Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Mental Health Services and Policy Program

The mission of the Mental Health Services & Policy Program (MHSPP) is to provide research, evaluation, outcomes management, technical assistance and training that helps improve the lives of individuals and families that receive publicly funded mental health services.

Current Projects 

Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) Evaluation (Interim PI: Neil Jordan, PhD

MHSPP and DCFS have enjoyed nearly a decade-long partnership focused on addressing the needs of children and families through training, evaluation, and technical assistance. Relying upon the Total Clinical Outcomes Management model, MHSPP has helped the Department to implement decision support strategies as well as approaches to measuring outcomes that are strengths-based, consensus-driven, and contextually sensitive. Current MHSPP/DCFS projects include ongoing evaluation of the Integrated Assessment, System of Care, Specialized Foster Care and Child and Youth Investment Team programs, as well as web-based monitoring of residential placements. More recently, as data have accumulated on longitudinal trajectories of progress over time, our data analyses address questions by looking across these programs for patterns and changes. Other innovative work includes the Statewide Provider Database and geomapping websites, providing easy access to geographically organized information on community resources, performance based contracting in residential treatment, and consultation on the development of aftercare programming for youth returning from stays in the juvenile justice system.

The Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services, and Interventions of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network  (PI: Cassandra Kisiel, PhD)

The Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services and Interventions (formerly the Center for Child Trauma Assessment and Service Planning) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is a university-based Treatment and Services Adaptation Center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Our Center offers national expertise on interventions for the developmental effects of trauma for service providers across a range of child-serving settings, including child welfare, behavioral health, educational and juvenile justice settings. We use a culturally sensitive lens and emphasize work with specific subpopulations or sectors where gaps in trauma-informed practices exist, such as early education, child welfare residential, juvenile probation, and transition age youth (TAY) programs. We emphasize resource development, training, and implementation support for providers, caregivers and youth in range of settings. This includes the use of the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) – a trauma-focused, comprehensive assessment, treatment, service planning, and outcomes evaluation tool – in conjunction with other data collection strategies. Key activities of our Center include: 1) training and implementation of trauma-informed screening and assessment strategies; 2) developing and adapting resources to support the meaningful use of trauma-informed assessment for family engagement, psychoeducation and treatment/service planning; 3) training and implementing NCTSN service interventions/ approaches for non-clinical, front-line providers across settings, including the Think Trauma Toolkit and Resource Parent Curriculum; 4) adapting resources and interventions for different cultural groups to address health disparities, and; 5) raising public awareness on the developmental effects of trauma through development and widespread dissemination of child trauma resources, all to lay the ground work for building sustainable trauma-informed systems. 

Please see the CCTASI website for more information:  

Parent Training in Pediatric Primary Care: A Self Directed Tablet Based Approach(Co-I – Heather J. Risser, PhD)

Funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ) in collaboration with Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois Hospital and Health System, we are studying the implementation of the ezParent, a tablet-based tool used by pediatric primary care providers to help parents develop their parenting skills. ezParent is an innovative opportunity to promote positive parenting with potential for (1) universal access to the preschool population and (2) low cost by building on existing infrastructure in pediatric primary care. The implementation of the ezParent in four pediatric primary care sites will be evaluated using a descriptive design guided by the RE-AIM framework and cost-effectiveness analysis. The efficacy of the ezParent will be tested using a randomized controlled trial design with 312 parents of 2 to 5 year old children from pediatric primary care settings. Data on parenting and child behavior outcomes will be obtained from all participants at baseline and at 3, 6, and 12 months post-baseline.

The Development of a Computer Simulated Child Abuse Screening Tool (CSI-CAST) (Co-I: Heather J. Risser, PhD)

The Computer Simulated Interactive Child Abuse Screening Tool (CSI-CAST) project combines a simulation (assessment phase) with an online training component (training phase) to assess and train users to diagnose and respond to child physical abuse (CPA). A prototype of the simulation exists in which users will conduct virtual examinations where multiple contextual cues related to CPA are present (assessment phase). Based on user actions in the assessment phase, personalized online training modules will load. The development team is currently in the formative evaluation stage of prototype development.  The ultimate goal of this project is to disseminate training to improve competence in assessing and responding to suspected CPA.


Illinois Council on Youth’s Trauma Informed Youth Services Initiative (PI: Tracy Fehrenbach, PhD)

With funding from the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Illinois Council on Youth (ICOY) has established a Trauma Informed Youth Services Initiative.

With funding from the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Youth Network Council has established a Trauma Informed Youth Services Initiative. The overarching goal of the initiative is to incorporate trauma-informed practices and policies into community-based youth serving agencies in Illinois to improve outcomes for young people who are experiencing traumatic stress. MHSPP is directing the design, oversight and implementation of the local outcome evaluation for this initiative. Broadly, the evaluation will assess the impact of implementing trauma-informed services with underserved youth in urban, suburban, and rural settings in Illinois by focusing on a wide range of indicators including youth’s behavioral and mental health needs and strengths, trauma-related symptoms and risk behaviors including delinquent behaviors that lead to legal sanctions.

Mental Health Juvenile Justice Initiative (PI: Tracy Fehrenbach, PhD)

The Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health directs the Mental Health Juvenile Justice (MHJJ) Initiative, a program that funds local mental health providers in every county that has a juvenile detention center to provide liaisons to the court in order to: (1) identify those youth in the juvenile justice system who have a major mental illness, (2) develop a community-based treatment plan for those youth and (3) establish the necessary community support for that youth and family. MHSPP has evaluated the program since its inception in 2000 and has been able to demonstrate that mentally ill youth can be identified in the juvenile justice system and that, when treated in the community, their clinical condition improves, their school attendance increases and their re-arrest rate declines.

One Hope United’s Healing Path Program (PI: Tracy Fehrenbach, PhD)

From October 2012 through September 2016, MHSPP is evaluating the effectiveness of the Healing Path: A Trauma Treatment Program for Youth and Caregivers Impacted by Trauma run by One Hope United-Northern Region. This program was developed with funding from the NCTSN and SAMSHA to assist children and families who are impacted by trauma in Lake County, Illinois. The Healing Path will utilize a trauma focused treatment model, Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency (ARC), to provide assessment and treatment to children aged 4 – 18 and their caregivers.  The program also offers a trauma-informed parenting group (to provide increased knowledge of traumatic stress symptoms and strategies for parenting traumatized youth) and community training to local professionals/providers in the area of trauma. Measurement outcomes for ARC include: parent-child attachment, parenting confidence, relationship frustration, youth traumatic stress symptoms, risk behaviors, affect and behavior regulation and coping abilities.   

Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition (PI: Cassandra Kisiel, PhD)

Dr. Kisiel serves as the Clinical Director of ICTC, whose members represent over 50 public and private organizations in Illinois. The goal of this Coalition is to take a public health approach to the evolving understanding of the nature and impact of childhood trauma and to expedite the integration of this wisdom into public awareness and the array of systems that serve children and families in Illinois. Current projects include research on a possible developmental trauma diagnosis for DSM-V and training various groups on brain development and child trauma.

MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change (Gene Griffin, JD, PhD)

Illinois participates in the MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change, juvenile justice programs. As part of the workforce development group, Dr. Griffin and others from Illinois helped to develop a curriculum for juvenile justice line staff. The curriculum focuses on an understanding of adolescent development, mental health, and trauma issues. These concepts are then applied to working with youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system. Dr. Griffin is involved in training juvenile justice staff in Illinois and in training trainers on this curriculum in other states.

Chicago Public Schools (PI: Gene Griffin, JD, PhD)

MHSPP worked with Chicago Public Schools as they prepared to meet federal requirements for Response to Interventions, a paradigm for diagnosing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities. Initiatives included the development of a three tiered approach to dealing with behavioral health issues, including trauma, as part of a general education program. MHSPP, along with experts from Children’s Memorial Hospital, consulted on evidence-based assessment and intervention programs.

CHIPRA Quality Demonstration Project  (PI: Dana Weiner, PhD)

CHIPRA is a federally funded project designed to improve the quality of medical homes for youth across the state.  CHIPRA uses the Illinois Statewide Provider Database to obtain supplemental community-based service referral information, and this project funds two SPD staff who provide training to pediatric practices as well as data collection and maintenance for referral information relevant for these practices.

Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Screening & Assessment Project  (PI: Dana Weiner, PhD)

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission provides support for the implementation of assessment and screening strategies in IDJJ facilities and aftercare programs. The Commission funds both the development and training in the use of the CANS-based Youth Development Plan, as well as IT support for the development of an online case management system and the extraction and analysis of data for administrative decision making.

Permanency Innovations Initiative (PI: Dana Weiner, PhD)

The Permanency Innovations Initiative is a federally-funded multi-state program to evaluate the effectiveness of evidence-based interventions for reducing long term foster care among youth at risk for long stays in the child welfare system.


Chor, K. H. B., McClelland, G. M., Weiner, D. A., & Jordan, N. (in press). Patterns of out-of-home placement decision-making in child welfare. Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal.

Chor, K.H., McClelland, G.M., Weiner, D.A., Jordan, N., and Lyons, J.S. (2012).  Predicting Outcomes of Children in Residential Treatment: A Comparison of a Decision Support Algorithm and a Multidisciplinary Team Decision Model.  Children & Youth Services Review, 34, 12, 2345-2352. 

Conradi, L., Wherry, J., & Kisiel, C. (2011). Linking Child Welfare and Mental Health Using Trauma-Informed Screening and Assessment Practices. Child Welfare, 90(6), 129-147.

Greeson, J., Briggs-King, E., Kisiel, C., Layne, C.M., Ake, G. T., Ko, S., Gerrity, E., Steinberg, A., Pynoos, R., Howard, M.L., Pynoos, R.S., & Fairbank, J. (2011).  Complex Trauma and Mental Health in Foster Care Youth: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Child Welfare, 90(6), 91-108.

Griffin, G., Germain, E.J., & Wilkerson, R.G. (2012) Using a Trauma-Informed Approach in Juvenile Justice Institutions. Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 5, 271-283.

Griffin, G., Martinovich, Z., Gawron, T., & Lyons, J.S. (2009) Strengths Moderate the Impact of Trauma on Risk Behaviors in Child Welfare. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, 26, 1–14.

Griffin, E., McClelland, G., Holzberg, M., Stolbach, B., Maj, N., & Kisiel, C. (2011). Addressing the Impact of Trauma before Diagnosing Mental Illness in Child Welfare. Child Welfare, 90 (6), 69-89.

Griffin, G., McEwen, E., Samuels, B., Suggs, H., Redd, J., & McClelland, G. (2011) Infusing Protective Factors for Children in Foster Care. In D.V. Jeste & C.C. Bell (Eds.) Psychiatric Clinics of North America,  Prevention in Mental Health: Lifetime Perspectives, 34, 185 – 203.

Griffin, G. & Sallen, S. (2013) Considering Child Trauma Issues in Juvenile Court Sentencing. Children’s Legal Rights Journal.

Kisiel, C., Blaustein, M.E., Fogler, J., Ellis, H., & Saxe, G.N. (2009). Treating Children with Traumatic Experiences:  Understanding and Assessing Needs and Strengths.  In Lyons, J.S.& Weiner, D.A. (Eds.). Emotional & BehavioralDisorders in Youth. 

Kisiel, C., Conradi, C., Fehrenbach, T., Briggs, E., & Torgersen, E. (in press).  Assessing the Effects of Trauma in Children and Adolescents in Practice Settings.   Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Special issue on Disaster and Trauma.

Kisiel, C., Fehrenbach, T., Liang, L., Stolbach, B., Griffin, G., McClelland, G., Maj, N., Steinberg, A.M., Vivrette, R.L., Spinazzola, J. (in press). Examining child sexual abuse in relation to complex patterns of trauma exposure within the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.

Kisiel, C., Fehrenbach, T., Torgersen, E., McClelland, G., Griffin, G., Stolbach, B., Burkman, K. (in press). Constellations of Complex Interpersonal Trauma and Symptom Profiles among Children in Child Welfare: Implications for a Developmental Trauma Framework. Journal of Family Violence.

Kisiel, C., Fehrenbach, T., Small, L., & Lyons, J.S. (2009). Assessment of Complex Trauma Exposure, Responses, and Service Needs Among Children and Adolescents in Child Welfare.  Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 2, 143-160.

McIntosh, A., Lyons, J.S., Weiner, D.A., & Jordan, N. (2010) Development of a Model for Predicting Children and Adolescents Discharged from Residential Treatment as a Result of Running Away. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth 27(4):264-276.

Pynoos, R.S., Steinberg, A., Layne, C.M., Liang, Vivrette, R.L., Briggs, E.C., Kisiel, C., Habib, M., Belin, T. & Fairbank, J.A. (in press). Modeling Constellations of Trauma Exposure in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Core Data Set.  Psychological Trauma.

Smithgall, C., Cusick, G., & Griffin, G. (2013) Responding to Students Affected by Trauma: Collaboration Across Public Systems. Family Court Review.

Spinazzola, J., Hodgdon, H., Liang, L., Ford, J., Layne, C., Pynoos, R., Stolbach, B., Layne, C., & Kisiel, C. (in press).  Unseen Wounds: The Contribution of Psychological Maltreatment to Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Risk Outcomes in a National Sample.  Psychological Trauma. 

Awards and Leadership Positions

Dr. Tracy Fehrenbach

2010       Teacher of the Year Award, Division of Psychology, Northwestern University. 

Dr. Cassandra Kisiel

2013       Promoted to Research Assistant Professor

2011       Chair, Assessment Committee of Complex Trauma Workgroup, National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Grants and Funding

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Tracy Fehrenbach, PhD
Heather Risser, PhD              
Neil Jordan, PhD (Director)
Cassie Kiesiel, PhD                           
Zoran Martinovich, PhD

Contact Us

Contact Neil Jordan, PhD, Director, or Cassandra Kisiel, PhD, Associate Director of Mental Health Services and Public Policy for more information.

Neil Jordan, PhD
Cassandra Kisiel, PhD