By Melissa Martin, Ph. D.
The world is an inviting and exciting roller-coaster ride for our children—the world is a hazardous and unsafe place for our children. Life is a two-sided coin for our children. Disney World, Cedar Point, Sea World. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland.
America. It is the best of times—it is the worst of times.
What is the cost of living in a democratic nation where freedom rings? What is the price of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution? How do our children achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in lieu of school shootings?
Are School Shootings Rare?
According to a 2013 article in the academic journal, Disaster Health, “School massacres, such as Sandy Hook, occur periodically, galvanizing public reaction and bringing forth a collective call for intervention. Epidemiological analyses position these rare, but uniquely compelling, incidents within the broader national patterns of gun violence.” Visit www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.
Nonetheless, all hands on deck are needed to find ways to prevent school shootings and make schools a safe place. Our children are depending on us.
Homicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 10–24 years, according to the publication, “Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action” by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The website everytownresearch.org has attempted to draw conclusions from data on both school and other mass shootings. Once again, the topic of bullying is in the forefront for victims and perpetrators. The authors state, “If a child brings a weapon to school, this should be investigated and a risk assessment and treatment planning process begun. Suspension or expulsion is never sufficient in cases such as this and an assessment should be required before the young person returns to school.”
Is Youth Violence Preventable?
According to a 2016 article in the academic journal, American Psychologist, “Acts of violence are influenced by multiple factors” and “the prevention of youth violence should be a national priority.” The authors summarized evidence on major risk factors and protective factors for youth violence.
According to the surgeon general, a risk factor is defined as an element that increases the chances of a person acting violently and a protective factor is as an element that decreases the impact of a risk factor.
Some risk factors include: high emotional distress, antisocial beliefs and attitudes, involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, poor parent-child relations, parental substance abuse or criminality, poor attitude and performance at school, involvement in gangs, and neighborhood crime.
Some protective factors include: high academic achievement, positive social skills, religious views, connected to family or adults outside the family, consistent presence of parent during at least one of the following: when awakening, when arriving home from school, at evening mealtime or going to bed, and membership in peer groups that do not condone antisocial behavior.
CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention funds several National Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention. But, do we need a center in every state?
Is Gun Control the Answer?
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 80 percent of youth homicides are committed with a firearm. Youth can acquire a firearm from their home, a relative or friend, or obtain it illegally. During the 2012-2013 school year, 31 homicides of school-age youth ages 5 to 18 years occurred at school. Visit www.bjs.gov/.
Are Mental Health Services the Answer?
The National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention offers resources at www.healthysafechildren.org/. Since 1999, Safe Schools/Healthy Students has provided programs and services to school districts across the United States.
Many elementary, middle, and high schools utilize school-based mental health therapists from their local community mental health agencies. Individual and/or group counseling services are provided at schools during school hours. Critics point out that family counseling is not provided in this model. While Medicaid pays for counseling and case management for those students covered, private health insurance usually does not, so these students are excluded.
And while schools counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers provide essential services, their student ratios are high.
What about School-Based Mental Health Clinics?
H.R. 3003 (111th): School-Based Health Clinic Establishment Act of 2009 was introduced to Congress but failed. The purpose was to expand federal funding for school-based health care, including mental health.
A 2002 study conducted by the Secret Service determined that most school shooters “engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.” Visit www.secretservice.gov/.
According to a PBS documentary, experts have determined that mental illness and social isolation are the two main factors that cause youth violence. Should school-based mental health clinics be mandatory? And if so, where will the funding come from?
“The evolution of culture is ultimately determined by the amount of love, understanding and freedom experienced by its children… Every abandonment, every betrayal, every hateful act towards children returns tenfold a few decades later upon the historical stage, while every empathic act that helps a child become what he or she wants to become, every expression of love toward children heals society and moves it in unexpected, wondrous new directions,” proclaimed Lloyd deMause, founder of The Journal of Psychohistory.
How do we address both the physical and the mental health of our children? Protecting children by preventing violence needs to be a top priority in the USA and across the globe.