School safety is a priority for parents and teachers as summer comes to an end.
While families and educators across the nation heal from the Uvalde, Texas school shooting effects, they simultaneously prepare to send youth back to the classroom after the summer break. The tragedy that occurred at Robb Elementary School was the 27th school shooting in 2022 and the deadliest since the one that took place in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Schools in the U.S. experience more gun violence than any other country. There is much debate about why this is and what can be done. One argument is for stricter gun laws, which include banning large-capacity magazines. Another is for red flag laws, which “allow a person … to go into court and secure an order from a court requiring the police to seize guns from someone who's demonstrated that they're a threat to themselves or others,” according to David French, senior editor of The Dispatch.
Meanwhile, a third argument is not gun-related at all. Rather, it focuses on mental health.
School Safety Must Include Mental Health Support
One month after the incident in Uvalde, Texas leaders announced they are allocating more than $100 million in funding for heightened school safety and better mental health programs throughout the state. The Hill County Mental Health and Development Disabilities Center is set to receive $5 million to help evaluate mental health services in Uvalde and assess what the community needs. Funds will be distributed to the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine program ($5.8 million), expansion of Multisystemic Therapy programs ($4.7 million), and broadened Coordinated Specialty Care for people with early onset psychosis, among other programs designed to increase school safety.
Around 15 million children suffer from mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders each year in the United States. Research shows that untreated mental disorders in youth are likely to lead to substance abuse problems, criminal activity involvement, and exiting the education system. Unfortunately, the majority of children don’t receive the help they need.
Many families in the US – even those with health insurance – struggle to afford or find mental health services for themselves and their children. Providing mental health support within a household can be overwhelming and exhausting for parents, especially if their kid exhibits dangerous behavior.
Similarly, school counselors and psychologists are often ill-equipped to provide required care to children in extreme distress. Although they are professionally trained to help students through difficult times, they lack the time and resources to help every youth and may not be able to locate who needs the most assistance.
Young people who do not receive adequate mental health assistance are more likely to enter the juvenile or criminal justice systems.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
The school-to-prison pipeline is a common metaphor used to describe how students are pushed out of the education system and into the justice system through policies and practices within schools that involve law enforcement.
Risk factors include:
- School exclusion – Suspensions, expulsions, disciplinary transfers, and “zero tolerance” disciplinary codes.
- Minority populations – Consequences are often disproportionally placed on minority and low-income populations, with poor students more likely to experience criminalized school discipline during elementary school.
- Criminal justice tools – Tools, such as metal detectors, security cameras, and on-premises police officers, result in schools mirroring prison settings.
Although these methods intend to increase safety, they often produce negative outcomes for children. Research shows:
- Students who have been suspended or expelled are 2x more likely to drop out than teens who have not. 95% of suspensions are for nonviolent offenses, such as violating the dress code or “disruptive behavior.”
- Black students are expelled or suspended 3x more frequently than White youth.
- 25% of students disciplined in middle to high school are involved in the juvenile justice system.
Education systems, government entities, and communities must recognize the school-to-pipeline issue and work to disrupt it. Multisystemic therapy (MST) is an intervention program designed to assist at-risk youth and their families. Participation can help teens refine their behavior, stay in school, and avoid criminal activity.
Can Mental Health Support Prevent School Shootings?
There is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to school shootings because many factors come into play and not every school shooting perpetrator suffers from a mental health disorder. However, untreated mental illness in children can cause refusal to participate in normal childhood activities which often leads to isolation and loneliness, nightmares, disobedience or aggressions, temper tantrums, and depression.
Whether a child experiences mental illness, trauma, an unsafe home environment, or another concerning factor, they may benefit from MST.
MST therapists work with youth and their caregivers at home, at their school, and within the community. They are available to provide support not only to children and their families but also to overwhelmed teachers and school counselors. This method helps students correct problem behavior at school and provides additional guidance to staff, so they can respond properly when difficult situations arise.
Research shows that MST helps support a safer home, which may include the removal of guns, a more stable support network for juveniles, and a reduction in criminal activity for parents and caregivers. Additionally, MST proves to be effective at reducing violent behavior in school. For example, in Charleston, SC, youth exhibited a 75% reduction in aggressive crimes after MST involvement.
Implementing MST in schools, communities, and homes can significantly improve youth behavior and mental health, thereby reducing violent crimes such as school shootings. As the global leader in evidence-based treatment for high-risk youth, MST feels a responsibility to do whatever it takes to reach and transform the lives of troubled teens so that we can foster safer communities.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs which could include but is not limited to the following types of interventions: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.