Abstract: A Monitoring-Systems Approach to School Violence Prevention and Substance Use Reduction in Middle and High Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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596P A Monitoring-Systems Approach to School Violence Prevention and Substance Use Reduction in Middle and High Schools

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, UCLA, Woodland Hills, CA
Rami Benbenishty, PhD
Kate Watson, MSW, Doctoral Student, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Background/Purpose: To a large extent, the school safety and school-based substance use reduction literatures have not focused on the role of organizational systems, support structures, regional resources, community partnerships, or policies. Interventions that are successful in changing resources, infrastructure, and capacity could produce sustainable and stronger reductions in violence and substance.

A social work empowerment monitoring approach targets district and community resource development, staff skills and climate tools, and organizational/human capacity building through an inclusive process—allowing for ground-up participatory activities in each school and community.

This study reports outcomes of secondary student victimization and substance use in targeted school districts using quantitative measures at five data points during an eight-year time-frame (2009-2017). The social work monitoring systems intervention began in 2010 (with baseline data collected in 2009) and spanned a three-year period with eight consortium school districts in California. Schools were then followed for four years after the intervention to assess sustainability of violence and substance use reductions.

Methods: Data and samples. We analyzed data from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) that has been administered by the California Department of Education and available to California secondary schools for over three decades. Seventh, 9th, and 11th graders in our sample received CHKS questionnaires examining substance use and school victimization in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Almost all students in those grades responded, with samples averaging 13,000 to 15,000 students in each of five waves.

Measures. The CHKS has over 33 relevant items that were converted into multiple, reliable indices related to victimization, school climate, and substance use. They include moderate victimization, serious victimization, school belonging, school connectedness, weapon exposure and involvement, gang participation, and suicidal ideation/mental health. Questions also cover a wide array of specific substances. These items and indices are common and have been used and reported in over 100 top peer-reviewed journal articles.

Results: We found that secondary students in consortium schools had strong and sustained, statistically significant reductions in moderate and severe forms of victimization, and in weapon use. For example, in 2009, 9.6 percent of students reported carrying a weapon on school grounds. This statistic dropped significantly in each wave and was sustained after the intervention ended. In 2017, 5.1 percent reported bringing a weapon on school grounds (a 47% reduction). A similar pattern of reductions and sustainability was evident in almost all the moderate or severe victimization and weapon-use items. Overall reductions were even stronger for substance use.

Conclusions and Implications. Our findings suggest a place-based, social work empowerment approach that focuses on building capacity, infrastructure, school organization, and positive climate specifically catered to each school’s needs could reduce school victimization and substance use, and sustain those results. Other studies should examine a systemic monitoring approach with school safety and substance use reduction in different geographic and cultural contexts.