The Los Angeles Unified School District provides a variety of services to immigrant school children through its Emergency Immigrant Education Program. Expanding upon those services, the district's Mental Health Services Unit, in conjunction with university and nonprofit partners and local schools, developed a program to meet these children's mental health needs. The Mental Health for Immigrants Project was designed to address the psychological effects of exposure to violence among immigrant school children. This article describes the collaborative process undertaken to develop and evaluate the program.
In consultation with their partners, the school district chose a cognitive-behavioral program-Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS)-as their intervention. CBITS is designed to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in children using cognitive-behavioral techniques such as relaxation training, restructuring of inappropriate thoughts, and social problem solving. The intervention was delivered in eight group sessions and was offered to children whose native language was Spanish, Korean, Armenian, and Russian. In order to help them reinforce the material that had been introduced in these sessions, parents and teachers attended educational sessions where the treatment goals and philosophy were explained. Since many of the parents had limited reading skills, information was provided to them verbally when appropriate.
Teachers, administrators, and parents were overwhelmingly positive about the program. Even some parents who had initially been reluctant to have their children participate became quite supportive. Administrators highlighted the program's ability both to serve traumatized children and to educate teachers about children's reactions to trauma.