In the wake of the recent shooting tragedies in Slocan and Ottawa, School District 8 staff and their community partners are working to implement an anti-violence and risk assessment strategy for the West Kootenay region. During a three-day training session at the Prestige Lakeside Resort, participants heard from Theresa Campbell, president of Safer Schools Together.
“We’re delivering the third year of the province’s Erase Bullying strategy,” said Campbell, who travels across North America delivering professional development seminars. This year’s training centred primarily around violence risk assessment.
“So what do you do when a kid brings a weapon to school? Or threatens to kill online? We need to be engaged in multi-disciplinary assessment responses for better interventions for our youth,” she said.
Having experienced and studied many school shootings and violent incidents in-depth, she said often there were worrisome behaviours that were overlooked in the lead-up to a tragic event. For instance, according to Campbell there were a number of other contributing factors to teen Amanda Todd’s suicide in 2012, and she feels media over-simplified the conflict as a straightforward case of cyberbullying.
The reality is often much more complex, she said.
“When you think about a worst case scenario like a school-based shooting, afterwards we often have people express disbelief. They’ll say `he seemed like such a good kid’ or `he was doing so well,” she said.
“But in most cases there were earlier indicators that the individual was on a pathway to engage in serious violence. There were other signs and data showing us they’re having a difficult time. Maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s something they wrote in an essay, but in most cases we find other troubling behaviours after the fact.”
Campbell champions a multi-sectoral approach in which teachers, administrators and community partners such as the police and emergency personnel collaborate on identifying troubling behaviours and working to intervene before violent incidents occur.
Campbell said many in the community aren’t familiar with the legislation surrounding when and if it’s appropriate to share information between agencies, and she’s hoping to address that.
“Our focus is on getting more data-driven assessments, whether we’re talking about bullying-based behaviour or violence-based behaviour, behaviour that resides in the homicidal or suicidal domain,” she said.
“People get defensive of their territories, and quite often they don’t know what they’re allowed to share. What’s a counsellor allowed to share? What’s a police officer allowed to share?”
In many instances, it’s more than they realize, she said.
Social media has become a prevalent force, both in a positive and a negative way, and Campbell aims to equip teachers and parents with the tools necessary to monitor their kids. During the presentation she displayed some of the shocking content teenagers post online, including a disturbing rise in images of self-harm.
But at the end of the day, Campbell said much of the responsibility still remains with parents.
“Even with a comprehensive strategy in place, the challenge still remains with parents,” she said, noting that they’re a huge resource for educators looking to intervene in the lives of troubled youth.
“We’re caring and compassionate people in education, but you can multiple that by 100 for those parents who are seeing the signs and indicators.”
She said the key is to intervene early, so once a direct threat or a problematic behaviour is identified, they have to ensure the child isn’t on the continuum towards a homicidal or suicidal crisis.
One key element in monitoring troubled kids is keeping a close eye on their phones and electronic devices.She encourages parents and administrators to have candid, specific conversations with their charges about their devices and the activities they’re engaged in.
“Pick up your child’s device, have a conversation, make your expectations clear,” she said.
Campbell will also be talking about and addressing the implications and consequences of violent events.
“We need to be talking to kids regularly about what they’re exposed to and have an open discussion about how it impacted that individual. There was an impact, but are we prepared to find it? Look for it?” she asked.
“The most important thing is healthy conversations. If we don’t talk about it, it won’t get better.”