state. Without replication with similar participants,
the finding in this study should be viewed as preliminary and only
applicable to the current study.
Focus group findings also may be biased. Particularly vocal
participants may bias results. In this case, it does not appear that
vocal participants dominated the conversation. This was not a concern
raised by any of the participants or the researchers. Amother concern
with focus groups is that the researchers conducting and analyzing the
data also can bias results. It does not appear that bias was an issue.
The scientific rigor of the study was increased by adhering to the
principles and guidelines of the Constant Comparative Method and
applying the practices that improved the reliability and validity of the
Positive behavior support is a three-tier proactive and
preventative model that simultaneously addresses youth academic and
social outcomes through systematic implementation of evidence-based
strategies and interventions across environments. To date, PBS has been
implemented in typical public school settings with students with and
without disabilities across the elementary, middle, and high school
levels. The extension of PBS into JJ settings, although not a new idea,
has yet to be achieved. Through the use of focus groups from invested
stakeholders, multiple themes centered on environmental congruence
emerged that will need to be address as PBS is generalized from typical
school settings to JJ settings. Future research of the applicability,
feasibility, and practicality of PBS in JJ settings is warranted. As the
PBS model is generalized and implemented into more JJ facilities,
researchers will have a better understanding of its effects on youth
academic and social outcomes.
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David E. Houchins
Georgia State University
Iowa Department of Education
Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections
C. Michael Nelson
University of Kentucky
Acknowledgement: We would like to thank Dr. Carl Smith for his
leadership and organization with the focus groups.
Table 1 Participant Demographics
Demographic Information of Participants
Administrators Teachers Clinical Staff
Gender: Gender: Gender:
male 4 male 4 male 0
female 2 female 5 female 7
Age: Age: Age:
mean 47.67 mean 50.78 mean 39.29
range 32-62 range 38-63 range 26-52
Education Education Education
Level: Level: Level:
AA 1 HS 1 AA 3
BS 1 AA 1 BA 4
MS 4 BS 6
Years of Years of Years of
Experience: Experience: Experience:
mean 20 mean 21.67 mean 13.43
range 7-41 range 8-42 range 3-26
Table 2 Youth Demographics at Iowa Juvenile Home
Student Demographics Percent
Native American 1
Not attended school 70
Active IEP 64
Sexual abuse or perpetrator issues 44
Have a child or are pregnant 8
Substance abuse diagnosis at age 15 72
Abuse drugs or alcohol weekly 66
Parents were drugs/alcohol abusers 80
Mental Health Issues
Use psychotropic medication 70
Admissions from PMIC's or MHI's (1) 58
Diagnosis of a serious mental health disorder 62
Attempted suicide 34
Missing or in detention, not home in 4 years 75
Unsuccessful in out of home placements 99
Unsuccessful in foster care 56
Note: (1) Psychiatric Medical Institutions for Children and Mental
Health Institute, respectively