The current public children's behavioral health system in Pennsylvania is based on the principles and framework developed more than 20 years ago through the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP).

This Introduction to CASSP describes the origins of CASSP in Pennsylvania, highlights current initiatives and services, and lists some basic children's behavioral health services.

CASSP Coordinators

Children's Behavioral Health Specialists — December 21, 2022

When CASSP began in Pennsylvania more than 20 years ago, funding was provided for each county to hire a CASSP coordinator to help develop an infrastructure for an effective children’s mental health system at the county level. Over time, the roles of CASSP and children’s mental health coordinators have evolved, and many of them serve a variety of functions in their counties. In general, however, the individuals in the above list understand how the children’s behavioral health system works in their counties and can serve as a resource to family members, providers, and others who need assistance.

CASSP Core Principles

CASSP is based on a well-defined set of principles for mental health services for children and adolescents with or at risk of developing severe emotional disorders and their families. These principles are summarized in six core statements:


  1. Child-centered: Services are planned to meet the individual needs of the child, rather than to fit the child into an existing service. Services consider the child's family and community contexts, are developmentally appropriate and child-specific, and build on the strengths of the child and family to meet the mental health, social and physical needs of the child.

  2. Family-focused: The family is the primary support system for the child and it is important to help empower the family to advocate for themselves. The family participates as a full partner in all stages of the decision-making and treatment planning process including implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. A family may include biological, adoptive and foster parents, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, and other adults who are committed to the child. The development of mental health policy at state and local levels includes family representation.

  3. Community-based: Whenever possible, services are delivered in the child's home community, drawing on formal and informal resources to promote the child's successful participation in the community. Community resources include not only mental health professionals and provider agencies but also social, religious, cultural organizations and other natural community support networks.

  4. Multi-system: Services are planned in collaboration with all the child-serving systems involved in the child's life. Representatives from all these systems and the family collaborate to define the goals for the child, develop a service plan, develop the necessary resources to implement the plan, provide appropriate support to the child and family, and evaluate progress.

  5. Culturally competent: Culture determines our worldview and provides a general design for living and patterns for interpreting reality that are reflected in our behavior. Therefore, services that are culturally competent are provided by individuals who have the skills to recognize and respect the behavior, ideas, attitudes, values, beliefs, customs, language, rituals, ceremonies and practices characteristic of a particular group of people.

  6. Least restrictive/least intrusive: Services take place in settings that are the most appropriate and natural for the child and family and are the least restrictive and intrusive available to meet the needs of the child and family.