The success of school violence prevention requires systems and processes that can identify individuals at risk and intervene effectively. Research shows that early detection and intervention are important to protect the public and to provide a chance to intervene and redirect individuals before they negatively affect their own lives and others around them. Similarly, when it comes to school settings, violence can be prevented when communities identify warning behaviors and take steps to intervene. The key is to strengthen school reporting and prevent violence before it occurs.
The willingness of bystanders to come forward with concerns for the wellness and safety of themselves or others is a key component of student health and violence prevention efforts in kindergarten through 12th grade (K12) schools. Reporting programs are designed to provide students and other community members with a trusted avenue for seeking help and reporting concerns when issues arise involving student wellness or safety. These systems facilitate early intervention when concerns are reported, thereby helping to prevent targeted violence and other negative outcomes. Schools often face challenges in developing or adopting reporting systems, however, as the available resources and expertise may be limited. Additionally, many students and adults are reluctant to report information, even when reporting platforms and programs have been made available.
Key Strategies to Strengthen Reporting
This toolkit emphasizes five takeaway strategies for local education agencies to consider as they seek to further encourage and support reporting in their unique environment. They are:
- Encourage bystanders to report concerns for the wellness and safety of themselves or others. Promote early intervention and allow local education agencies and communities to provide increased support to students. In addition to threats of school violence, promote the reporting of issues that indicate a student is in need of resources or support, including bullying, drug use, self-harm, suicidal ideations, or depression.
- Make reporting accessible and safe for the reporting community. Consider and prioritize the privacy of bystanders and those who are the subject of reports. Ensure Anonymity or confidentiality for reporting parties to reduce bystander hesitancy. Offer multiple reporting avenues to reduce or remove barriers. Ensure appropriate training for analysts who receive reports, to help bystanders feel more trusting when reporting.
- Follow up on reports and be transparent about the actions taken in response to reported concerns. Use clear communication to reduce uncertainty about the reporting process and instill trust in students through actions taken. When applicable, use two-way communication to further engage with reporting parties. Demonstrate timely response for all methods of reporting. Assess reports based on observed behaviors rather than traits or profiles of students to promote fairness and appropriate outcomes for all students. Share data publicly that shows the impact of your reporting program.
- Make reporting a part of daily school life. Develop effective promotional materials. Make your reporting program easily recognizable as part of your positive school climate. Utilize promotional materials and events throughout the year to remind various audiences about the resources available and the importance of reporting.
- Create a positive climate where reporting is valued and respected. Build and sustain supportive and trusting student-staff relationships. Help students view adults in schools as trusted individuals. When applicable, foster trusting relationships between student populations and school-based law enforcement or school resource officers (SROs). Strive for a climate where people of all backgrounds feel secure, important, and valued.
Confidential vs. Anonymous Reporting
An important consideration when implementing a reporting system is whether to offer an option for anonymous or confidential reporting. When reports are taken anonymously, individuals can submit reports without providing any information that could be used to identify them, reducing fear of potential retaliation. However, anonymous reports may be traced in the event of an imminent threat or a malicious false report. Alternatively, a confidential reporting option collects information about the reporting individual, but their identity is not revealed to anyone outside of the reporting app. Confidential reports allow trained analysts to follow up with the reporter and collect any remaining information that may be necessary to address a concern.
Anonymous and confidential reporting options can broaden the appeal of reporting, especially for students
who are concerned about being identified and ostracized by their peers after reporting. Research finds that the fear of being ostracized, or experiencing other forms of retaliation, is a significant barrier to reporting.
Some students may feel more comfortable reporting their concerns directly to adults rather than through a mobile application or tip line, and some schools might perceive in-person communication between students and school staff as sufficient to keep their schools safe. This model may be more appropriate for small districts or schools, where students feel comfortable going to a teacher they know well rather than in larger schools or districts. Moreover, some school communities may be forced to rely on in-person communication due to limitations on staff and funding. In these cases, it is vital that school staff are trained on where and how to pass reports they receive directly from students or others, and that structured protocols for responding to reports are in place.
Grant & Funding Opportunities
The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse has developed a Grants Finder Tool with easy-to-use features to assist schools and districts in finding funding opportunities for reporting programs, no matter their level of expertise or familiarity with federal grant programs. There are also funds available for Emergency Notification Systems such as ACTIVATE for when a crisis does occur and schools must go on lock-down. For more information, visit SchoolSafety.gov.