The tragic acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School have shaken the entire nation. It pushed all of us to come together to share our repulsion and grief. It led us to talk about how to move forward in light of this tragic event, how to prevent violence before it happens, and how to create peaceful communities with thriving youth.
Inclinations to intensify security in schools are being reconsidered. Parents and teachers, however, have warned us that we should not turn our schools into fortresses. Other emphases have focused on asking whether the shooter could have been identified ahead of time, the presence of mental illness and identifying the characteristics of mass shooters that can shed a light on his motivation for the heinous act. These concerns highlight the need for more mental health support resources and threat assessment teams in every school. The goal is for people to seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in the school parking lot.
This time the tragedy took place in a school. But plenty of shootings occur in communities throughout the United States every day. Few of them occur in schools and though they are especially tragic, children are safer in schools than in almost any other place, including for many, their own homes. Data from the National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence shows that children’s exposure to violence is pervasive in the United States and that it has an accumulated effect. If a child is exposed to one type of violence he/she is more likely to be experience other types of victimization. The economic costs of violence are high, but the social costs, even though less quantifiable, are even higher. Evidence suggests that children and youth exposed to violence in their home and communities are at greater risk of developing physical, mental and socially negative outcomes.
Violence is preventable and there is a strong and growing evidence base to support that fact. However, because prevention occurs well before the violence would occur — and if it is successful, violence doesn’t occur at all— activities may not be recognized as violence prevention at all.
The nation’s approach to violence has largely been to wait to act until a violent event occurs that causes considerable harm. All too often, opportunities are missed to use evidence-based approaches to prevent the occurrence, establish building blocks for healthy development in all young people and limit the family, environment and community violence that increase risks.
Check back with us tomorrow as we address some of the questions many have had in the wake of this tragic shooting.