By Barbara Kessler, TJJD CommunicationsHenry Schmidt3

Texas Juvenile Justice Department is pleased to welcome Henry Schmidt III, Ph.D., a former clinical director for Washington State’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, as the agency’s Director of Structured Programming and Accountability.

Schmidt has extensive experience working with youth in corrections and residential care, both in Washington state and as a consultant to many other agencies. He’s worked with rural and urban facilities, in the US and abroad, including Norway, where his model program for adolescent group homes was adopted nationally.

His new position at TJJD will focus on supporting the structured environment and treatment approaches that help youth make needed behavioral changes and build toward a more successful life.

“TJJD has already laid the important groundwork for this system of care, beginning with Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) and the Texas Model. Trauma-informed care principles are core in working with youth in juvenile justice settings, particularly the youth in secure settings,” Schmidt said.

He added that he begins this new position with a deep respect for direct-care staff and their pivotal role in a youth’s success.

“Direct care staff are with the youth when they need guidance and assistance,” said Schmidt. “Staff often find themselves in some of the most intense interpersonal situations we can imagine, from situations where youth are intensely hot emotionally to situations where youth may be hopeless and ready to give up.”

In a corrections environment, staff need a variety of reliable tools to navigate a multiplicity of situations so they can best help the youth manage events, emotions, and their own behavior, he said.

“I’ve learned as much from the talented and gifted staff I have worked with as I did in school, and my goal is to help create programs that share these 'tools that work' in the settings where we meet our youth.”

In his early years in corrections, Schmidt recalls, “it was truly eye-opening to see how the principles and practices I read about in textbooks were being used by naturally gifted staff with the youth they served.

“I also realized what incredibly tough work it is to be working where youth are living, and helping youth who lack critical skills of emotion regulation and problem-solving to manage the stress of being away from family and under constant watch in a highly structured setting. So I knew I wanted to learn everything I could from staff who were super effective.” 

Schmidt says he’s excited to begin his work at TJJD and has been impressed by the staff and administrators he’s met since starting with the agency on March 6.

“I can see that there is a mission to create the best programs and state agency in the country to serve the youth here. I want to be a part of this team, and a part of creating that history here in Texas.”

After receiving his doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Washington, Schmidt worked and conducted research under the supervision of Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

He brought Linehan’s insights and clinical practices to staff working with youth who had emotion regulation disorders and had been removed from their homes.

“She developed a package of skills for people who struggled to manage their intense emotions, and who engage in behaviors that created crisis situations for themselves and those around them,” Schmidt said. “These same tools seemed like a perfect fit for the challenges that youth in juvenile justice settings have.”

In 2002, Washington State’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) hired Schmidt as the system’s first clinical director. He chaired the workgroup that developed the Integrated Treatment Model (ITM) -- a residential DBT model -- for JRA and oversaw its implementation across all JRA residential beds in the state.

After putting these programs in place, Schmidt saw line staff embrace and employ the tools that Linehan had developed, prompting measurable success for the youth in their care.

“The treatment is based on meeting youth where they are, having a genuine relationship with them, and working with youth to define a life that is meaningful to them,” Schmidt said.

“Use of these tools in one of the most behaviorally challenging units in Washington’s system led to a reduction in assaults, assaults on staff, and self-harming, as well as treatment refusal.

The youth’s school attendance also improved, as did their completion rates for substance abuse and other treatment programs. They kept their jobs and were able to move to less secure settings.

Early research on this approach suggests that this approach can lead to reductions in recidivism, better reentry outcomes and safe reductions in the use of psychotropic medications.

Seeing the promising results in Washington, Schmidt sought to help others. Over the next years, as a consultant to US agencies and abroad, from “tiny county jails to large urban systems to group homes,” he shared the tools he’d seen work in Washington state, providing training in interventions that direct-care staff could understand and use in day-to-day operations.

He also continued to work with Linehan, working with her from 2006-2016 to develop standards for comprehensive DBT programs and create the Linehan Board of Certification (DBT-LBC) in 2016. He is a DBT-LBC certified clinician and founding chair of the DBT-LBC Program Certification committee, which helps clients seeking treatment find clinicians in their community who are providing DBT that meets the set standards.

Schmidt’s work at TJJD will be informed by this broad experience and extend to working with data to help define, explain, and measure progress as the Texas system integrates these best practices.

“All levels and levers of the organization must be employed to understand and work from the same principles and practices,” he said.

“I’ll be working closely with facility staff, trainers, mental health providers, and administrators to first learn and understand what has already been done, and then to see where I can help to implement TJJD’s vision of best practices that create a safe working environment for staff and living environment for youth, a rich experience for teams working together with youth, and meaningful behavior change as youth learn to succeed within the institutions and then back in the community.

“I believe that good programs support and create excellent staff, and teams work best together when we understand our roles, goals and the tools we have to work with. If I can support TJJD to continue to define and implement a solid structure for treatment, then the staff and youth here will produce amazing outcomes together.”