On Thursday, February 27, 2014, the Schubert Center hosted a panel of three experts on youth and violence as part of the 2013-2014 Schubert Center Conversation Series. Jim Adams, CEO of the Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services, Jean Frank, manager of community initiatives at the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, and Jeff Kretschmar, research assistant professor at the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, came together to provide perspectives on youth and violence prevalence, prevention and response. All three speakers emphasized that overall youth violent behaviors have decreased over time, suggesting effective prevention is taking place, and the importance of promoting developmental assets in working with young people.
Jean Frank discussed findings on violence perpetration and victimization from the Cuyahoga County Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a biannual survey of students in grades 7 through 12 that covers a wide range of topics related to health and risk behaviors. Frank discussed how protective factors, such as academic and community engagement and parental involvement, were found to be significant in preventing youth violence perpetration. Jeff Kretschmar examined data on youth violence exposure and the Behavioral Health/Juvenile Justice initiative (BHJJ). BHJJ is a diversion program for juvenile-justice involved youth to keep youth in communities with evidence-based mental/behavioral health treatment programs rather than state correctional facilities. The Schubert Center is among a group of partners engaged in a policy effort to divert youth from detention to community-based programs. Since 2006, BHJJ has served over 2,500 youth from 11 counties, over half of whom have been victims of or exposed to violence. Kretschmar discussed how the BHJJ program has been highly successful in reducing trauma symptoms and preventing continued involvement in the justice system.
Jim Adams provided a unique perspective on recovery from violence through his experience directing response to the Chardon High School shooting on this two-year anniversary. He emphasized that school shootings are statistically extremely rare events, making it difficult to study the risk factors for the event, noting specifically that risk factors are not predictive factors. He also stressed that contrary to media concerns, people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than to perpetrate violence. He discussed the importance of community-wide trauma-informed responses, as the impact of school shootings extends beyond the school involved. Finally, he addressed how social media and cell phones can improve responses to violence, with students able to contact family members and provide police with real-time updates via text messages when phone lines are down and organize community events utilizing social media. Adams and other researchers are currently beginning a five-year longitudinal study of immediate interventions following trauma and long-term mental health outcomes for students, first responders and community members. When asked what single policy could make the biggest difference for school safety, Adams believes promoting reduced access to guns, including the presence of guns in schools.