The Universal Protocol: Increasing Safety, Dignity, and Joy Across the Day for Acorn

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The Practical Functional Assessment and Skill-Based Treatment processes have been demonstrated to reduce or eliminate severe problem behavior and increase important life skills for clients with a variety of strengths and needs. However, building these skills takes time and expertise, and stakeholders often wonder what they should do while a client is awaiting these processes as well as what to do outside of treatment session time for clients just beginning the process.

Many organizations also appreciate the values inherent in the Skill-Based Treatment process and are interested in establishing those values as the foundation from which all their services are provided, whether a particular client engages in problem behavior or not.

The Universal Protocol offers an organization-wide, across-the-day solution. It forms the foundation from which services are provided to all individuals in a service setting, and it is designed collaboratively with staff members from the organization, to meet the organization’s unique needs. However, it always emphasizes safety and dignity for clients and staff, and it is designed to improve client-staff trust and rapport. The Universal Protocol is also designed with the assumption that all people receiving specialized services have experienced multiple adverse events and/or repeated stressful situations, which must be considered if staff are to develop trusting and productive relationships with them. An important aim of a Universal Protocol is to eliminate staff and client injury and to minimize the need for any physical management tactics.

The goals of the protocol are to (a) increase joy among clients—that is, to increase the extent to which clients are happy, relaxed, and engaged throughout the day, (b) prevent escalation to severe problem behavior by removing events/interactions that commonly evoke problem behavior and by reinforcing distress indicators, (c) teach clients that staff are not adversarial but rather are there for them, and (d) to increase staff job satisfaction.

In this presentation, attendees will learn about the origins of and research support for the elements that commonly make up the Universal Protocol, consider how the Universal Protocol fits into a comprehensive service system, explore the logistics behind implementing and scaling the use of the Universal Protocol within an organization, and learn about data collection and outcome measures on client/staff-specific and organization-wide scales.


Attendees will be able to:

1) Describe 7 elements of the Universal Protocol

2) Distinguish between a general and personalized version of the Universal Protocol

3) Describe how the Universal Protocol can fit into a comprehensive service system

4) Describe a process by which the Universal Protocol might be developed, implemented, and scaled across an organization

5) Describe measures that might be used to evaluate the effects of the Universal Protocol on a client/staff-specific and broad scale


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