1. A Guide to
2. Characteristics of a School
That Is Safe and Responsive to All Children
Intervention: Getting Help for Troubled Children
5. Developing a
Prevention and Response Plan
Contributors, and Research Support
2: Characteristics of a School That Is Safe and Responsive to All
schools foster learning, safety, and socially appropriate behaviors. They
have a strong academic focus and support students in achieving high
standards, foster positive relationships between school staff and
students, and promote meaningful parental and community involvement. Most
prevention programs in effective schools address multiple factors and
recognize that safety and order are related to children's social,
emotional, and academic development.
Effective prevention, intervention, and
crisis response strategies operate best in school communities that:
. Focus on academic achievement.
Effective schools convey the attitude that all children can achieve
academically and behave appropriately, while at the same time appreciating
individual differences. Adequate resources and programs help ensure that
expectations are met. Expectations are communicated clearly, with the
understanding that meeting such expectations is a responsibility of the
student, the school, and the home. Students who do not receive the support
they need are less likely to behave in socially desirable ways.
. Involve families in meaningful ways.
Students whose families are involved in their growth in and outside of
school are more likely to experience school success and less likely to
become involved in antisocial activities. School communities must make
parents feel welcome in school, address barriers to their participation, and
keep families positively engaged in their children's education. Effective
schools also support families in expressing concerns about their children-and
they support families in getting the help they need to address behaviors
that cause concern.
. Develop links to the community.
Everyone must be committed to improving schools. Schools that have close
ties to families, support services, community police, the faith-based
community, and the community at large can benefit from many valuable
resources. When these links are weak, the risk of school violence is
heightened and the opportunity to serve children who are at risk for
violence or who may be affected by it is decreased
. Emphasize positive relationships among students and staff.
Research shows that a positive relationship with an adult who is available
to provide support when needed is one of the most critical factors in
preventing student violence. Students often look to adults in the school
community for guidance, support, and direction. Some children need help
overcoming feelings of isolation and support in developing connections to
others. Effective schools make sure that opportunities exist for adults to
spend quality, personal time with children. Effective schools also foster
positive student interpersonal relations-they encourage students to help
each other and to feel comfortable assisting others in getting help when
. Discuss safety issues openly.
Children come to school with many different perceptions-and misconceptions-about
death, violence, and the use of weapons. Schools can reduce the risk of
violence by teaching children about the dangers of firearms, as well as
appropriate strategies for dealing with feelings, expressing anger in
appropriate ways, and resolving conflicts. Schools also should teach
children that they are responsible for their actions and that the choices
they make have consequences for which they will be held accountable.
. Treat students with equal respect.
A major source of conflict in many schools is the perceived or real problem
of bias and unfair treatment of students because of ethnicity, gender, race,
social class, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation,
physical appearance, or some other factor-both by staff and by peers.
Students who have been treated unfairly may become scapegoats and/or targets
of violence. In some cases, victims may react in aggressive ways. Effective
schools communicate to students and the greater community that all children
are valued and respected. There is a deliberate and systematic effort-for
example, displaying children's artwork, posting academic work prominently
throughout the building, respecting students' diversity-to establish a
climate that demonstrates care and a sense of community.
. Create ways for students to share their concerns.
It has been found that peers often are the most likely group to know in
advance about potential school violence. Schools must create ways for
students to safely report such troubling behaviors that may lead to
dangerous situations. And students who report potential school violence must
be protected. It is important for schools to support and foster positive
relationships between students and adults so students will feel safe
providing information about a potentially dangerous situation.
. Help children feel safe expressing their feelings.
It is very important that children feel safe when expressing their needs,
fears, and anxieties to school staff. When they do not have access to caring
adults, feelings of isolation, rejection, and disappointment are more likely
to occur, increasing the probability of acting-out behaviors.
. Have in place a system for referring children who are suspected of being
abused or neglected. The referral system must be appropriate and
reflect federal and state guidelines.
. Offer extended day programs for
children. School-based before-
and after-school programs can be effective in reducing violence. Effective
programs are well supervised and provide children with support and a range
of options, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, cultural arts,
community service, clubs, access to computers, and help with homework.
. Promote good citizenship and character.
In addition to their academic mission, schools must help students become
good citizens. First, schools stand for the civic values set forth in our
Constitution and Bill of Rights (patriotism; freedom of religion, speech,
and press; equal protection/nondiscrimination; and due process/fairness).
Schools also reinforce and promote the shared values of their local
communities, such as honesty, kindness, responsibility, and respect for
others. Schools should acknowledge that parents are the primary moral
educators of their children and work in partnership with them.
. Identify problems and assess progress toward solutions.
Schools must openly and objectively examine circumstances that are
potentially dangerous for students and staff and situations where members of
the school community feel threatened or intimidated. Safe schools
continually assess progress by identifying problems and collecting
information regarding progress toward solutions. Moreover, effective schools
share this information with students, families, and the community at large.
. Support students in making the transition to adult life and the
workplace. Youth need assistance in planning their future and in
developing skills that will result in success. For example, schools can
provide students with community service opportunities, work-study programs,
and apprenticeships that help connect them to caring adults in the
community. These relationships, when established early, foster in youth a
sense of hope and security for the future.
Research has demonstrated repeatedly that
school communities can do a great deal to prevent violence. Having in place
a safe and responsive foundation helps all children-and it enables school
communities to provide more efficient and effective services to students who
need more support. The next step is to learn the early warning signs of a
child who is troubled, so that effective interventions can be provided.