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School counselors are ethically and legally obligated to work toward preventing school violence. Many strategies have been suggested to combat violence in and around schools. They range from implementing high security at schools (Friday, 1996; Mercy & Rosenberg, 1998; Trump, 1997), to promoting kinder, gentler school environments in which every student feels nurtured and their emotional as well as educational needs are met (Farrell, Meyer, & White, 2001; Glasser, 2000; U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). There is little consensus regarding the most appropriate interventions. Most experts do agree that the problem of violence in the schools is complex, with multiple etiologies requiring multidimensional prevention and intervention plans (Dwyer et al., 1998; Futrell, 1996; Samples & Aber, 1998; Stevens et al., 2001).
Based on a comprehensive review of violence prevention activities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001) noted that there are numerous effective intervention programs aimed at reducing and preventing youth violence. The most effective youth violence prevention and intervention programs addressed environmental conditions as well as individual student's risk factors. It was reported that a program's effectiveness depended on the quality of implementation as much as the intervention.
It is important to note that though many violence prevention strategies have been effective, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001) found that almost one half of the violence prevention strategies they studied were ineffective. A few of the strategies were even harmful. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services highlighted effective and ineffective strategies that have been used to reduce youth violence. Effective strategies included skills training, behavior monitoring and reinforcement, cooperative learning, bullying prevention programs, and parent education programs. Ineffective strategies included peer counseling and peer mediation. Programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) were criticized for being developmentally inappropriate. However, newer versions of DARE, in which these criticisms were addressed, have yet to be evaluated. Clearly, continued evaluation of violence prevention programs is critical. And, school counselors need to stay up-to-date on which programs are effective in preventing youth violence and which programs are not.
In order to prevent violence, Poland and McCormick (1999) suggested educating school personnel, parents, and students to recognize the warning signs of homicide and suicide. Part of this instruction with students should focus on breaking the code of silence students maintain with each other. This is important because after a violent incident it is usually discovered that several students knew of the plans and knew that a student was armed that day at school. Students must learn that some secrets are too dangerous to keep (James & Gilliland, 2001). The faculty should also be encouraged to take the warnings seriously because denial can have fatal consequences (Hardwick & Rowton-Lee, 1996). School personnel, students, and parents must be united in their determination to act in order to prevent violence. When students are identified as needing intervention, quick efforts are important because there may be a narrow window of opportunity to prevent the violence (Poland & McCormick). Glasser (2000) and Dwyer et al. (1998) concluded early identification and intervention with students are the best means of violence prevention. Therefore, school counselors' focus in the assessment process should be on identification of students in need of intervention, and efforts should be made to link specific interventions with the individual needs of the student as well as the severity of the situation. Glasser found that if this is done effectively, the risk of violence will be reduced. Reddy et al. (2001) considered several approaches being utilized in an effort to prevent school violence. Finding that profiles and other inductive methods of addressing this issue are ineffective, they advocated for focusing on the facts of each case through threat assessment techniques. Waldo and Malley (1992) explained that when a student has threatened violence, it is advisable to obtain the necessary information to make a determination about the student's dangerousness. Pietrofesa, Pietrofesa, and Pietrofesa (1990) and Costa and Altekruse (1994) suggested that school counselors assess dangerousness according to the student's plan for implementing the violent act and the student's ability to carry out the act. Reddy and her colleagues advised examining a student's ideas and behaviors and the progression of these ideas and behaviors from multiple sources over time. When there is even a small amount of evidence indicative of potential violent behavior, early intervention would be appropriate. According to Reddy et al. (2001), determining whether an alarming behavior or communicated threat could be indicative of violent action involves assessing the student's motivation for making the threat or engaging in the behavior, the student's other communications and behaviors, consistency between the student's communications and behaviors, any unusual interest in violence, evidence of planning violent behavior, the student's mental condition, the student's cognitive ability to formulate and execute a violent act, the student's recent losses or perceived failures, others' perception of the individuals potential for violence, and other relevant factors in the student's circumstances. Corroboration from teachers, peers, family members, and school records is important in determining a student's potential for violent behaviors. Waldo and Malley (1992) recommended that school counselors consult with other mental health professionals for clinical advice in these situations.
When students are identified as at risk for violence, there should be protocols for obtaining help for students. Referrals to resources within the school and community should be provided. The school's resources should include staff prepared to provide ongoing individual counseling and group intervention (Gottfredson, Gottfredson, & Skroban, 1998) and could include violence prevention activities. Loeber, Farrington, Rumsey, and Allen-Hagen (1998) found that modifying the school climate is one of the most effective strategies for preventing school violence. School counselors can help establish an environment in which students know that school personnel care about their well-being. Students also need to know that they will be held accountable for their actions. Without trust and accountability, students do not feel safe in reporting their concerns about their classmates (James & Gilliland, 2001). In this more compassionate school environment, all students are equally valued and differences are acknowledged and respected. Furthermore, all forms of violence, including hazing and bullying, are not tolerated. School counselors can help create or update school policies related to violence prevention, including specific steps to ensure student safety. School personnel must be apprized of the policies and the importance of following the policies. Courts have found that school personnel were negligent when they failed to follow a policy implemented to keep students safe and a student was injured as a result of the failure to follow the policy (Garcia v. City of New York, 1996). Thus, once a school policy for violence prevention has been created, it is imperative that the policy be followed.
Recommendations for School Counselors
Keep up-to-date on effective violence prevention activities, risk assessment techniques, and interventions when the potential for violence exists.
- Hermann, Mary A.; Finn, Abbe; An Ethical and Legal Perspective on the Role of School Counselors in Preventing Violence in Schools; Professional School Counseling, Oct2002, Vol. 6 Issue 1, p46
Reflection Exercise #3