Monday, December 4, 2017

Parenting Pointers: Schools and Response to Dating Violence

Preventing and responding to incidents of teen dating violence is not a high priority for most American schools, even though the majority of high schools have assisted survivors, says a new study from Ball State University.

"Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence: A National Study of School Principals' Perspectives and Practices”published in Violence and Gender, is based on a national survey of high school principals.

This research found a majority (76 percent) of the school principals reported that they did not have a protocol in their schools to respond to an incident of teen dating violence. About 57 percent of school principals said that they had assisted a survivor of teen dating violence in the past two years. Disciplinary action against perpetrators of teen dating violence was sanctioned by 27 percent principals only.
“The lack of formal protocol is a key element in assisting student survivors of teen dating violence,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor in Ball State's College of Health and author of the study.
“School principals also perceived that dating violence is a minor issue and ‘we are not here to deal with dating problems,’” he said “Some principals who wanted to help victims of dating violence reported personnel shortage in their schools and that faculty and staff don’t have good training and skills.”
About 62 percent of respondents also said training to assist survivors of dating violence has not been provided to personnel in their schools in the last two years, and 68 percent of responding principals had never been formally trained and educated on issues related to teen dating violence.
The study also found:
  • The most common method of responding to a survivor of teen dating violence was referral to a school counselor, calling the parents and guardians or referral to legal authorities and police.
  • School principals who received formal training on teen dating violence and perceived dating violence to be a serious problem were significantly more likely to assist survivors of dating violence. 
  • The majority of school principals could not answer four out of nine knowledge questions related to teen dating violence.
  • Most schools do not post information on teen dating violence that is easily and publicly available to students.
  • Most of the principals believe that school counselors have a major role in assisting survivors of teen dating violence, but did not believe that health teachers or students have a major role in assisting survivors.
Khubchandani points out that the study is the first national assessment of the role of school principals in preventing and responding to teen dating violence.
I had a chance to interview Professor Khubchandani to learn more.
Why is it so important for schools to have a plan for responding to teen dating violence?
ResponseSchool personnel often serve as first responders. Teens may often prefer peers and teachers over parents to report a problem and seek help. In addition, schools can face legal issues if they do not deal with TDV appropriately and adequately. TDV has a medical side to it and a legal side. Schools may have to intervene in both medical and legal situations associated with TDV. In extreme situations like rape and murder, schools may be drawn into courts or there can be issues of bad reputation/ bad press.

How can schools address the issue with students proactively?
Response: TDV should be prevented at several levels. First, evidence-based education on healthy relationships, conflict management, TDV prevention should be provided. Many states now recommend such education. Second, periodic school level measurement/ surveys of health and risk behaviors in students should be conducted. Third, schools should post information in public places about TDV prevention and reporting of incidents. Schools should have a protocol to respond to incidents.

What should schools do if a student reports dating violence?
Schools should play an active role in providing medical, social, and legal services if an incident occurs.
First, primary care and first aid should be provided ASAP if there is an injury or medical problem- calling emergency medical services should also be a priority. Second, calling legal authorities such as police and child protection services is a must, schools may often avoid engaging these agencies, but that should not be the practice. Parents and legal guardians are a critical partner in successfully dealing with TDV incidents, especially in states that do not allow children to obtain protective orders or other help. Finally, a major missing piece in school practice is sanctioning disciplinary action against perpetrators- there should be clearly written policies on zero tolerance and schools should do everything possible to get the perpetrator face action. Both victims and perpetrators should receive rehabilitation and counseling.

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