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A Practical Guide To Early Warning Signs
By Danny Cain
The onset of school violence throughout our country underscores the need for all of us to be better informed about the early warning signs that are often present and have the potential to escalate into another tragic incident. Early identification and intervention offers the best plan of action to reduce these senseless acts by identifying high-risk students and providing them with help.
It doesnt matter whether you are a parent, family member, friend or a staff person working in a school setting the threat of violence is a real and serious issue in our society today. This article will focus on some of the early warning signs and address some practical approaches for early intervention.
We must begin with the assumption that every incident has the potential to escalate into a violent episode. We must always take threats of violence or threatening behavior seriously and follow some practical guidelines. There are no specific guidelines or behavioral programs that can totally eliminate the potential for school violence. Creating a safe school environment requires awareness, preparedness and taking immediate and appropriate actions.
What You Should Look For: There are often early warning signs in most cases of school violence. Behavioral or emotional signs may be indicative of the potential risk of danger or of a troubled student. Generally, behavioral changes, more disruptive acts or statements made by students, call attention to the need for intervention.
These signs do not necessarily mean that a violent act will occur, rather they should alert you to pay more attention to the behavior or actions of these students. Often, a potentially violent student will tell a friend about plans to commit a violent act. In the school setting it is important that an atmosphere where school officials can be notified anonymously of possible dangerous situations is present.
Using the Warning Signs Responsibly: While early warning signs may identify a student who is at-risk, they may also create the potential for inappropriately labeling the child. Having worked in the mental health field a good portion of my career I observed early on how the effects of labeling and stigmatizing persons with mental disorders was often more detrimental then the behavior itself. Caution should be taken not to overreact, while at the same time being genuinely concerned in seeking professional help for the student.
Typical behaviors or comments associated with violence also increases the potential risk of the person injuring themselves or others. These early warning signs, when viewed in the context of the situation, often signal the need for assistance and professional intervention. When these signs are present, safety must ALWAYS be your first consideration.
You should ALWAYS take threats of violence or other threatening behavior seriously. Although no single warning sign can predict that a dangerous threat or at of violence will occur, warning signs should always initiate a prompt and thorough review of the incident.
The following warning signs are not listed in any order of priority, severity or immediacy of action to be taken. However, appropriate notification and investigation of them should include the principal, parents, students, school counselors and law enforcement officials when deemed necessary.
Early Warning Signs What to Look For:
Early responses to these warning signs are often the most effective actions in preventing situations from escalating. Students demonstrating radical or abnormal behavior often require professional help. As previously stated, any of these warning signs does not necessarily mean that a violent act will occur, rather they should alert you to pay greater attention to their behaviors and actions.
Many adolescent behaviors will come and past without incident. However, it is important to be sensitive and to be in touch with what is going on in your childs life. You must take the necessary actions should you observe behaviors and actions that raise alarm. Sometimes this is as simple as following your gut instincts. A common denominator with every case of violence in our school systems these past several years was the fact that these early warning signs were present. While these behaviors are often PREDICTABLE indicators, these tragedies were also PREVENTABLE!
Daniel L. Cain is President of Cain Consulting Associates, LLC and SafetyPlus, LLC. With a lifetime of experience in the health care industry, Danny has created and developed safety campaigns designed for government, the health care industry, and the general public. He is the author of many published articles, books, and videos. Dan holds two Masters degrees; in Health Systems Management and Social Work. Mr. Cain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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