Early Identification and Intervention for Youth with Antisocial and Violent Behavior
Sprague, Jeffrey, Walker, Hill, Exceptional Children
Antisocial behavior, youth violence, and student safety have emerged as primary concerns in American schools and the larger society. An understanding of the complex, interconnecting issues and variables affecting and underlying these concerns is a necessary precursor for (a) identifying youth exhibiting antisocial and violent behavior early in their trajectories on this destructive path and (b) developing and implementing strategic plans for intervening in the context of schooling. This article discusses these critical issues and presents a general set of best practice recommendations relating to screening and early intervention procedures for use by educators.
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF YOUTH VIOLENCE AND ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR
Nearly all scientific studies of violence in America indicate that violent crime, overall, has remained stable over the past 15 to 20 years despite much harsher sentencing practices during this period (Furlong, 1994; Roth, 1994). These trends do not hold, however, for violent juvenile crime, which until recently has increased dramatically in all sectors of our society. Violent crimes among juveniles increased by 41% from 1982 to 1991. During this same period, the number of arrests for murder and aggravated assault committed by juveniles increased by 93% and 72% respectively (Wilson & Howell, 1993). The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that the U.S. juvenile homicide rate has doubled in just the past 7 years. It estimates that the U.S. juvenile (all children ages 10-17) population will double in the next decade and that the number of juvenile arrests for violent crime will double by the year 2010.
These statistics suggest continuing growth in the rates of juvenile violence unless these trends can be offset through a coordinated plan of prevention, early intervention, and graduated sanctions (Walker, Irvin, & Sprague, 1997). Small decreases in the overall volume of juvenile violence in the past 2 years appear to confound this trend (Sickmund, Snyder, & Poe-Yamagata, 1997). These decreases may not signal the beginning of a general downward trend, however, when changes in youth demographics are taken into account.
School Safety and Violence
Schools often reflect societal trends, and we are now beginning to see the tragedy of interpersonal violence and conflict in the daily lives of students and staff in settings that were once relatively safe. Statistics from recent reports on violence provide striking examples:
* Over 100,000 students bring weapons to school each day and more than 40 students are killed or wounded with these weapons annually.
* Large numbers of students fear victimization (e.g., mean-spirited teasing, bullying, and sexual harassment) in school and on the way to and from school where bullies and gang members are likely to prey on them.
* More than 6,000 teachers are threatened annually and well over 200 are physically injured by students on school grounds.
* Schools are major sites for recruitment and related activities by organized gangs (Committee for Children, 1997; National School Safety Center, 1996; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995).
A study by the National Institute of Education revealed that 40% of juvenile robberies and 36% of assaults against urban youth took place in schools (Crowe, 1991). Half of all students who admit bringing weapons to school say they do so for their own protection. The National Educational Goals Panel Report (U.S. Department of Education, 1998) lists four key areas in which national performance has declined:
(1) Reading achievement at Grade 12 has declined (Goal 3).
(2) Student drug use has increased (Goal 7).
(3) Threats and injuries to public school teachers have increased (Goal 7).
(4) More teachers report that disruptions in their classroom interfere with their teaching (Goal 7).
Well-developed antisocial behavior patterns and high levels of aggression evidenced early in a child's life are among the best predictors of delinquent and violent behavior years later (Fagan, 1996; Hawkins & Catalano, 1992). Antisocial patterns that appear early in a child's life and are characterized by high-frequency, intense severity, and occurrence across multiple settings predicts a number of ominous outcomes later on, including victimization of others, drug and alcohol use, violence, school failure and dropout, and delinquency (Loeber & Farrington, 1998; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). Over the developmental age span, these behavior patterns become more destructive, more aversive, and have much greater social impact as they become elaborated. An early pattern of antisocial behavior that shares these qualities is much like a virus that lowers the immune system so one becomes vulnerable to a host of disease conditions over time.
Early Identification of Violent Behaviors
Many have asked if it is possible to identify potentially violent youth. The answer is a partial yes. It is very difficult to predict exactly which specific individuals within a large group of high-risk youth will actually perpetrate serious, violent acts. This task approaches the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack, where the haystack is a group of at-risk children and youth and the needle signifies the youth who will actually commit a violent act. Yet the fact remains that we have the necessary tools and assessment technology to accomplish early identification of many youth who are at an elevated risk for committing violence later in their lives--as early as age 5 in some cases (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998). While relatively few of these at risk youth will perpetrate serious violent acts, many will display major long-term adjustment problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and child abuse, divorce or multiple relationships, employment problems, mental health problems, dependence on social services, and involvement in less serious crimes (Obiakor, Merhing, & Schwenn, 1997). The children and youth likely to encounter serious negative outcomes later in their lives need supports and intervention services early on within school and community settings to reduce, buffer, and offset early risk.
Estimated Prevalence of Violent Behaviors
In this article, we refer to antisocial and violent behavior as a general response class of related behaviors that includes antisocial behaviors (e.g., aggression, noncompliance, bullying, …
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Publication information: Article title: Early Identification and Intervention for Youth with Antisocial and Violent Behavior. Contributors: Sprague, Jeffrey - Author, Walker, Hill - Author. Journal title: Exceptional Children. Volume: 66. Issue: 3 Publication date: Spring 2000. Page number: 367. © 1999 Council for Exceptional Children. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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