School Social Workers and School Violence: Personal Safety, Training, and Violence Programs

Article excerpt

Concern over school violence has permeated multiple layers of U.S. society. For example, one recent study found that the public considered school violence the most important problem facing schools (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1994). The federal government has designated the reduction of school violence as a national education priority (National Education Goals Panel, 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1996). Many states have drafted laws and commissioned investigations to address the growing public concern about school violence (see Furlong, Babinski, Poland, & Munoz, 1996; James, 1994). In addition, school districts across the country have voluntarily initiated a variety of school-based violence prevention programs and districtwide antiviolence policies (National Education Goals Panel, 1994a, 1994b, 1995).

In response to this widespread concern, various professional organizations have recommended that professionals be trained to deal with or prevent school violence (American Psychological Association, 1993; Furlong et al., 1996; National Education Goals Panel, 1996; Nicklin, 1996). Elam et al. (1994) found that 92 percent of the public supports violence training for school personnel. Given this social climate, social workers could occupy a visible and central role in implementing school-based violence programs. However, little is known about the current involvement of school social workers with school violence programs or the training needed for social workers to contend with school violence. Furthermore, it is quite possible that social workers are already coordinating programs that address school violence, yet are not receiving recognition for their efforts.

To date, the vast majority of the research on issues surrounding school violence has focused on students, and to a lesser extent, parents and teachers (see Metropolitan Life Insurance & Harris Poll, 1993/1994, and National Center for Educational Statistics, 1991, 1992, for examples of large-scale surveys). In light of the absence of data regarding school social workers and violence, researchers at the University of Michigan in collaboration with NASW undertook the first national study of school social workers that focused explicitly on the topic of school violence.

The survey collected data from school social workers on the following four areas related to school violence: (1) direct questions about violence in schools including their perceptions of school violence as a problem and reports of specific violent events (see Astor, Behre, Fravil, & Wallace, 1997 for a detailed multivariate analysis on these questions); (2) questions about their personal victimization, safety, and precautions taken to protect themselves; (3) questions about current violence prevention or intervention programs in their schools, including their involvement with these programs; and (4) questions about their current school violence training and future education needs. This article reports the major descriptive findings about personal victimization, safety, and precautions; existing training; and future training needs. An earlier article reported the results related to violent events in the schools (Astor et al., 1997).

Many survey questions were adapted from a previous national survey of school violence with a sample of school psychologists that was used by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing School Violence Advisory Panel (Dear, 1995). The current questionnaire was revised and expanded to include questions on program involvement specific to the social work role in schools. Data about school violence from the perspective of school social workers could be used to inform state, university, agency, or school district training programs; to promote the inclusion of social workers in national school violence legislation; to expand the collaborative role of school social workers; and to facilitate the development of a national strategy to better address the problem of school violence from a social work perspective. …