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Student Assistance Programs

Provides information for implementing new Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) along with resources for strengthening existing SAPs.

Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) evolved from the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) model of the 1960s-1970s. Recognition of the importance of removing all barriers to work performance translated to school policy in the 1980s when SAPs developed in the vein of EAPs. SAPs at first only addressed substance abuse in students, but soon expanded to help address a wide range of issues that impede adolescent academic achievement. These non-academic barriers to learning include, but are not limited to the following:

  • school adjustment problems
  • trauma generated at school or at home
  • attendance and dropout problems
  • mental health issues including depression or suicide issues, self-injury, stress and anxiety related issues, grief
  • physical and sexual abuse, violence
  • substance abuse
  • gender issues
  • teen pregnancy and parenting
  • family issues including dissolution, homelessness or displacement, family member mental health and substance use disorders, and relationship difficulties
  • parent or other family member incarceration
  • military deployment
  • delinquency and involvement with the juvenile justice system

As Gary Anderson writes in the first published model for Student Assistance Programs, “Any student assistance program effort demonstrates that a school system recognizes, first, that such problems do plague students and, second, that a responsible system of adults must respond and help.” (Hipsley, 2001)

What is a SAP?  

SAP is a comprehensive school-based approach that coordinates support services and some direct services for students. Through the referral and facilitation of appropriate services, SAPs have been successful in reducing students’ behavioral and disciplinary violations including substance use, helping students get through schools safely and successfully, and improving school attendance and academic performance. Although the approach is titled Student Assistance Program, it directly benefits and supports the staff, family, and the community when students use the supportive services when they need it.

SAP is a flexible model that can be customized to fit the infrastructure and staffing available at a school-site or district. It could be used as a portal to allow the students and families to access the county or community based services. Referrals to the SAP are usually open to any school staff, family, or students. There are a lot of variations of how a SAP is structured, run, and funded.  Services provided under a SAP also vary, but may include interventions such as Brief Intervention or utilize the Brief Risk Reduction Interview and Intervention Model. Some form of counseling is usually offered or coordinated by the SAP staff.  

Most SAPscan be initiated by the school/district and are often supported by county behavioral health or community based agencies. Districts interested in starting a SAP may check with the following county programs to explore collaboration opportunities:

  • Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Prevention Coordinators facilitate federal funding for alcohol and other drug prevention. See a list of County Prevention Coordinators External link opens in new window or tab..
  • California Friday Night Live External link opens in new window or tab. Partnership offers youth development opportunities and training.
  • Mental Health Services Act dedicates 20% of the funding to Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI).A list of funding is available at PEI Coordinators External link opens in new window or tab. .

Some sample school-based prevention programs:  

SAP Approaches to Prevention California County
Athletes Committed and Life of an Athlete

Butte, Stanislaus

Project Success

Amador, Contra Costa, Napa, Nevada Sonoma

Seven Challenges

Santa Cruz, Santa Clara

Brief Intervention Butte, Contra Costa, Riverside, Stanislaus, Ventura
Brief Risk Reduction Interview and Intervention Model

Riverside, Stanislaus, Ventura


Student Assistance Program (SAP) Bulletins
These bulletins have been designed to support school administrators, teachers, counselors and other school district personnel, non-profit organizations, and agencies who are involved with SAPs.

Intervention Registry

California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) External link opens in new window or tab.
The CEBC is a searchable online registry of evidence-based practices for children and families involved with the child welfare system.

SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices External link opens in new window or tab.
A searchable online registry from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of more than 400 substance use and mental health interventions developed to help the public learn more about prevention and intervention resources available for implementation.


Connecticut Governor's Prevention Partnership External link opens in new window or tab.
The Student Assistance Program is a school-based prevention and early intervention program for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse External link opens in new window or tab.
A non-profit research and policy organization with resources focused on improving understanding, prevention and treatment of substance use and addiction.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) External link opens in new window or tab.
NCTSN works to increase access to services and raise the standard of care through public education, workforce development, improved access to quality treatment, policy analysis and education, development of effective trauma-informed evidence-based practices, and initiatives to address gaps in services for underserved children and special populations.

Pennsylvania Network for Student Assistance Services External link opens in new window or tab.
Supporting the Pennsylvania state SAP model. The PA Network assists school personnel in identifying issues such as alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and mental health issues that pose a barrier to a student’s success.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids External link opens in new window or tab.
A non-profit supporting families struggling with substance abuse. They offer confidential one-on-one counseling as well as a library of resources to connect with teens about drug use.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration External link opens in new window or tab.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.

Student Assistance Program Guidebook External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
This Student Assistance Program Guidebook offers processes, strategies, tools, websites and other resources for schools implementing or looking to implement evidence-based Student Assistance Programs as a strong system to support those struggling students.


Center for Applied Research Solutions (CARS) External link opens in new window or tab.
Provides professional development and technical assistance for substance abuse and mentoring professionals.

Masonic Model Foundation for Children External link opens in new window or tab.
The Masonic Model Student Assistance Program provides training to educators to identify the barriers preventing students from achieving academic success and provide intervention to help the youth lead productive, useful, and healthy lives.

Questions:   School Health and Safety Office | 916-319-0914
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, June 28, 2023