Identifying and Assisting Troubled Students
Preventing school violence is a top priority for school and public safety officials today. These prevention efforts include creating more positive school environments, establishing crisis response teams, increasing security measures, and improving collaboration between schools and communities. Considerable energy also has been devoted to developing strategies to identify students at risk of becoming violent before they cause harm.
Unfortunately there is no easy formula or single "profile" of risk factors that accurately determines the "next school shooter." Most students who display multiple risk factors will never become violent offenders, and some students who pose a real threat will not demonstrate any prescribed level of risk. In fact, the use of profiling (i.e., ranking a student’s behaviors and risk factors against a set of criteria) strongly increases the likelihood of misidentifying youngsters. Moreover, because the process focuses solely on identification, not intervention, it fails to provide the necessary help to potential offenders.
A more viable approach is that of threat assessment, which uses a set of strategies or pathways to determine the credibility and seriousness of a threat and the likelihood that it will be carried out. Effective threat assessment must be conducted by a team of trained professionals as part of a comprehensive school safety program and with the support of all members of the school community: students, staff, parents, and public safety officials. This process considers the full range of relevant factors and provides appropriate interventions for the potential offender(s).
Although there is no official model for threat
assessment, experts in school crisis management, mental health, and public
safety have identified common basic components of effective threat assessment
procedures. The U.S. Secret Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) have taken a leadership role in collecting data and developing recommended
procedures and protocols. (You can access their full reports at www.ustreas.gov/usss/ntac_ssi.shtml
and www.fbi.gov/publications/school/school2.pdf.) The following information
can help schools establish a threat assessment process, but school officials
also should review comprehensive recommendations and arrange for formal
training of staff.