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Building System Capacity. SAMHSA’s National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention Performance Assessment

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides funding in support of the National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention (NRC). The purpose of the NRC is to provide resources and training that increase the effectiveness of youth violence prevention programs; support the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders; and promote healthy development of children and youth from birth to 21 years old, especially among vulnerable populations. The NRC is comprised of two grant programs to select states, territories, tribal entities, and communities: Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) and Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health). The NRC is administered by American Institutes for Research (AIR), which provides training and technical assistance (T/TA) to these two grant programs and the field at large that build state, local, and tribal grantee capacities to successfully implement project activities and to scale up and sustain activities once federal funding ends.

Since 2014, Community Science has been working with AIR to help assess the NRC’s performance in meeting the T/TA needs of SS/HS and Project LAUNCH grantees. We do this by 1) tracking the ongoing implementation of NRC activities, including T/TA methods and content; (2) identifying patterns of effective T/TA practice, focusing on which NRC methods worked well, for whom, and in what circumstances; and (3) assessing the extent to which NRC-identified outputs and outcomes are being achieved. We use a number of data sources to assess performance including evaluations of online learning events, online learning modules, and in-person trainings; an annual performance assessment survey; a database that tracks technical assistance requests and responses (TA Tracker); web analytic data; site visit assessments; and T/TA needs assessment interviews and focus groups. Information is provided by grant representatives and community partners whose staff participated in T/TA activities and from their resource specialists or any other TA provider, depending upon kind and level of need.

One of the more exciting parts of our work has been the development of capacity assessments of grantees (i.e., organizations and their partner organizations), which are developmentally based and can be used as part of the development of technical assistance plans. This assessment relies heavily on prior research and work in this area. Another innovative aspect of our work has been the development of self-assessment tools for TA providers to ensure that they are maintaining the quality that they defined for their work and to examine ways that they can use that information to provide continuous quality improvement.

Our role in this project has enabled us to contribute to a national initiative designed to build the capacity of school districts and other systems to address the three-part challenge of reducing youth violence, supporting the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and promoting healthy development of children and youth, especially among vulnerable populations. We work closely with NRC staff to understand the full context of grantee services provided in over 35 different states and localities as well as the complexities of providing tailored capacity-building supports in these jurisdictions using a range of creative modalities. We addressed the challenge of synthesizing large amounts of needs assessment and performance assessment data to identify salient trends and develop recommendations to improve T/TA services and supports. Our work products provided timely feedback for continuous quality improvement of the NRC, facilitated mid-course adjustments, informed grantee-specific NRC plans for each year of operations, and helped to identify lessons learned in implementing national initiatives benefiting the fields of mental health promotion and positive youth development.

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