NCSS’ Amy Irish received the 2019 CANS Champion Award for her work on the development of the CANS School Module. Photo courtesy NCSS.

Throughout Vermont, fine people work diligently every day to assess the needs and strengths of those among the State’s school-aged population. These individuals use a tool called the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths, or CANS, to complete the assessments. Through the use of this tool, these hardworking service providers gain insight on how best they can assist each individual child or adolescent.

The CANS summit is a gathering of these individuals from all around the State. Recently, they met to discuss strategies, to learn from each other, and to ultimately better implement the CANS. If you attended this summit, you would have learned that the CANS was first implemented Statewide in Vermont in 2015 through the Integrated Family Services Initiative. Their goal was to find a tool that would help tell them “Is anyone better off” because of their interactions and services.

During the summit, several topics were discussed, including “How Supervisors Can Support their Staff Using the CANS for Treatment Planning” and “Early Childhood CANS”. Nonetheless, one presenter stands out as she was the winner of the all new ‘CANS Champion Award’ for her work developing the CANS School Module. This award goes to one individual who exhibits excellence in the implementation and advancement of the CANS tool.

Amy Irish, MA, BCBA, the School-Based Behavior Consultant Team Leader at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, noticed that the CANS was lacking in regards to the work she and so many others do in the school systems around Vermont. Irish states that “The core CANS didn’t dig deep enough,” and therefore needed an addendum in order to fit correctly into the school-based programming. She explained how the core CANS was not enough to get an accurate picture of a child’s needs and strengths in the school setting, because that’s not necessarily what it was designed for. She wanted to more accurately measure the progress children make due to the services they receive while in school. “We want to have meaningful data to show what we’re doing” she says, “NCSS has allowed me to stand at the front of the room and push new and innovative ideas that have allowed us to provide high quality care to children and to drive the conversation for community and state partners.  The CANS School Module is an example of the kind of outside the box thinking we want to support in order to show that children are better off because of the work we are doing.”

Irish also spoke about how the CANS needed an adaption to make more sense for Vermont. She went into some detail about how the language does not always fit the State’s rural settings. One example pulled from the CANS was the term “gang involvement”. Although Vermont is home to very few groups which we would consider traditional “gangs”, the assessment requires the measurement of a child’s association with such groups. The CANS depicts a child or adolescent as involved in a “gang” if he or she has engaged in an act of vandalism. Therefore, the School Module uses more appropriate language to properly assess children in the State’s more rural areas.

At the CANS Summit, Irish presented these ideas and developments for which she received a great honor. She has a passion for providing the best services possible and was willing to construct a device to help do that. “The CANS is an important tool that allows families, schools and care providers to walk away from the table with a shared understanding of a child’s strengths and needs in order to best support them” she says. And the School Module took that a step further.