There is growing recognition that violence is a complex social issue that affects youth in multiple contexts and systems. In response, many schools have implemented school safety plans and programs to address aggressive and violent behavior. Implementation of these interventions, however, is not enough. Proper evaluation is key to ensure effectiveness and accountability, adjust and improve, and provide valuable information to key collaborators.
The American Psychological Association has released “School Safety and Violence Prevention: Science, Practice, Policy,” which includes a chapter co-authored by Mandel School professor and Begun Center director Daniel J. Flannery and Albert D. Farrell, a clinical psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and member of Begun Center’s National Advisory Board. The chapter seeks to address the challenges and opportunities inherent in evaluating school-based violence prevention programs.
“Researchers have made the leap beyond asking whether a program works to asking for whom it works and the conditions that influence how well it works,” Flannery says. “These questions and their answers will bring us closer to safer educational environments for our youth.”
Flannery and Farrell take a public health approach to violence prevention and its evaluation.
The approach outlines four basic steps:
- Define the problem: Consider the who, what, when, and how. This step considers both victims and perpetrators, as well as the larger context in which the violence has occurred, and additionally identifies intervention goals. The scope of the intervention is important; for example, is the target location the whole school or more selectively a ‘hot spot’ area, like a playground or bus stop?
- Identify risk and protective factors at a number of levels: Take a close look at individuals, peers, families, schools and communities. Factors may include personal or familial beliefs, socioeconomic status, school norms, access to weapons, and positive peer or adult mentor influences. This stage may include focus groups and interviews, quantitative data review, logic modeling and concept mapping.
- Develop, test and implement the prevention strategy: Evaluation reveals the extent to which a strategy was implemented as intended, whether the desired changes occurred and how the strategy may be replicated. Here, the authors discuss threats to validity, unit of analysis, treatment conditions and more.
- Appropriately disseminate the findings of the evaluation: Different communication is needed for funders and policymakers than is needed for schools and community-based organizations. Dissemination should be brief, timely and thorough.