Conducting Adolescent Violence Risk Assessments: A Framework for School Counselors

By Bernes, Kerry B.; Bardick, Angela D. | Professional School Counseling, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Conducting Adolescent Violence Risk Assessments: A Framework for School Counselors


Bernes, Kerry B., Bardick, Angela D., Professional School Counseling


There have been numerous publications devoted to preventing violence and bullying in schools, resulting in school counselors being well equipped with school-wide violence prevention ideas and programs. Despite these violence prevention efforts, some students may pose a threat to others and thus may require a comprehensive assessment for violence risk, especially targeted violence. The purpose of this article is to provide school counselors with a framework for assessing students who may be at risk for violence in general or who may be at risk specifically for targeted violence.

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Some shocking acts of adolescent violence have brought significant attention to the role that school counselors have in preventing such incidents of violence. Consequently, school counseling journals have published a significant number of articles devoted to assessment and interventions for bullying (Crothers & Levinson, 2004; Elinoff, Chafouleas, & Sassu, 2004; Newman-Carlson & Horne, 2004), behavioral disorders (Frick, 2004; Olympia, Farley, Christiansen, Pettersson, & Clark, 2004), violence potential (Burns, Dean, & Jacob-Timm, 2001), psychopathy in youth (Gacono & Hughes, 2004), conflict resolution (Brinson, Kottler, & Fisher, 2004), and the role of school counselors in school violence prevention and intervention (Canfield, Ballard, Osmon, & McCune, 2004; Cunningham & Sandhu, 2000; D'Andrea, 2004; Hernandez & Seem, 2004; Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Riley, 2000; Rollin, Kaiser-Ulrey, Potts, & Creason, 2003; Schaefer-Schiumo & Ginsberg, 2003; Smith & Sandhu, 2004; Stanley, Juhnke, & Purkey, 2004). The majority of the recommendations for school counselors focus on prevention and intervention, with brief statements about identifying early warning signs of violence or making a referral for assessment.

Despite prevention efforts, some students may pose a serious threat to harm others and thus may require a comprehensive assessment of violence risk. As counselors become more aware of their role in preventing and intervening in school violence as well as the importance of engaging in evidence-based practice (Borum, Fein, Vossekuil, & Berglund, 1999; Borum & Reddy, 2001; Burns et al., 2001; Olympia et al., 2004), the need for school counselors to conduct comprehensive assessments of violence risk in adolescents becomes more apparent. We are not advocating that school counselors assess every student on their caseload for violence potential; however, should a situation arise in which an assessment of violence risk is needed, the framework for violence risk assessment provided in this article may be helpful.

Hermann and Finn (2002) published an excellent article in Professional School Counseling entitled "An Ethical and Legal Perspective on the Role of School Counselors in Preventing Violence in Schools." They stated that school counselors have not yet been held liable for not accurately assessing the potential for school violence. Hermann and Finn recommended that school counselors keep up to date on effective risk assessment techniques in order to ensure that they are knowledgeable on the current state of the field. Staying current with regard to violence risk assessment knowledge helps school counselors to make informed decisions as to the risk level of a particular individual student. It also helps to ensure that the school counselor has met the standard of care of the field. In other words, if a court were to try to determine if a school counselor should be held liable for inaccurately assessing a student for the potential for violence, a comparison would need to be made between the procedures followed by the school counselor conducting the assessment and the standard of care generally accepted by the field, in this case the field of adolescent violence risk assessment.

Staying current with adolescent violence risk assessment and moving beyond Hermann and Finn's (2002) recommendations would require school counselors to become familiar with assessment instruments such as the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY; Borum, Barrel, & Forth, 2003) and the notion of targeted violence risk assessments (Borum & Reddy, 2001). …

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