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What are Hope Squads?

Hope Squads Explained

Advisors & Administrators Share Their Experiences

What Is Peer-to-Peer Training and HOPE Squads?

UNDERSTANDING PEER-TO-PEER TRAINING 

Peer-to-peer training is an integral component of many youth suicide-prevention programs. It trains the students to recognize warning signs in depressed or suicidal peers, and to empower them to report those signs to an adult.

Peers are considered to be the most effective receptors of warning signs because they spend so much time together and are able to recognize when someone is acting differently. Evidence-based research shows that seven out of ten adolescents experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts will confide in a friend or trusted peer before approaching an adult. The challenge is that very rarely will the friend/trusted peer speak to their peers, and then refer their peers to an adult who can get their peer professional help, thus taking the responsibility off the adolescent.

WHAT IS A HOPE SQUAD?

HOPE Squads are the eyes and ears of your school. They are comprised of students who are trained to watch for at-risk students–provide friendship, identify warning signs, and seek help from adults. HOPE4UTAH works with school advisors to train students who have been identified by their classmates as trustworthy peers to serve as HOPE Squad members. Through evidence-based training modules, HOPE Squad members are empowered to seek help and save a life.

HOPE Squad members are NOT taught to act as counselors, but rather, are educated on how to recognize signs of suicide contemplation, and how to properly and respectfully report this to an adult. Once invited to be HOPE Squad members, students willing to go through the training must get a permission form signed by their parents. After completing their training, HOPE Squad members host a parents’ night where they teach their parents and family members about what it means to be a HOPE Squad member.

WHY A HOPE SQUAD?

HOPE4UTAH has seen much success through their evidence-based peer-to-peer program. Students have identified their school’s HOPE Squads as a source of trust and comfort. In 9 years, 34 HOPE Squads have been formed in the Provo City School District, and over 250 students have been referred for help. HOPE Squads aim to:

  • Enhance the health and safety measures already in place at a school
  • Educate students on how to recognize warning signs of suicide
  • Educate students how to respectfully reports potential suicide behavior
  • Train students how to interact with, watch, and support fellow students/friends who may be struggling
  • Implement evidence-based strategies through HOPE Squad training programs
  • Reduce suicide attempts

Hope Squad Members

Students Referred for Help

Hope Squad Schools

Amazing Result

What Are Others Saying

Kids this age are marvelous at listening to their friends but they get overwhelmed and don’t know how to carry it after a while. So if you have a program that addresses what to do and how to get help sooner perhaps break cycles sooner. I think peers are very relevant.

Hillside Middle School

At this point, I think it is the most effective program available to us, the school and students are so used to it by now it’s almost a legacy. Students count on it–they would be more upset if we changed programs.

Dixon Middle School

“The HOPE Squad has changed the culture of our school to one where everyone looks out for one another and lets adults know when they see or hear something that concerns them.”

Springville Junior High School

HOPE Squad FAQ

What is a HOPE Squad?

HOPE Squads is a school based “peer to peer” program that partners with local mental health and community agencies. HOPE Squad students are trained to be active listeners so they may help and respond to peers who are struggling with emotional issues such as depression and suicide. HOPE Squad members are trained to share concerns with an adult.

The goals of the HOPE Squad Program are to:

  • Prevent suicide and reduce suicidal behaviors
  • Break the code of silence regarding suicide in schools and communities
  • Create positive relationships among students
  • Provide training to increase students’ knowledge about suicide warning signs
  • Increase acceptance among adolescents to seek adult help for peers
  • Educate students about community resources
How does it work?

Nominations – Peers select HOPE Squad members through a nomination process. Each student in the school is asked to list three peers they would feel comfortable talking to if they were struggling, is a good listener and doesn’t bully. HOPE Squad advisors and school administrators review nominations for approval. Parents are required to sign a permission form for students to participate in the program. The size of a HOPE Squad may vary among schools. Most schools will have 6-10 students from each grade level.

Advisor Training – Advisors (counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, staff or parents) attend a one-day training to review the curriculum (PHASEs) and receive instruction from current HOPE Squad advisors on how to implement and develop the program. Mental health experts also provide training on boundaries, working with youth, services provided, etc. HOPE4UTAH is available throughout the year to answer questions and provide additional training.

Student Training – Students meet monthly with their advisors for training. Some schools have found that pre-training or a retreat, before the school year begins, is helpful. Other schools have designated their HOPE Squad as a club and meet monthly. The program allows flexibility for training according to the needs of the school.

Curriculum – HOPE Squads are required to follow the curriculum manual developed by HOPE4UTAH. The manual contains monthly lesson plans (PHASEs) and activities that focus on training the squad members in suicide prevention, intervention, postvention and anti- bullying.

Mental Health Partnerships – HOPE Squad advisors are required to partner with their local mental health agency. One of the training PHASEs outlines inviting a mental health specialist to visit with HOPE Squad members about mental illness and resources in the community

Staff Involvement – HOPE Squad members may identify teachers and staff members that they are most comfortable referring peers to. Once identified (usually 10-12 teachers or staff), these individuals are trained by the HOPE Squad members on how to assist students that may need help.

Student Referrals – HOPE Squad members are trained to notice, reach out and assist fellow students who might be struggling with depression and/or other suicide concerns. They are trained to be a friend, not a therapist. Once a student is identified as at risk and in need of additional help, HOPE Squad members encourage the peer to go with them to an adult. HOPE Squad members are trained to involve an adult anytime there are concerns from a peer.

Are HOPE Squad students bullied?

A few HOPE Squad members have reported being bullied. However, the majority of the HOPE Squad members and advisors indicate they have received tremendous support from the fellow students, parents, and other school staff. The success of the program is determined on level of commitment and support from the administration, teachers and staff and the commitment of the advisors.

Does having a school-based peer program, HOPE Squad, put excessive and unnecessary pressure on students?

The opposite is true in most situations. Many students will share with a peer when they are struggling and not with their parents or other adults. A junior from Provo High School’s HOPE Squad said it best, “In junior high school I was approached by a friend that shared she was suicidal and wanting to kill herself. I did not know what to do or say so I hid it from others and did not help her. Now as a HOPE Squad member I am trained as a peer that listens, and then I try to convince my friend to get help. If they don’t seek help, I still report it to my advisor. I am not trained as a therapist or a counselor. But, I now know what to do.”

Is the HOPE Squad Program evidenced-based?

The HOPE Squad Program has been determined by the Utah Evidence-Based Workgroup to be a Level 3, Supported Program and Practices. HOPE Squads are on the Utah State Office of Education approved suicide prevention programs list and have support from the Utah legislature. HOPE Squads have been successful since 2004 in three different school districts.

How much does it cost?

The cost is $500.00 per school per year. This fee includes the curriculum, monthly newsletters, program support, advisor training, HOPE Squad training, parent and teacher training. The Utah Legislature has designated $500 per year for each secondary school to implement a suicide prevention program. This funding is available from the Utah State Office of Education as a reimbursement.

Advisor Training – This training is held in the fall. Advisors are trained on how to use the curriculum (PHASEs), about current research in suicide prevention, intervention and postvention, and provides an opportunity to network and share ideas with other advisors across the state.

Student Leaders’ Conference – This conference is held for the advisors and up to three student leaders from each HOPE Squad. The conference focuses on teaching the student leaders how to be a HOPE Squad leader, activities to use with the PHASEs, how to organize a HOPE Week, training fellow HOPE Squad members on keeping themselves healthy and networking with other HOPE Squad leaders across the state.

Are HOPE Squads successful?

The dedication and leadership of the advisors and the relationship with the local mental health agency is crucial to the success of a HOPE Squad Program. Research has shown that HOPE Squads are very successful in reaching out to fellow students who may be struggling by breaking the code of silence about suicide and referring these students to an adult.

How much time does it take?

Advisors may spend 40-50 minutes each month to provide training for HOPE Squad members. HOPE4UTAH provides a training manual with curriculum lessons (PHASEs) and activities. The HOPE Squad training manual is flexible to meet the needs of the advisor, school, and students.

How are advisors recruited?

Schools usually assign or ask school counselors to be the advisor with additional support from school psychologists, social workers, teachers, staff and parents. A few school districts have assigned members from the local mental health agency to serve as advisors. Research has shown that school counselors work best as one of the advisors due to their accessibility and as a source for help within the school setting.

Do HOPE Squads prevent all suicides?

NO, the HOPE Squad program will not prevent all suicides. However, it does help to educate students about how to help peers and it has been found to help reduce the negative stigma associated with mental illness, change the school environment, and foster a belief that there is help available for those needing assistance. Many schools have seen an increase in the number of student referrals for help from peers, parents and others.

Does research support that “peer to peer” programs do not work and may in fact cause harm?

Research that focuses exclusively on “peer to peer” programs has been inconsistent – with some research supporting peer programs and some not. However, HOPE Squads are part of a community wide effort in which schools partner with the local mental health agency, police department, hospital and other community resources. Research has shown that school based prevention programs are important to help prevent suicide.

HOPE4UTAH Research

The University of Utah is working with HOPE4UTAH to collect data. As a result of the research, HOPE4Utah has been given a Level 3 “Supported Program and Practice” by the State Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’ Evidence-based Workgroup. Provo City School District started the Hope Squad in 2004 and has found it to be successful in helping to prevent suicides. The Center for Disease Control Safe States Alliance, invited the Utah Health Department and HOPE4Utah to Atlanta in 2014 to help develop research methods.

Support

Additional suicide prevention, intervention and postvention information and training is available by contacting HOPE4UTAH and on HOPE4UTAH’s website, hope4utah.com.