Violence Prevention and Students with Disabilities: Perspectives from the Field of Youth Violence Prevention

By Gorman-Smith, Deborah | Behavioral Disorders, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Violence Prevention and Students with Disabilities: Perspectives from the Field of Youth Violence Prevention


Gorman-Smith, Deborah, Behavioral Disorders


* Though violent crime rates have decreased generally over the past two decades, youth violence remains a significant public health problem. Each year in the United States there are over 5,000 homicide victims between the ages of 1 0 and 24 years and more than 700,000 youths are treated in emergency departments for violence-related injuries (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention [CDC], 2012). In a recent national survey, over 60% of children reported that they were exposed to violence within the past year, and 46% were assaulted within the past year (Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby, 2009). The short- and long-term consequences of youth violence are significant. Exposure to youth violence contributes to a range of other poor physical and mental health outcomes for youth, including substance use, high risk sexual behavior, depression, academic problems, and suicide (Arseneault, Walsh, Trzeniewski, Newcombe, & Caspi, 2006; Finkelhor, Turner, & Ormrod, 2006; Menard, 2002; Swahn & Bossarte, 2006).

Developmental studies have provided increasing clarity about the types of risk factors to target in order to reduce youth violence (CDC, 2012; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001; World Federation of Mental Health, 2002). The key risk factors associated with youth violence are generally divided into four broad domains: individual, family, peer, and community or neighborhood (Hawkins et al., 1998; Herrenkohl et al., 2000). As a result, a growing list of preventive interventions aimed at children and youth and targeting risk factors identified in basic developmental studies have been shown to be effective (Catalano, Arthur, Hawkins, Berglund, & Olson, 1 998). Thus, we know that programs can be designed to affect developmental trajectories and risk.

Much of the work in youth violence prevention has been based in a public heath model and guided by a developmental-ecological perspective on risk and prevention (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1988). A central tenet of developmental-ecological theory is that individual development is influenced by the ongoing qualities of the social settings in which the child lives or participates and the extent and nature of the interaction between these settings. Child development and behavior is influenced by family functioning, peer relationships, schools, communities, and larger societal influences (e.g., norms; media). This model also emphasizes development as an important consideration, recognizing children's capacity for change over time. The same factor may have a different impact depending on the age of the child. Thus, the developmental stage must be considered when identifying and attempting to intervene on risk and protective factors.

The key implication of the developmentalecological model for violence prevention is that the impact of preventive interventions is likely dependent on the social ecology in which development occurs and the intervention that is provided (Gorman-Smith, Tolan, & Henry, 2000; Tolan, Gorman-Smith, & Henry, 2003). Just as the social-ecological model of development emphasizes that individual development depends in part on social context, so the developmental-ecological prevention model emphasizes that prevention efforts always take place within some social context, so their impact may depend in part on features of that context.

In addition to the substantive findings of each, the papers in this special issue contribute to the field of youth violence by advancing understanding of the nature and importance of context in risk and prevention for a population often left out of the youth violence prevention discussion - students with disabilities. Given the risk for both peer victimization and sometimes perpetration of violence found among this population, these papers highlight the need for further research to better inform the development of effective preventive interventions for these vulnerable youth. …

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