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Recent tragic events have made us painfully aware that our schools have been and may continue to be sites of violence. Episodes of violence at our schools remind us that schools are an integral part of their communities and therefore are vulnerable to the influences and factors that are present in the larger communities.
Fortunately, the actual number of primary victims—those killed and injured directly by school violence—has been small. However, high profile episodes of violence have produced a substantial number of witnesses and survivors who are known as secondary victims. Extensive media coverage of school violence vicariously traumatizes people exposed to the media in communities across the country, which creates indirect witnesses and survivors who are known as tertiary victims.
Experience teaches that schools can support and assist children and staff during and after a crisis. Even when a crisis does not occur on school property, a school can effectively serve as the place where adolescent and child victims can go for help after the crisis. Given proper training, support, and resources, school staff are well situated to provide children and adolescents with triage, support, services, short-term counseling, and referral to community services during and after a crisis.
Schools can also reach out to parents and other adults in the community after a crisis. In fact, in the aftermath of a crisis, school-based intervention may be the most effective, logical, and practical way to help many primary, secondary, and tertiary victims whose needs may not be addressed as well through conventional public health and traditional medical services. This is particularly true if the school-based efforts are coordinated with those of outside agencies and supplemented by outside resources—creating a school-based crisis response team.
School-based crisis response teams work well for several reasons. Adult and child victims who receive care from a school-based crisis response team composed of people they know will receive a response that is not only effective, but also warm, personal, supportive, and heartening. In addition, school-based response teams can meet the emerging needs of students, parents, and staff during and after a crisis, which reinforces the idea held by many that, in a community, schools should be a focal point for the development of young people.
Developing an effective crisis response and building a strong school-based crisis response team is important. Schools nationwide must share all the information, knowledge, skills, experiences, and promising practices that they have learned about crisis response. School crisis response teams should include individuals who work within the school and those from the community who work collaboratively with the schools, such as mental health and juvenile justice professionals. Avoid plans that replace staff members with experts from outside the community. This is important for several reasons. First, staff members have an ongoing relationship with and knowledge of the students, their parents, and the community. This gives school personnel valuable insight and perspective that will be helpful when they screen crisis victims and intervene on their behalf. In addition, school staff will remain in the community throughout the long recovery period that follows many crises. Staff are uniquely suited to monitor the emerging and residual effects of the crisis, which allows them to plan and coordinate a comprehensive response. Further, because parents frequently consult school staff about daily matters, parents already think of the staff as experts on the children in their care and as credible resources for information. Therefore, an effective response to a large-scale crisis when well-trained school crisis response teams are in place should rely on experts from outside the school community to provide short-term consultation but not to assume the primary response role. Communities achieve the greatest benefit when the supports that are already in place are enhanced and sustained, increasing the contributions by those who will continue to work in the community and with the children.
This bulletin describes the work of the School Crisis Response Initiative of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence at the Yale Child Study Center and provides an overview of the program's organizational model for school crisis preparedness and response. The organizational model presented in this bulletin is intended to guide schools and school districts as they develop their own school-based crisis response plans. Individual schools and districts will need to adapt this general model to their unique needs and strengths.