Early Identification and Intervention for Youth with Antisocial and Violent Behavior

Article excerpt

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). …

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