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Collaborative Problem Solving™ (CPS)

Collaborative Problem Solving™ (CPS) was first articulated as a treatment model for explosive kids in the book, The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene, and subsequently in a book for mental health clinicians, Treating Explosive Kids: The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach, by Dr. Greene and his colleague, Dr. Stuart Ablon. Over the last ten years, the model has been applied to children with a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and in a wide range of settings: families, schools, and restrictive therapeutic facilities (including inpatient units, residential facilities, and juvenile detention facilities). The model has also been applied to “ordinary” kids as well as to adults.

As applied to challenging kids, the model sets forth two major tenets:

  • first, that these challenges are best understood as the byproduct of lagging cognitive skills (rather than, for example, as attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, or a sign of poor motivation); and
  • second, that these challenges are best addressed by teaching children the skills they lack (rather than through reward and punishment programs and intensive imposition of adult will).

While challenging kids let us know they’re struggling in some fairly common ways (screaming, swearing, defying, hitting, spitting, throwing things, breaking things, crying, withdrawing, and so forth), they are quite unique as individuals when it comes to the mix of lagging cognitive skills that sets the stage for these behaviors. This means that prior to focusing on the teaching of cognitive skills, one must first identify the skills that are lagging in each individual child or adolescent.

Work done to date with community and schools:

  • 2 trainings with police; they are currently attempting CPS
  • Initial training w/ schools occurred in January
  • Weekly consultation (individual and/or small group training, live CPS demonstrations with kids) offered to all schools with teachers participating on a voluntary basis by contract; rough estimates of participation:
    • Junior High 90%
    • Lafayette 100%
    • Emerson 80%
    • MCS 70%
    • Lamb 50%
    • Willard 40%
    • Alternative School 100%
    • High School 20%
  • Two book clubs afterschool with a total of 30 participants”

Since 2004, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group has been the driving force for implementation of Dr. Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach in Maine, beginning with implementation at Mountain View Youth Development Center and Long Creek Youth Development Center, and continuing with a 3-year project in Sanford.  Other agencies have provided funding for training and implementation of the CPS model in Maine’s public schools (schools in Portland and Lewiston are actively being trained in the model at this time, with smaller projects in South Portland, Kittery, and Harpswell).  However, given the tremendous challenges schools face in understanding and helping students with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges – and the implications this has for poor outcomes, including involvement in the juvenile detention system – there is a great need for further implementation in schools, particularly in the high-risk areas of the state, as well as for a mechanism for bringing educators together annually to share ideas and strategies and present data.

The goal of this project is to have participating schools serve as implementation models for schools throughout the state, and the schools that are nearing the completion of training are well-positioned to fulfill that goal. 

In this project, 14 schools in high-risk areas of Maine received intensive supervision in the CPS model during the 2010 to 2013 school years.  The training is delivered through a combination of on-site and tele- or video-conference supervision, with a primary focus on students who are frequently accessing school discipline and/or are at high risk for dropping out of school due to social, emotional, or behavioral challenges.  Schools are required to commit to have key staff at supervision sessions on a reliable basis, and school leadership will be required to indicate a clear commitment to the structural changes that are necessary for successful implementation and maintenance.  Data-collection and data-analysis for the project will be overseen by Dr. Thomas Ollendick, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech. 

These projects followed Dr. Greene’s JJAG-funded work in the two youth developmental facilities (Long Creek and Mountain View) of the Maine Department of Corrections, which produced fundamental changes in the way in which incarcerated youth are understood and treated in Maine and was associated with significant reductions in recidivism, use of restraint and seclusion, and staff and resident injuries.

To date, three schools have completed the project…11 other schools are at various points of completion.  In all schools, implementation of Collaborative Problem Solving begins with a core group of 7-8 staff, who become proficient in the model first and then serve as mentors to other staff during school-wide implementation.  We do not examine data until a school has completed the process of school-wide implementation; as such, we are reporting data here for the three schools that have completed.

Morse Street School, Freeport, Maine (260 students, pre-K through grade 3)

The Morse Street School began implementing Collaborative Problem Solving in the fall of 2010.  The school did not track rates of after-school detentions, suspensions, or expulsions prior to implementation; however, since implementation commenced, there have been no detentions, suspensions, or expulsions in this building.  There has also been a significant increase in literacy scores since the implementation of CPS.  The school has reduced the number of students failing or performing one or two levels below the stand in reading by approximately 50 percent during this time.  The principal indicates that, while other initiatives were taking place in the building at the same time as CPS was being implemented, he believes that CPS has helped students remain in class and engaged in learning:  “when problems are solved children spend their time learning and academics improve.”

Durham Community School, Durham, Maine (406 students, K-8)

The Durham Community School began implementing the CPS model in January, 2011.  The assistant principal notes that implementation has prompted significant technical (practices) and adaptive (school culture) changes in his building.  The assessment and intervention practices associated with the CPS model are now fully embedded into everyday life at the school.  In the 2010-2011 school year, there were 2.22 office referrals per day; in the following school year, there were 1.83 office referrals per day.  In the current school year, the rate is presently 1.08 office referrals per day.  In 2010-2011, there were 173 reported incidents of peer aggression; the following year there were 134 such incidents.  In 2010-2011, there were 103 reported incidents of defiance/disruption/ disrespect; in the following school year, there were 86 such incidents reported.  The rate of suspension has been reduced by 50 percent during this time as well.

Central School, South Berwick, Maine (482 students, pre-K through grade 3

Central School began implementing the CPS model in fall, 2010.  Over time, the assessment and intervention practices associated with the model have been embedded into standard operating procedures in the building.  During the 2009-2010 school year (prior to implementation), there were 144 office referrals; in 2010-2011 (the first year of implementation), there were 85 office referrals; during the 2011-2012 school year, there were 41 office referrals.  There have been no suspensions or expulsions since implementation began.  The principal reports that several students who would otherwise have been removed to outside placements have been kept in general education in her school through implementation of the CPS model.