4: What To Do
Intervention: Getting Help for Troubled Children
Prevention approaches have proved effective in enabling
school communities to decrease the frequency and intensity of behavior problems. However,
prevention programs alone cannot eliminate the problems of all students. Some 5 to 10
percent of students will need more intensive interventions to decrease their high-risk
behaviors, although the percentage can vary among schools and communities.
What happens when we recognize early warning signs in a
The message is clear: It's okay to be concerned when you
notice warning signs in a child
and it's even more appropriate to do something about those concerns. School communities
that encourage staff, families, and students to raise concerns about observed warning
signs and that have in place a process
for getting help to troubled children once they are identified are more likely to have effective schools with reduced disruption,
bullying, fighting, and other forms of aggression.
Principles Underlying Intervention
Violence prevention and response plans should consider
both prevention and intervention. Plans also should provide all staff with easy access to
a team of specialists trained in evaluating serious behavioral and academic concerns.
Eligible students should have access to special education services, and classroom teachers
should be able to consult school psychologists, other mental health specialists,
counselors, reading specialists, and special educators.
Effective practices for improving the behavior of troubled
children are well documented in the research literature. Research has shown that effective
interventions are culturally appropriate, family-supported, individualized, coordinated,
and monitored. Further, interventions are more effective when they are designed and
implemented consistently over time with input from the child, the family, and appropriate
professionals. Schools also can draw upon the resources of their community to strengthen
and enhance intervention planning.
When drafting a violence prevention and response plan, it
is helpful to consider certain principles that research or expert-based experience show
have a significant impact on success. The principles include:
by establishing a partnership with the child, school, home, and community. Coordinated
service systems should be available for children who are at risk for violent behavior.
Effective schools reach out to include families and the entire community in the education
of children. In addition, effective schools coordinate and collaborate with child and
family service agencies, law enforcement and juvenile justice systems, mental health
agencies, businesses, faith and ethnic leaders, and other community agencies.
Inform parents and
listen to them when early warning signs are observed. Parents should be involved
as soon as possible. Effective and safe schools make persistent efforts to involve parents
by: informing them routinely about school discipline policies, procedures, and rules, and
about their children's behavior (both good and bad); involving them in making decisions
concerning schoolwide disciplinary policies and procedures; and encouraging them to
participate in prevention programs, intervention programs, and crisis planning. Parents
need to know what school-based interventions are being used with their children and how
they can support their success.
confidentiality and parents' rights to privacy. Parental involvement and consent
is required before personally identifiable information is shared with other agencies,
except in the case of emergencies or suspicion of abuse. The Family Educational Rights
and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that addresses the privacy of education
records, must be observed in all referrals to or sharing of information with other
community agencies. Furthermore, parent-approved interagency communication must be kept
confidential. FERPA does not prevent disclosure of personally identifiable information to
appropriate parties-such as law enforcement officials, trained medical personnel, and
other emergency personnel-when responsible personnel determine there is an acute emergency
Develop the capacity
of staff, students, and families to intervene. Many school staff members are
afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing when faced with a potentially violent student.
Effective schools provide the entire school community-teachers, students, parents, support
staff-with training and support in responding to imminent warning signs, preventing
violence, and intervening safely and effectively. Interventions must be monitored by
professionals who are competent in the approach. According to researchers, programs do not
succeed without the ongoing support of administrators, parents, and community leaders.
Support students in
being responsible for their actions. Effective school communities encourage
students to see themselves as responsible for their actions, and actively engage them in
planning, implementing, and evaluating violence prevention initiatives.
requests for urgent assistance. Many school systems and community agencies have
complex legalistic referral systems with timelines and waiting lists. Children who are at
risk of endangering themselves or others cannot be placed on waiting lists.
available as early as possible. Too frequently, interventions are not made
available until the student becomes violent or is adjudicated as a youthful offender.
Interventions for children who have reached this stage are both costly, restrictive, and
relatively inefficient. Effective schools build mechanisms into their intervention
processes to ensure that referrals are addressed promptly, and that feedback is provided
to the referring individual.
multiple, coordinated interventions. It is rare that children are violent or
disruptive only in school. Thus, interventions that are most successful are comprehensive,
sustained, and properly implemented. They help families and staff work together to help
the child. Coordinated efforts draw resources from community agencies that are respectful
of and responsive to the needs of families. Isolated, inconsistent, short-term, and
fragmented interventions will not be successful-and may actually do harm.
Analyze the contexts
in which violent behavior occurs. School communities can enhance their
effectiveness by conducting a functional analysis of the factors that set off violence and
problem behaviors. In determining an appropriate course of action, consider the child's
age, cultural background, and family experiences and values. Decisions about interventions
should be measured against a standard of reasonableness to ensure the likelihood that they
will be implemented effectively.
Build upon and
coordinate internal school resources. In developing and implementing violence
prevention and response plans, effective schools draw upon the resources of various
school-based programs and staff-such as special education, safe and drug free school
programs, pupil services, and Title I.
Violent behavior is a problem for everyone. It is a normal
response to become angry or even frightened in the presence of a violent child. But, it is
essential that these emotional reactions be controlled. The goal must always be to ensure
safety and seek help for the child.
Intervening Early with Students
Who Are at Risk for Behavioral Problems
The incidence of violent acts against students or staff is
low. However, pre-violent behaviors-such as threats, bullying, and classroom
disruptions-are common. Thus, early responses to warning signs are most effective in
preventing problems from escalating.
Intervention programs that reduce behavior problems and
related school violence typically are multifaceted, long-term, and broad reaching. They
also are rigorously implemented. Effective early intervention efforts include working with
small groups or individual students to provide direct support, as well as linking children
and their families to necessary community services and/or providing these services in the
Steps For Students"
Examples of early intervention components that work
Providing training and
support to staff, students, and families in understanding factors that can set off and/or
exacerbate aggressive outbursts.
Teaching the child
alternative, socially appropriate replacement responses-such as problem solving and anger
Providing skill training,
therapeutic assistance, and other support to the family through community-based services.
Encouraging the family to
make sure that firearms are out of the child's immediate reach. Law enforcement officers
can provide families with information about safe firearm storage as well as guidelines for
addressing children's access to and possession of firearms.
In some cases, more comprehensive early interventions are
called for to address the needs of troubled children. Focused, coordinated, proven
interventions reduce violent behavior. Following are several comprehensive approaches that
effective schools are using to provide early intervention to students who are at risk of
becoming violent toward themselves or others.
Intervention Tactic: Teaching Positive Interaction
Although most schools do teach positive social interaction
skills indirectly, some have adopted social skills programs specifically designed to
prevent or reduce antisocial behavior in troubled children. In fact, the direct teaching
of social problem solving and social decision making is now a standard feature of most
effective drug and violence prevention programs. Children who are at risk of becoming
violent toward themselves or others need additional support. They often need to learn
interpersonal, problem solving, and conflict resolution skills at home and in school. They
also may need more intensive assistance in learning how to stop and think before they
react, and to listen effectively.
Intervention Tactic: Providing Comprehensive
In some cases, the early intervention may involve getting
services to families. The violence prevention and response team together with the child
and family designs a comprehensive intervention plan that focuses on reducing aggressive
behaviors and supporting responsible behaviors at school, in the home, and in the
community. When multiple services are required there also must be psychological counseling
and ongoing consultation with classroom teachers, school staff, and the family to ensure
intended results occur. All services-including community services-must be coordinated and
progress must be monitored and evaluated carefully.
Intervention Tactic: Referring the Child for
Special Education Evaluation
If there is evidence of persistent problem behavior or
poor academic achievement, it may be appropriate to conduct a formal assessment to
determine if the child is disabled and eligible for special education and related services
under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If
a multidisciplinary team determines that the child is eligible for services under the
IDEA, an individualized educational program (IEP) should be developed by a team that
includes a parent, a regular educator, a special educator, an evaluator, a representative
of the local school district, the child (if appropriate), and others as appropriate. This
team will identify the support necessary to enable the child to learn-including the
strategies and support systems necessary to address any behavior that may impede the
child's learning or the learning of his or her peers.
Individualized Interventions for Students with Severe Behavioral Problems
Children who show dangerous patterns and a potential for
more serious violence usually require more intensive interventions that involve multiple
agencies, community-based service providers, and intense family support. By working with
families and community services, schools can comprehensively and effectively intervene.
Effective individualized interventions provide a range of
services for students. Multiple, intensive, focused approaches used over time can reduce
the chances for continued offenses and the potential for violence. The child, his or her
family, and appropriate school staff should be involved in developing and monitoring the
Nontraditional schooling in an alternative school or
therapeutic facility may be required in severe cases where the safety of students and
staff remains a concern, or when the complexity of the intervention plan warrants it.
Research has shown that effective alternative programs can have long-term positive results
by reducing expulsions and court referrals. Effective alternative programs support
students in meeting high academic and behavioral standards. They provide anger and impulse
control training, psychological counseling, effective academic and remedial instruction,
and vocational training as appropriate. Such programs also make provisions for active
family involvement. Moreover, they offer guidance and staff support when the child returns
to his or her regular school.
Providing a Foundation To Prevent
and Reduce Violent Behavior
Schoolwide strategies create a foundation that is more
responsive to children in general one that makes interventions for individual children more
effective and efficient.
Effective and safe schools are places where there is
strong leadership, caring faculty, parent and community involvement including law enforcement officials and student participation in the design of programs
and policies. Effective and safe schools also are places where prevention and intervention
programs are based upon careful assessment of student problems, where community members
help set measurable goals and objectives, where research-based prevention and intervention
approaches are used, and where evaluations are conducted regularly to ensure that the
programs are meeting stated goals. Effective and safe schools are also places where
teachers and staff have access to qualified consultants who can help them address
behavioral and academic barriers to learning.
Effective schools ensure that the physical environment of
the school is safe, and that schoolwide policies are in place to support responsible
Characteristics of a Safe Physical Environment
Prevention starts by making sure the school campus is a
safe and caring place. Effective and safe schools communicate a strong sense of security.
Experts suggest that school officials can enhance physical safety by:
Supervising access to the
building and grounds.
Reducing class size and
Adjusting scheduling to
minimize time in the hallways or in potentially dangerous locations. Traffic flow patterns
can be modified to limit potential for conflicts or altercations.
Conducting a building safety
audit in consultation with school security personnel and/or law enforcement experts.
Effective schools adhere to federal, state, and local nondiscrimination and public safety
laws, and use guidelines set by the state department of education.
Closing school campuses
during lunch periods.
Adopting a school policy on
Arranging supervision at
critical times (for example, in hallways between classes) and having a plan to deploy
supervisory staff to areas where incidents are likely to occur.
Prohibiting students from
congregating in areas where they are likely to engage in rule-breaking or intimidating and
Having adults visibly present
throughout the school building. This includes encouraging parents to visit the school.
Staggering dismissal times
and lunch periods.
Monitoring the surrounding school
grounds including landscaping,
parking lots, and bus stops.
Coordinating with local
police to ensure that there are safe routes to and from school.
In addition to targeting areas for increased safety
measures, schools also should identify safe areas where staff and children should go in
the event of a crisis.
The physical condition of the school building also has an
impact on student attitude, behavior, and motivation to achieve. Typically, there tend to
be more incidents of fighting and violence in school buildings that are dirty, too cold or
too hot, filled with graffiti, in need of repair, or unsanitary.
Characteristics of Schoolwide Policies that
Support Responsible Behavior
The opportunities for inappropriate behaviors that
precipitate violence are greater in a disorderly and undisciplined school climate. A
growing number of schools are discovering that the most effective way to reduce
suspensions, expulsions, office referrals, and other similar actions strategies that do not result in making schools
safer-is to emphasize a proactive approach to discipline.
Effective schools are implementing schoolwide campaigns
that establish high expectations and provide support for socially appropriate behavior.
They reinforce positive behavior and highlight sanctions against aggressive behavior. All
staff, parents, students, and community members are informed about problem behavior, what
they can do to counteract it, and how they can reinforce and reward positive behavior. In
turn, the entire school community makes a commitment to behaving responsibly.
Effective and safe schools develop and consistently
enforce schoolwide rules that are clear, broad-based, and fair. Rules and disciplinary
procedures are developed collaboratively by representatives of the total educational
community. They are communicated clearly to all parties but most important, they are followed consistently by everyone.
School communities that have undertaken schoolwide
approaches do the following things:
Develop a schoolwide
disciplinary policy that includes a code of conduct, specific rules and consequences that
can accommodate student differences on a case-by-case basis when necessary. (If one
already exists, review and modify it if necessary.) Be sure to include a description of
school anti-harassment and anti-violence policies and due process rights.
Ensure that the cultural
values and educational goals of the community are reflected in the rules. These values
should be expressed in a statement that precedes the schoolwide disciplinary policy.
Include school staff,
students, and families in the development, discussion, and implementation of fair rules.
Provide schoolwide and classroom support to implement these rules. Strategies that have
been found to support students include class discussions, schoolwide assemblies, student
government, and participation on discipline teams. In addition, peer mediation and
conflict resolution have been implemented widely in schools to promote a climate of
Be sure consequences are
commensurate with the offense, and that rules are written and applied in a
nondiscriminatory manner and accommodate cultural diversity.
Make sure that if a negative
consequence (such as withdrawing privileges) is used, it is combined with positive
strategies for teaching socially appropriate behaviors and with strategies that address
any external factors that might have caused the behavior.
Include a zero tolerance
statement for illegal possession of weapons, alcohol, or drugs. Provide services and
support for students who have been suspended and/or expelled.
Recognizing the warning signs and responding with
comprehensive interventions allows us to help children eliminate negative behaviors and
replace them with positive ones. Active sharing of information and a quick, effective
response by the school community will ensure that the school is safer and the child is
less troubled and can learn.