Preventing Violence in Schools

Preventing Violence in Schools

Although serious physical violence in schools has decreased measurably since 1993 (U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, 1999), social and emotional violence appears to be on the rise. Bullying has now reached epidemic proportions in schools. Nansel et al. (2001) reported that more than 16% of U.S. schoolchildren said they had been bullied by other students during the current term, and approximately 30% of sixth- through 10th-grade students reported being involved in some aspect of moderate-to-frequent bullying, either as a bully, the target of bullying or both. Victims of bullying can develop serious posttraumatic and depressive problems, and bullies may develop a range of antisocial behaviors. Both groups often suffer academically (Olweus et al., 1998).

A serious challenge facing violence prevention efforts comes from research suggesting that, as children grow throughout middle school and high school, they become hardened to the victimization of others, with decreasing empathy and helpfulness: 10% to 20% of children admitted vicarious satisfaction in seeing others hurt (Jacobs et al., unpublished data).

Various Approaches to Preventing School Violence

There is growing consensus that primary and secondary prevention of violence require three overlapping processes:

  • Identifying at-risk students and intervening.
  • Teaching students skills and knowledge that promote social and emotional competence and provide a foundation for reflective learning and non-violent problem solving.
  • Developing systemic interventions that create safer, more caring and responsive school environments and, optimally, communities as well (see Catalano et al. [2002] for a review).

The clinician will most likely be consulted because of teachers' concerns that students' threatening communications may indicate that they might become violent. Teachers make these referrals to seek reassurance that these children are not going to become physically violent to themselves or others. Sometimes, the clinician may make a psychiatric assessment that does not address this particular need. Thus, useful assessment of children who threaten others with violence must occur in the context of close collaboration with teachers and law-enforcement personnel, along with home visits to assess issues such as computer activity and family dynamics.

Accurate threat assessment requires evaluating risk factors and protective factors for conduct disturbances. Risk factors include poverty, overcrowding, disadvantaged school settings, difficult temperaments, inadequate parenting, and poor prosocial skills and school performance (Kazdin, 1995; Rutter et al., 1998). Known protective factors include high IQ; easy disposition; ability to get along well with parent, siblings, teachers and peers; ability to do well in school; and being competent in social problem-solving (Rutter et al., 1970).

The clinician should take these and other factors into account in making a threat assessment model that can assist schools in a practical fashion. The Figure depicts a possible algorithm. (Due to copyright concerns, this figure cannot be reproduced online. Please see p62 of the print edition--Ed.)


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