Assisting Communities After Incidents of School Violence
Scott Newgass  -  2010/9/15
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
As a state crime victim coordinator, I am unfamiliar with this subject. What would be your recommendations to those of us at the state level who have not worked in this area of crime victim services? Thank you, Anne
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 As the coordinator of crime victim services, you undoubtedly already have many of the skills and assets available to you to facilitate the recovery of individuals affected by major crises. Administratively, it may be helpful to encourage outreach on the part of your workers to make themselves familiar to school administrators and staff. It will be important to consult with school personnel on the services and supports that you can provide outside of the school environment and how to establish the referral linkages. In developing these new relationships, it may make most sense to identify specific types of conditions or responses wherein your staffs skills will be most effective, e.g., with students who directly witnessed the trauma, individuals who were victims of the physical trauma or individuals who are close friends of those that were physically and psychologically impacted by the crisis event. Having developed relations with the schools and having gained access to affected individuals, you must also build in capacity to processdebrief with staff following their intervention(s). This processing will help the workers incorporate what they have learned, make sense of any distressing reactions they may be experiencing and provide a knowledge base for future professional development. Finally, the more that you can brand your intervention model, either through use of specific evidence-based interventions, such as cognitive therapy or through clear and straightforward protocols, the better schools will be able to understand and accept the advantages of your staffs involvement in response.
 
 
In your experience, how do you best deal with the media?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 The confidentiality and privacy of staff, students and families must be considered foremost in all responses. It is most efficient for all parties if there is a single representative who responds to media inquiries. It is important that the chief administrator inform all school staff that media requests should be referred to the school or district designee. Answers to questions should be direct, brief and avoid expansion beyond the requested information. Most media representatives, especially those within the electronic field, are looking for sound bites. Long, expansive responses are likely to be edited and as a result may not accurately convey the meaning you intended. Do not anticipate questions and provide more information than necessary, especially personal information about any of the parties or opinions. Assume that nothing you say aloud is off the record. Unless there is a strategy for doing so, do not facilitate student-media interviews on campus. Questions that attempt to elicit emotional responses should be responded to with a summary of the key information points and the observation that people will, in time, find their own conclusions . . . it would be disrespectful to try and anticipate what this incident means to those most deeply affected, or other thoughts to that effect. Finally, remember that reporters are not opponents; they are doing their job trying to inform the public about important events in your community. Be respectful and maintain professional boundaries.
 
 
What are some best practices regarding following up with victims long after the incident has occurred? Should we maintain contact after they have left the school system?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 One should consider whether or not follow up would provide comfort and ongoing relief or be a trigger for recalling emotions associated with the crisis. It makes most sense to do this only with those students who received support through an ongoing relationship while they were still part of the school system. As part of the therapeutic termination attendant to the students graduation/departure from the school, staff might enquire if it might be helpful to continue contacts formally or informally. Fundamentally, I am a strong believer in a termination process that equips individuals with skills and techniques so that they are able to find solutions for their needs. Providing referral and resources is an important step for returning control back to the individual. While there may be times when it is appropriate to help a student through a transition following their departure from the school system, it is more likely to empower the student if linkages to other age-appropriate systems are provided for ongoing support. Supports provided long after the incident, where there has been an extended gap in services may not be helpful.
 
 
From the students in the Victimology & Victim Services course at Becker College... Mr. Newgass, have there been any studies done that indicate the best measures for dealing with victims of school violence? If so, what has proven most effective? Thank you.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Not to my knowledge. One of the major obstacles to performing such work is the struggle with informed consent on the part of the service recipients when they are potentially suffering some impairment in cognitive processing as a result of the trauma and because research with victims of crisis is complicated by the assault to system integrity. Currently, as school and community systems are still developing a knowledge base of how to facilitate coordinated responses, there is less than perfect opportunity to perform research. As the field expands, lessons learned will continue to influence practice until such time that the critical needs of students, staff and families are being adequately met by existing structures and efforts, and resources can be directed to activities that have no immediate benefit to those who are currently experiencing the crisis, such as research.
 
 
Another question from the Victimology & Victim Services course students at Becker College... Mr. Newgass, What is the most difficult part of helping not only the school community, but the entire community after incidents of school violence? Thank you.
 
1.  Cosco
 As a law enforcement agent alot of times it becomes difficult to assure the community that we still have control of our school. We need people addressing students and parents that violent behavior is something we willnot tolarate in or around our schools and neighborhoods. I othr words we need more help from the community to report small crimes before they become major problems.
 
2.  Scott Newgass
 Managing the multiple and diverse needs of the community is a challenge to many response structures because the fluidity of identified needs and the unfolding response create a moving target for prioritizing interventions. As well, there are broad developmental needs among school children within the same building, as well as the needs of the adult population of staff and parents. Consistent and coordinated communication is essential to ensure that all parties are given similar information and that it has been delivered in a manner cognizant of the developmental capacities, the individuals advancement through recovery, exposure to the critical incident, etc.
 
 
Are you aware of "Restorative Practice" and if so how could Restorative Practice and Philosophy dovetail with assisting communities?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 I think that Restorative Practice can be one effort or initiative within the broader goal of community recovery. Because of the need to establish long-term and affirming relationships across the community, it is most likely to be meaningful for the community when it is applied to late-recovery operations. Higher level planning, management and adoption of philosophical perspectives are difficult to manage or assimilate when the primary goal is to assist individuals in returning to a pre-crisis state immediately following the incident. It is important that crisis incidents not be exploited as opportunities to propel forward those concepts that have not already received validation within the affected community. However, as part of the long term recovery, a community might very well consider an initiative to implement a Restorative Practice program.
 
 
What suggestions do you have for how to respond to a child that is a victim of violence at school but is afraid to report it to the proper authorities because he or she is afraid of confidentiality rules being broken?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Are the rules of confidentiality being broken? If so, there are other concerns that need to be addressed. Otherwise, a simple and developmentally appropriate explanation of the rules of confidentiality should be provided for the student. On the other hand, I would also look for other, unspoken objections that may be causing the student to hold back, e.g., fear of retaliation, concerns that the school will not be able to protect them, or that this act would stigmatize them with other students. Fundamentally, it is the parents right and responsibility to ensure that the appropriate response (legal or otherwise) takes place. Within the requirements of No Child Left Behind, parent involvement is a priority and, certainly, involving a minor in any legal process should not take place without the consent and participation of the childs parent.
 
 
What is the quickest, yet most effective way to assist a community after incidents of school violence?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 This is far from a simple question and the answers could be varied, depending on the capacity and structure of the system(s) responding to a crisis. A few essential ingredients would include: dedicated individuals providing timely and effective supports; an organizational plan that anticipates the failure of elements within the infrastructure, such as sick staff, loss of electricity, or loss of communication within or outside the building; a plan for follow up; and adequate capacity to address the emerging needs.
 
 
What can law enforcement contribute to showing the community that we are being proactive and being trained to help the community when a school incident occurs.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 There are several steps that can be taken to help the public and other municipal agencies understand the contributions law enforcement agencies can make in school crisis response. First and foremost, the law enforcement agency should have an active and collaborative relationship with the district and the schools. Communication should be two-way and the partners should see one another as equals. Police could have an expanded presence in schools that advances the educational agenda, not just when police services are necessary. Police should be trained in crisis protocols and practices alongside the school staff and should work to bring clarity to what their expected role will be during crisis. The police department should ensure that school staff and administrators understand the incident command process and how this directs the activities of police during a response. Schools and police, along with local fire services and EMS should drill with schools so that each party is able to observe and come to understand the tasks and responsibilities associated with these other assignments. Finally, whenever police and schools provide parent information sessions that address the subject of crisis, it is important to talk about the partnership and the advantages to schools and, ultimately, the families in the community.
 
 
Please discuss the benefits and challenges of co-locating victim support services in the school after incidents of school violence. What are your recommendations around what is best for the students in this regard? Thank you,
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Challenges: space, privacy, scheduling, strangers in the schools. Benefits: when outside agencies are called upon to provide support services to students, being able to do so in a location familiar to students and one that is generally associated with learning and support carries direct conscious and unconscious benefits. Receiving services in school is generally viewed positively by students while some may attach stigma to outpatient services and therefore deter engagement. Best practice would rely on school staff to provide initial screening of students and assignment to personnel from outside agencies based on their particular skill set and focus. All treatment offered in the school setting should be short-tern, concrete and goal oriented. More extensive or ongoing services should be located outside the school wherein more formal therapeutic boundaries can be established and maintained. Unless there is formal agreement, such as a memorandum of understanding (or agreement) or regulatory requirements, confidential information should be recorded and stored in the most protective environment whether that be the school itself or the agency. Lastly, no services should be provided by outside agencies in schools until the issue of billing for services has been explicitly and formally resolved.
 
 
Historically, what roles have police departments played (outside the realm of criminal investigation) in assisting victims after a school violence event? Have any practices been identified as particularly helpful or harmful to the community? Thank you.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Police perform a number of duties following a crisis, including crowd management, referral (yes, particularly with school resource officers, there are some students that will prefer to bring their issues to an officer), providing a sense of stability during a time of stress, consulting with school personnel on multiple issues, and facilitating hospitalization when necessary, among others. Again, best practice is when an officer has an ongoing relationship with the individuals in the school and is seem as a member of the community, rather than someone that is only involved with crime and its immediate deterrence.
 
 
Are there any materials designed to assist parents coping with this type of trauma, who are also trying to help their children deal with the incident?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 I would suggest After a Loved One Dies - How Children Grieve published by New York Life and developed by the National center for School Crisis and Bereavement. The website for this is: http://nylgriefguide.com/exchange_default.asp
 
 
Have you found that communities benefit from holding annual memorial observances in honor of the victims of school violence? My concern would be retraumatizing students who are already in such a vulnerable stage.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 This is a difficult question to respond to because it depends so much on the circumstances, the community and what is done to memorialize. Certainly, it is problematic when this becomes regimented and the students, staff and affected families dont gain anything from the exercise. Generally, the greater the impact and scope of the tragedy, the more likely that a memorial service a year later may be beneficial (please note: we memorialize September 11, 2001 nine years later but the recollection of Katrina is of a different quality and kind only five years later). Overall, schools should strive to bring healthy closure within reasonable periods of time, and for some incidents, a year later may be appropriate. My experience has been that most members of the larger community have moved on a year ofter most localized crises.
 
 
Do you see the Federal Government creating "SOPs" to put in place Nationally to act as a template for LEO and other Victim assistance groups?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 The National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) are two that come immediately to mind.
 
 
As a Victim Assistance Program, what would be your suggestion on cooperating with the school administration know services are available to help the students and their families after an incident of violence has occurred (short & long term)?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 First and foremost, have a prior relationship with the school and staff in question. Vetting services and professionals from outside the system is viewed as problematic and, often, because there is not opportunity to perform the requisite due diligence, these services may be refused. Make yourselves available for non-crisis supports and services and establish a track record with schools - they will call you first when a crisis happens!
 
 
I hope to never have a school incident, but from a preventive standpoint, how can Law Enforcement make the public understand the importance of police presence in the schools and necessity to train and run drills for this type of incident.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Best practice is when an officer has an ongoing relationship with the individuals in the school and is seen as a member of the school community, rather than someone that is only involved with crime and its immediate deterrence. The school should be the agency promoting the importance of readiness drills. It also helps to provide prior information to the community about an upcoming drill. The school, police and other emergency responders should mutually review after-action reports and identify what elements may be contributing to mistaken community perceptions.
 
 
How do you deal with the mentally disturbed child who witnesses a violent school incident and now returns to the school and acts out the incidet but may not understand what has just occurred and frightens the school administration that has been tramatized by the event.
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 I would first meet with the appropriate school team, whether that be student assistance or the staff overseeing special education and 504 services (I would presume that the student is one or the other). Mutually, we would decide whether the resources and skill level was present among the school staff to address this. It would also be necessary to speak with the student's outpatient treater and schedule an urgent appointment. Bring the family into the process as they may be facing similar issues at home.
 
 
Are there state funded counseling services available for victims of school violence? If so, are those services offered to the victims immediate family?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 I cannot respond for other states. In Connecticut, we have a statewide network of providers for emergency mobile psychiatric services and they have often been called in to assist with school crises. Generally, school funding and authority rests with the local education agency (LEA) and they typically negotiate with external agencies around supports.
 
 
What role do you think high school violence prevention classes, particularly dating violence awareness and prevention classes, can have in helping schools recover from incidents of violence?
 
1.  Scott Newgass
 Unfortunately, I am not aware of any attempts to measure the impact of curricular supports of this type being used to support recovery.
 
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