Using Data to Address Children’s Mental Health of the “Forgotten Group”
By Stirling Myles and Geoff Cook, SmartSimple
For every $1 invested in SNAP® (Stop Now And Plan)—an internationally-recognized, evidence-based early intervention program for children in the middle years aged (6-11)—results in a savings of up to $32 in costs to society down the road, a 2015 study found. As mental health issues have risen significantly over the past decade, it’s revealing that there’s a lot of research yet to be done on understanding its long-term effects, including violence, in communities. Often, problematic behaviors of youth can ultimately fester into larger issues, including acts of violence. It's estimated that the future costs of a career criminal will be $1,143,604 if no early intervention takes place. Compare that to the $6,000 for a child and their family to participate in SNAP—that's a savings of over $1,000,000 per youth when SNAP is successful.
Research and work from Child Development Institute’s (CDI) SNAP model are finding the most impactful ways to prevent violence and incarceration is to develop emotion regulation and self-control skills at an early age. Programs like SNAP are proving to be important in solving community health determinants at the root before they become bigger issues, and it is a program of which Indiana grantmakers should be aware.
Research indicates that one out of five youth have some form of mental health issues in North America, which has resulted in the third-highest suicide rate among developed countries. Kids with anti-social behaviors tend to be more reactive as they have difficulty stopping and thinking before they act. As children get older, shifting their mental processes becomes more difficult. Yet, 76% of parents don't know how to get help for their children who are experiencing signs of mental health issues. Enter the work of SNAP.
SNAP is a gender-sensitive, trauma-informed, and cognitive-behavioral model with a track record in changing lives. SNAP teaches children ages 6-11—known as the “forgotten group”—and their families how to consider the consequences of their actions and make better choices “in the moment.” As an accredited children’s mental health agency based in Toronto, CDI developed SNAP over three decades ago in response to at-risk children in conflict with the law. Since then, the SNAP program has grown and evolved into an award-winning early intervention model.
SNAP works within a balanced scientist and practitioner model that assesses level of risk and need for children and their families for informing individualized treatment plans. This is done in conjunction with leading researchers and clinicians in their network of schools, child welfare, community based-organizations, and police services. Another part of SNAP’s work is developing mechanisms and programs for parents to help get their children to the door of the services they need. Moving closer to home, the SNAP model has been identified as an evidence-based intervention by the Indiana Department of Corrections.
SNAP has shown increases in children’s social, emotional, and problem-solving skills. When conducting neuroscience research, EEG (Electroencephalogram) scans saw increased development in several parts of the brain during and after participating in SNAP. Thirteen weeks into the program, EEG scans showed more activity in the frontal lobe region—a more thoughtful, problem-solving part of the brain. Research has found that SNAP results in up to a 33% reduction in crime and an 86% likelihood that the program will produce benefits greater than its costs.
Much of SNAP’s efficiency, strategy, and community health impact comes from its wealth of coordinated and collected data from their network of clinicians. In collaboration with SmartSimple Software, CDI built a centralized system called SNAPiT (SNAP Implementation Tool) to track and report outcomes from their wealth of data. “We’re working with intricate analysis and manipulation of data to help organizations effectively respond to their clients and families,” says Leena Augimeri, PhD, Director, SNAP Scientific and Program Development. From standardizing electronic clinical files, CDI is now able to run statistical analysis and receive real-time feedback for clinicians entering their information into their SmartSimple system.
Its evidence-based findings empower CDI to stay true to its model and how it services clients. Through a co-monitored approach between clinicians, program administrators, and researchers, its system allows agencies and clinicians to evaluate and individualize their plans to best run their program.
“Not all communities are equal, and data tells a story, so we need to listen and review. Our data needs to inform if things are working or if things need to be done differently,” says Augimeri.
Given there’s little in the federal budget to address childhood mental health, programs must work as efficiently as possible with the little funds they have. Working with SmartSimple, CDI has structured and standardized the way it collects information with its system providing built-in efficiencies to better enable how its finance team tracks spending.
"We've cut down on administrative time by 50%—the whole staff has made their workflow more efficient," says Margaret Walsh, Senior Manager, SNAP Research, Evaluation and Data Systems.
Clinicians can access real-time pre- and post-treatment data, and with ad-hoc statistical analysis tools, CDI can better focus on furthering its impact on children’s mental health. “We're changing the landscape of how children's mental health is addressed, with SmartSimple helping immensely in that process," says Augimeri.
The effects of mental health on society are still being studied and there’s much work to be done. Innovative, proactive, and impactful programs like SNAP are critical in shining a light on “forgotten” communities, while elevating how community members engage with the world more positively. Looking ahead, CDI is expanding its reach and has a new strategic plan to continue its service excellence while sharing its deep knowledge and impact on a global scale. The need for preventative work and funding to the mental health field is more critical than ever for improving the health of our communities.
And it starts here in Indiana.
This article was underwritten by SmartSimple. Learn more about SNAP by visiting www.stopnowandplan.com.