Comprehensive strategies are required to prevent school shootings. The good news is there are proven strategies and approaches ready to be implemented by schools and communities.
School shootings typically involve a mix of suicidal thoughts, despair and anger-- plus access to guns. Schools are the right place to identify students at risk and who are in despair. Often there are signs of distress from the perpetrator that, when ignored, may pave the way to an extreme act of violence.
Begin with School Climate
Building a cohesive and supportive school environment is key to preventing school shootings and traumatic events like other types of mass shootings. In this environment:
1. Students feel safe to talk to each other and to staff
2. There is mutual trust and respect among students and school staff
3. There is on-going dialogue and relationships with family and community members that interact with the school.
4. There is adequate support, training and resources for school staff (See “Recommended Reading” for examples of programs and resources)
Health Care Settings
Health care providers can also help in preventing school shootings. They are positioned to identify young patients at risk. At CHOP, primary care and emergency care providers can utilize behavioral health screening tools to identify, assess and refer patients for mental health services to prevent mental illness from being left untreated or ignored. Medical professionals can partner with specific, local mental health providers to establish clear communication, consultation, and referral pathways for at-risk patients.
Addressing Risk of Violence with Programs and Policy
To reduce the risk for individuals with emotional and behavioral challenges to become violent, programs and policies should have the following aims:
- Reduce the day-to-day aggression and the many forms it takes (e.g., physical, social, cyber) within schools and communities. Experts feel that this type of toxic school and community stress, combined with the vulnerabilities of youth, can lead youth with emotional and behavioral problems to be more at risk for future violence, delinquency, and even depression and suicidal acts. Many programs exist. One school-based program developed at CHOP is called PRAISE, which promotes positive school climate in elementary schools.
- Decrease the isolation these children and youth often feel by actively integrating them into peer activities. Schools promoting an inclusive climate in which at-risk youth are also learning better problem-solving and conflict resolution skills are more likely to provide a safe and productive atmosphere.
- Close gaps in mental health services for children with emotional and behavioral problems and to provide a broader continuum of mental health care, including exceptions to privacy protection policies to allow for better communication about the mental health needs of students.