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Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders http://ebx.sagepub.com/

The Developmental Dynamics of Aggression and the Prevention of School Violence Thomas W. Farmer, Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, David B. Estell and Bryan C. Hutchins Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 2007 15: 197 DOI: 10.1177/10634266070150040201 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ebx.sagepub.com/content/15/4/197

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The Developmental Dynamics of Aggression and the Prevention of School Violence

THOMAS W. FARMER, ELIZABETH M. Z. FARMER, DAVID B. ESTELL, AND BRYAN C. HUTCHINS

he authors consider school violence from a dynamic systems conceptualization of aggression. This perspective suggests that aggression and school violence involve the contributions of both school social dynamics and the developmental histories of youth who are at risk for involvement in antisocial behavior. The authors present the concept of correlated constraints to describe the systematic alignment of developmental factors and their role in behavioral continuity and realignment. Building from this perspective, the authors present a theoretical framework that complements public health models of prevention to guide the establishment of comprehensive programs for preventing aggressive and violent behavior in schools. This framework suggests that three distinct but complementary levels of intervention are required to effectively reduce school violence: (a) universal strategies to address contextual factors, including the social dynamics of aggression and the activities of “conventional” peers that promote interpersonal conflict; (b) selective strategies for supporting the strengths of at-risk youth to prevent the negative reorganization of their developmental systems; and (c) indicated strategies involving coordinated services from multiple providers to reorganize the developmental systems of high-risk youth (i.e., youth with emotional and behavioral disorders).

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The growth of concerns about youth violence has been accompanied by an increased focus on the prevention of antisocial behavior in schools (Hoagwood, 2000). Three distinct but related approaches—universal, selective, and indicated strategies— have emerged that reflect the prevention framework outlined by the Institute of Medicine (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). Universal strategies (e.g., schoolwide discipline, schoolwide social skills training) have been developed to promote behavioral competence in all students (Lewis, Powers, Kelk, & Newcomber, JOURNAL

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2002; Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin, 1998). Selective strategies have been created to target youth who show evidence of risk for developing antisocial patterns (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1999, 2002). Indicated strategies have been established to address the intervention needs of youth with disruptive behavior disorders (Kamps, Kravits, Rauch, Kamps, & Chung, 2000). In addition, researchers have developed model prevention programs that combine two or more intervention levels (i.e., universal, selective, and indicated; Bierman et al., 2000; Guerra, Huesmann, Tolan, Van Acker, & Eron, 1993; Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott, & Hill, 1999; Kamps, Kravits, Stolze, & Swaggart, 1999; Reid, Eddy, Fetrow, & Stoolmiller, 1999). Model programs have been useful for determining effective prevention approaches; however, schools and related service providers (i.e., mental health, health, juvenile justice, social services) must develop prevention programs that meet the unique needs of youth in their communities and that utilize their existing resources. To guide such efforts, schools and providers need a conceptual framework for a comprehensive system of preventive interventions that (a) extends across the different levels (T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001; T. W. Farmer, Xie, Cairns, & Hutchins, 2007) and (b) enhances the development of a collaborative interagency service-delivery structure (Hoagwood, 2000). In this article, we use a developmental science perspective (e.g., Cairns, 2000; Magnusson & Cairns, 1996) for articulating a theoretical framework to guide the development of comprehensive school violence prevention programs. These programs will build on existing models of prevention that utilize a three-tiered approach (i.e., universal, selective, indicated)

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to intervention (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994; Walker & Sprague, 1999). Accordingly, this discussion does not present new models of school violence prevention. Rather, the intention is to consider how a developmental systems model of aggression and school violence can be used to help clarify intervention goals and approaches for the different levels of existing prevention models. To accomplish this, we address two related aims. First, we consider school violence in relation to the developmental dynamics of aggression and conflict. This involves understanding how both the school social context and the developmental histories of at-risk children contribute to aggression and violence in schools. Second, we present a developmental science framework of school violence prevention and discuss its implications for intervention and service delivery. This involves considering how knowledge about the developmental dynamics of aggression and violence can be used to guide the development and implementation of interventions at the universal, selective, and indicated levels.

DEVELOPMENTAL DYNAMICS OF AGGRESSION AND CONFLICT Developmental science centers on how different factors come together to collectively influence and modify behavior patterns across the life span and generations (Cairns, 2000). Consistent with ecological approaches to treatment for troubled youth (e.g., Hobbs, 1982), the focus is on understanding the dynamic interplay among individual and environmental factors. Two key perspectives emerge from developmental science to provide a valuable framework for understanding and preventing school violence. The first perspective is that behavior patterns should be understood in relation to their social function. The second perspective is that developmental factors work together as a system of correlated constraints. When considered together, these two perspectives help to clarify the complexity of youth violence in schools.

Social Function of Conflict and Aggression From early childhood through adolescence, youth use various forms of aggression to protect and control their social positions and to meet their social needs (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). Preschool aggression has been positively associated with later social competence (Vaughn, Bost, & Vollenweider, 2001); elementary students who went from a rejected status to an average status demonstrated corresponding increases in aggression (Sandstrom & Coie, 1999); and in a study by Coie and Dodge (1998), no more than half of the children named by classmates as highly aggressive had rejected status. Likewise, many aggressive youth hold prominent positions in the social structure and are perceived by peers and teachers as being “cool� or popular (T. W. Farmer & Rodkin, 1996; Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van Acker, 2000). Although such youth may not be well liked,

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they may still have dominant social roles (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). In fact, researchers have recently argued that some aggressive youth have high levels of social competence and use aggression as a tool to manipulate their social worlds (Hawley, 1999; Sutton, Smith, & Swettenham, 1999; Vaughn, Vollenweider, Bost, Azria-Evans, & Snider, 2003). Hawley (2003) referred to such youth as well-adapted Machiavellians, after the 16th-century political philosopher who promoted the use of coercive and prosocial practices as strategies for gaining political power. In the present case, these well-adapted Machiavellian youth use aggression, as well as prosocial strategies, to meet their social needs. The point here is not that aggression is good but that it is commonplace and extends far beyond the domain of youth who are considered to be at risk for serious disorders. In both preschool and elementary school, children form hierarchical social structures in which some individuals and peer groups are more popular and influential than others (Adler & Adler, 1996; Strayer & Trudel, 1984). Taunting, teasing, rough-and-tumble play, direct confrontation, and physical attacks are forms of aggression that children (particularly boys) use to demonstrate their prowess and to establish and protect their positions in the social structure (T. W. Farmer, 2000; Pellegrini, 1998). Social aggression emerges in early adolescence as youth (particularly girls) learn to use the social network as a form of aggressive expression (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). Socially aggressive strategies (e.g., gossiping, starting rumors, turning friends against each other, ostracizing certain people) are usually concealed, and they allow the perpetrator to avoid direct confrontation (Xie, Swift, Cairns, & Cairns, 2002). Youth who are adept at social aggression tend to be nuclear in the social structure and to have a relatively good understanding of the classroom or school social dynamics, whereas youth with lower social positions and less understanding of these dynamics cannot manipulate the social network as well, if at all (Xie, Farmer, & Cairns, 2003; Xie, Cairns, & Cairns, 2002; Xie, Cairns, & Cairns, 2005). Although the perpetrator usually avoids physical confrontation, social aggression can lead to conflict and physical confrontation among individuals who are the targets of such an attack. Social dominance and influence in the social structure also come into play in bullying. Although some bullies are themselves victims of aggression, many of them have high social positions and are able to get peers to support their behavior (Atlas & Pepler, 1998; Salmivalli, Huttunen, & Lagerspetz, 1997). In fact, bullying episodes in elementary school tend to involve several peers as onlookers, helpers, and encouragers. Although some children (particularly girls) will come to the aid of the targeted child, many youth appear to respond in ways that are aimed at protecting their status in the social structure. In addition, bullying is often overlooked or undetected by teachers, and peers tend not to report such behavior to adults. Not only is aggression a common part of the daily interpersonal dynamics in school, it appears that highly aggressive youth are dispersed throughout classroom and school social structures. A prevalent view in the intervention literature is that

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aggressive youth are rejected by conventional peers and become members of deviant peer groups. Consistent with this view, research on school social networks has suggested that aggressive youth affiliate with peer who are similar to them (Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Xie, Cairns, & Cairns, 1999). The distribution of aggressive youth in peer groups is actually highly variable. Some groups are composed almost exclusively of aggressive youth, others are about half aggressive and half not, and still others contain only one or two aggressive members (T. W. Farmer et al., 2002). Furthermore, distinct subtypes of aggressive youth can be differentiated in terms of popularity (Estell, Cairns, Farmer, & Cairns, 2002; Rodkin et al., 2000). Popular aggressive youth are more likely to associate with other popular and aggressive peers, whereas unpopular aggressive youth are more likely to associate with nonaggressive and unpopular peers (Bagwell, Coie, Terry, & Lochman, 2000; T. W. Farmer et al., 2002). Hierarchical social structures both constrain and promote interpersonal conflict, and perhaps in some cases they lead to violence. As early as the preschool years, children and youth compete for limited resources at the instrumental (e.g., possessions, activities) and social (e.g., friendships, status) levels (Hawley, 1999). Social dominance structures emerge from conflict as youth vie for the same resources. In turn, such structures help control conflict because less dominant youth acquiesce to their more dominant peers (Strayer & Trudel, 1984). On the one hand, hierarchical social structures provide a natural mechanism for limiting aggression. On the other hand, an individual’s position in the social network can be highly important, and hierarchical structures may support the use of aggression as youth work to establish, protect, and improve their social positions (T. W. Farmer, 2000). When considered in this light, the social dynamics of school violence become clearer. Children who dislike each other tend to have different levels of status or popularity (Rodkin, Pearl, Farmer, & Van Acker, 2003). Instead of popular and unpopular aggressive youth associating together in a single deviant peer group, some popular aggressive youth may associate with other popular aggressive or conventional peers and bully, tease, and taunt aggressive youth who are in unpopular groups (T. W. Farmer et al., 2002). Such situations may heighten antagonism across peer groups and exacerbate the likelihood of violence.

Correlated Constraints and High-Risk Youth Behavior development involves the integrated contributions of factors that are internal (e.g., cognitive, emotional, neurobiological, physiological) and external (e.g., cultural, ecological, economic, social) to the individual (Magnusson & Cairns, 1996). Such factors bidirectionally influence each other and work together as a dynamic system (Sameroff, 1995). Because the factors are mutually influential, they tend to be correlated and to constrain individual developmental pathways (Cairns, McGuire, & GariĂŠpy, 1993). JOURNAL

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Depending on the factors that make up a child’s developmental system, correlated constraints can positively or negatively affect behavioral growth (Gest, Mahoney, & Cairns, 1999). When the developmental system consists primarily of positive factors (e.g., academic success, athletic competence, positive relationships with peers, supportive relationships with adults, sufficient resources), correlated constraints protect against the development of antisocial behavior patterns. As risks are introduced to the system, positive factors constrain their negative impact and promote adaptations that increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. Correlated constraints can have deleterious consequences, however, if the system is composed primarily of risk factors (e.g., academic difficulties, attention problems, high activity levels, social skill problems, associations with antisocial peers, lack of supportive relationships with adults, inadequate resources; T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001). When a system is centered on negative correlated risks, the positive impact of interventions aimed at changing a single risk factor (e.g., social skill deficits) is likely to be short-lived because other risks may be working in concert to sustain problematic behavior patterns (T. W. Farmer, Quinn, Hussey, & Holahan, 2001). Characteristics of Youth Involved in Extreme Violence. The concept of correlated constraints is readily apparent in the developmental trajectories of youth who are antisocial and/or violent. Youth who develop aggressive and violent behavior patterns tend to have multiple individual, social, and family risks, including academic problems, attention problems, hyperactivity, social information processing difficulties, peer rejection, associations with deviant peers, coercive family systems, and poor parental monitoring (Coie & Dodge, 1998; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998). Reviews of the common risk factors involved in recent school shootings indicated the involvement of the variables previously listed, along with other factors that were temporally proximal to the shootings. These factors included stressful events and loss of status, a sudden decline in functioning, an increased interest in violence and weapons, the lack of a prosocial support system, communication of violent intentions, and the experience of a recent loss (Miller et al., 2000; Verlinden, Hersen, & Thomas, 2000). In addition, youth who were involved in school shootings indicated that their motives were to obtain justice against peers or adults who they believed had wronged them and to obtain a higher status or greater importance among their peers. In most cases, the assailants were angry about being teased and desired revenge against particular individuals or groups. The Lack of Positive Constraints. Although it is widely accepted that youth who become involved in extreme violence tend to experience multiple risks, less of a focus has been placed on the absence of positive constraints. As suggested in reviews of the characteristics of violent youth (e.g., Borum, 2000; Lipsey & Derzon, 1998; Miller et al., 2000), students who commit serious violent acts appear to be disconnected from positive

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social values and to lack individual and social constraints that protect against extreme behavior. Success in a few domains may help to prevent otherwise at-risk youth from becoming involved in violence. Positive individual constraints (e.g., academic competence, athletic competence) and positive social constraints (e.g., involvement in extracurricular activities, development of positive relationships with supportive adults, positive engagement with peers who are not accepting of antisocial behavior) are related to adaptive behavior patterns in youth who are at risk for aggressive behavior and violence (Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Mahoney, 2000; Mahoney, Cairns, & Farmer, 2003; O’Donnell, Hawkins, & Abbott, 1995; Reid et al., 1999).

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Predicting actual episodes of school violence, particularly planned violence in which the perpetrator selects a target prior to the violent incident, is difficult (Mulvey & Cauffman, 2001; Reddy et al., 2001). Considerable concerns have also been expressed about efforts to identify or “profile” students as being at risk for involvement in school violence. Consequently, while it may be necessary for schools to have strategies and procedures for identifying and intervening with “targeted violence” before such acts are carried out (Reddy et al., 2001), school staff also need to develop interventions for reducing the likelihood that youth will engage in planned or unplanned acts of violence. Research on the developmental dynamics of aggression has suggested that comprehensive contextual and individually oriented approaches can be put into place that are not aimed at the risk of violence by particular youth per se but instead center on promoting their overall adjustment. Such efforts should systematically focus on providing universal, selective, and indicated services to enhance the adaptation of all students (T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001).

Intervention Implications of the Developmental Science Framework

Developmental Science Framework of School Violence Prevention Three points emerge from developmental science to help guide the establishment of school violence prevention programs: 1. The focus must be on how the general context affects the adaptation of all students (T. W. Farmer, 2000). 2. We need to understand the organization of the developmental system of individual children and youth who evidence difficulties; that is, is the child’s developmental system organized around positive or negative constraints? (T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001). 3. We must understand how different interventions can be brought together to either prevent or promote the reorganization of the developmental systems of youth who experience problems (T. W. Farmer et al., 2001; Gallagher, Dadisman, Farmer, Huss, & Hutchins, 2007).

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These points complement the Institute of Medicine’s prevention framework (i.e., universal, selective, indicated; Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994) and the previous public health model of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 2001; Sprague & Walker, 2000; Walker & Sprague, 1999). More specifically, they act as a guide for three distinct intervention goals that correspond with the different levels of prevention. At the universal level, interventions should be aimed at developing general classroom and school contexts that reduce conflict by promoting the academic, behavioral, and social adjustment of all students. At the selective level, intervention goals should focus on preventing the negative reorganization of the developmental systems of youth who have one or two difficulties but who otherwise experience a system of positive constraints (i.e., at-risk youth). At the indicated level, interventions should center on promoting the positive reorganization of the developmental systems of youth who experience a system of correlated risks (i.e., youth with emotional and behavioral disorders [EBD]). What we propose here is not a new model of prevention but rather a theoretical framework to help guide service delivery and intervention development. For the most part, this does not mean that new interventions should be created. Instead, extant interventions (i.e., effective practices) need to be identified as relevant to particular needs in the school and systematically organized with regard to how they are implemented relative to each other (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Therefore, rather than offering new strategies, our aims with this framework are to (a) help schools identify what their strengths and needs are and (b) provide a guide to help them determine which interventions will be responsive to their students’ needs at each of the prevention levels. We are including questions to help schools assess their universal, selective, and targeted intervention needs and providing intervention strategies and examples for each level.

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Universal Strategies. Universal prevention refers to interventions that are desirable for use with all students and are aimed toward the general public (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). There are three general domains (academic, behavioral, social) within the school context that tend to affect each other and collectively contribute to environments that may promote conflict and aggression. To assess a school’s universal intervention needs, the following four broad questions should be addressed: 1. What general activities and practices in each of these domains are associated with conflict and aggression? 2. What interventions can be universally applied to address problems in a specific domain? 3. How do the various problems affect each other across the different domains?

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4. How can different universal interventions be brought together to systematically address the collective contributions of these problems? Several questions should be considered within the academic domain: • Are there certain aspects of the instructional routine that promote problems? For example, does conflict occur between students and teachers because students are unprepared for class? • Do teachers have difficulty getting class started? • Do students have difficulties staying on task and keeping motivated? • Do students have problems mastering and completing assignments? Universal strategies to address such problems may include standard procedures for greeting students as they enter class, routines for introducing class activities, routines for reviewing previous work and presenting new materials, general strategies to adapt curricula to students’ interests and skill levels, and routines to recognize students’ successes and accomplishments. Within the behavioral domain, we must identify settings and situations in which behavior problems most frequently occur and the discipline or management strategies that tend to escalate such problems. Examples include the following: • Are discipline problems most likely to occur during unstructured nonacademic activities (e.g., unsupervised playground activities, class transitions, lunch period)? • Do they occur when students are unengaged or unclear as to academic or behavioral expectations? • Do they occur when students are frustrated with an assignment or distracted by something that has occurred outside the classroom? • Do certain discipline practices (e.g., public reprimands, threats of consequences, use of in-school suspension) tend to escalate behavior problems? Universal strategies to address such issues may include developing routines to monitor and structure nonacademic activities, reviewing expectations before beginning a new activity, establishing routines to reframe an activity to correspond with students’ immediate level of tolerance and interest, and developing discipline and management techniques that use positive approaches to teach and reinforce appropriate behavior. In the social domain, universal interventions should focus on both the promotion of youths’social competence and the prevention of classroom and school interpersonal dynamics that lead to conflict and aggression: • Are there general social skills problems that tend to result in interpersonal difficulties? JOURNAL

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• Are there hierarchical social structures that promote bullying and conflict? • Is aggressive and violent behavior associated with higher levels of prominence, status, and influence in the social structure? • How do peers support aggressive behavior? • Are there enemy peer groups? Universal strategies to address these issues may include schoolwide or grade-wide training programs to ameliorate common social skills problems, social network interventions that reduce the social influence of bullies by increasing teachers’ awareness and understanding of hierarchical social structures, and strategies to promote tolerance and acceptance across peer groups and cliques. Although schools need to have universal strategies to address problems in each domain, different strategies can sometimes conflict, and a strategy that is effective in one domain may promote problems in other domains. For example, a peer tutoring strategy may be effective at promoting students’ reading interest and performance, but if the pairings are not done carefully, they may help to promote hierarchical social structures or increase interpersonal tensions among students. Likewise, behavior management strategies that recognize and reinforce students for their accomplishments may result in the identification of some students as the “good kids” and other students as the “problem kids.” Therefore, the collective impact of the different universal strategies should be constantly monitored and assessed, and adjustments should be made as students develop new skills and needs. Likewise, because behavior develops as a dynamic system, a format for anticipating change and systematically adapting universal intervention approaches across the different domains should be in place. In addition to universal strategies, youth who experience difficulties need individualized interventions that correspond with the contexts in which they are embedded. For example, academic strategies at the individual level should take into consideration the instructional supports and constraints that are present in a child’s ecology. Positive outcomes are likely to be maximized when universal and individualized interventions are brought together to optimize the fit between the characteristics of the child and the realities of the environment. Therefore, the selective and indicated strategies that are developed must be responsive to both the unique strength and needs of the youth and the school’s universal intervention framework. Selective Strategies. Selective prevention refers to interventions that are aimed at individuals whose risk for developing problems is above average (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). Youth who require selective interventions have one or two risk factors but otherwise experience a system of positive constraints. The overall goals are to (a) prevent such risks from causing the entire developmental system to reorganize into a system of correlated risks and (b) promote the successful adaptation of the child in areas where he or she is at risk.

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For youth who need selective prevention, the following four considerations should be addressed: 1. How do universal strategies affect the youth’s academic, behavioral, and social adjustment? The aim is to identify existing contextual supports and to build individualized strategies around them. 2. What individualized strategies can be put into place to ameliorate the youth’s risks and to help tailor the context to her or his needs? The aim is to bring the youth’s skills and the demands of the environment into alignment. 3. What individualized interventions are needed to support the positive constraints that the youth experiences? The goal is to prevent the negative reorganization of the youth’s developmental system by sustaining positive factors that will promote adaptation in the areas in which the child is experiencing risk. 4. How can the youth’s progress be monitored in a positive and supportive way to ensure that her or his developmental system does not reorganize in a negative manner? For example, consider a boy who has attentional difficulties and is overly active. In elementary school, he took medication to help control his attention and activity problems. In addition, his teachers structured the classroom context and his assignments so that he got along reasonably well with his peers and was able to perform at grade level in academics. He was good in outdoor activities and was involved in a variety of community sports leagues. At home, he usually got along well with family members but occasionally had difficulties related to frustrating homework assignments and issues involving delayed gratification (e.g., not getting to go out and play when he wanted to, having to share TV time with his sister). As he transitioned to middle school, however, things began to change. The school and classroom contexts were less structured, and he had difficulty replacing the supportive relationships with teachers that had helped to promote his adaptation in elementary school. He began having difficulty keeping up with assignments, and his homework became a major source of tension at home. As he fell further behind, he was less attentive in class, began making bad grades, was often reprimanded for being off task, and became increasingly oppositional with adults both at school and at home. He also began to have more conflicts with classmates and his sister, and he started hanging around with aggressive peers who were frequently getting into trouble both at school and in the community. Corresponding with these changes, he began to lose interest in organized sports and stopped participating in youth sports leagues. By the end of the eighth grade, he was failing his classes, often truant, frequently in fights, and involved in substance abuse and delinquency. Selective intervention strategies guided by a developmental science framework could have prevented the negative reorganization of the developmental system of this boy. In this approach, intervention efforts should have emphasized supporting the student’s strengths as his academic problems began

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to surface. Clearly, the strength of positive and supportive relationships with teachers needed to be continued during the middle school transition: One or two teachers could have taken on an informal mentoring role to “check in” with him frequently and to help him negotiate the new demands of the middle school context. Such mentors could have helped him communicate his special learning needs to his other teachers, and they could have identified social opportunities that promoted friendships with positive peers. These mentors could also have checked in with his parents to see how things were going at home and to identify other strengths (e.g., sports participation) that they could have encouraged and reinforced by showing the student their interest in them. As the youth began to experience academic difficulties, a concerted effort should have focused on ameliorating his problems. It would have been helpful for his teachers to talk both with him and to each other to identify the nature of his difficulties and the degree to which he needed additional supports to augment ongoing universal strategies. Teaching this boy selfmonitoring skills and new routines for staying on task and processing his assignments would have likely been very helpful. Individualized tutoring to work with specific difficulties might also have been warranted. In addition, his homework should have been adjusted to ensure that the student would be successful in completing his assignments. For example, the bulk of his work should have involved practice with material that he had already mastered; only a small portion should have involved new or cutting-edge material. In such a scenario, efforts to support past strengths and ameliorate new difficulties should be augmented by establishing additional natural supports. In this particular case, as the student began to show progress in academics, involving him in an extracurricular activity that built on his strengths (e.g., sports, a club that reflected his outdoor interests) would have helped him to develop a positive social role within the school context. In addition, it would have given him the opportunity to develop positive informal relationships with other adults (e.g., coaches, club sponsors). As such involvement and supports took hold and as the student experienced success in the classroom, this positive developmental system probably would have sustained itself without additional formal monitoring or intervention. Indicated Strategies. Indicated prevention refers to interventions for youth who manifest multiple problems that are symptomatic of a disorder (e.g., EBD; Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). Such youth need multilevel interventions to address their multiple problems (Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998). From the perspective of correlated constraints, such efforts should extend beyond the amelioration of specific problems and focus on the reorganization of the child’s developmental system (T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001). This includes examining the interconnections of the various problematic factors, identifying how the different factors support and sustain each other, and developing individualized treatment plans to systematically address the factors as a collective

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unit (T. W. Farmer et al., 2001). Indicated prevention requires a systematic approach to treatment that will bring together providers from multiple sectors and agencies (e.g., education, special education, mental health, health, social services, community recreation, juvenile justice; Kutash, Duchnowski, & Friedman, 2005; Stroul & Friedman, 1986). Developing such preventive, multifaceted interventions for youth with EBD requires addressing several considerations: 1. A comprehensive assessment strategy should be created. (What are the factors that contribute to the youth’s difficulties and how are they related to each other?) 2. A coordinating mechanism should be established to manage a team consisting of various providers whose areas of expertise correspond with the child’s risks and needs. (What services are needed to address the different problems and how should intervention activities be coordinated across providers?) 3. Regular, ongoing assessments should be conducted concurrent with treatment to determine how the different problem factors and interventions affect each other. (As an intervention prompts change in one factor, how does it affect other factors and interventions?) 4. Malleable risk factors should be identified, and interventions should be coordinated to promote positive change in these factors while monitoring other factors. (Which factors are most likely to change and to simultaneously help support adaptation in factors that are resistant to intervention?) 5. To promote the reorganization of the child’s entire developmental system, additional interventions should be carefully selected to address factors that are resistant to positive change. (As malleable factors are changing, what interventions can be used to help modify resistant factors without compromising the successes in the other factors?) 6. As individualized, comprehensive services are developed, establish or strengthen natural supports to bolster treatment efforts and to serve as positive developmental constraints. (What nontreatment activities or relationships can be developed that positively support the newly organized system and that can help to sustain it after treatment has ended?) For example, consider a girl who at the age of 10 years is experiencing severe emotional and behavioral problems. She is behind grade level academically, is frequently absent from school, has a long history of being oppositional and defiant, tends not to be well liked by peers, views other persons as acting hostile toward her, and vacillates between withdrawn and explosive behaviors. Recently, her outbursts have escalated in frequency and intensity, and she physically assaulted her special education teacher. This period of behavioral escalation coincided with her placement in foster care following her mother’s imprisonment. On the day that she attacked her teacher, she also JOURNAL

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had a major outburst in her foster home and was temporarily placed in residential treatment. Since preschool, this student has been behind her sameage peers academically, behaviorally, and socially. In the first grade, she had difficulty staying in her seat, following directions, and interacting appropriately with her peers. Usually, she was just disruptive, but on occasion she would threaten or physically attack other students to get her way. Although this girl appeared to have the same general abilities as her peers, her behavior greatly interfered with her academic progress, and she repeated the first grade. She did much better during her second year of first grade, but when she was promoted to the second grade, her problems intensified. Midway through the second grade, she was placed in a special education classroom, and, overall, she responded well to the structure and individualized support of this context. During these early school years there was significant turmoil at home. Her single-parent mother would come in and out of her life; consequently, she experienced frequent caretaker and residential instability (e.g., living alone with her mother, living with her mother in a boyfriend’s house or apartment, living with her grandmother, living with her aunt). During the times that she lived with her aunt, things seemed to settle down for her, and her behavior would show improvement. Intervention efforts for this child need to focus on reorganizing her developmental system. Several aspects of her treatment plan will be influenced by practical concerns, such as the need to identify a long-term residential placement for her and a school environment where she can get a fresh start. The child’s aunt is a strength within this system, and she has agreed to have the child live with her on a long-term basis. Based on the child’s past successes when she lived with her aunt, this appears to be a good option. However, the aunt doesn’t get home from work until 6:00 p.m. each day, and unsupervised time after school has historically been a major problem for the child. A structured and supportive after-school plan will therefore need to be in place before the child transitions to her aunt’s home. In addition to identifying school and after-school placements, this girl’s team must determine which strategies will promote her emotional and behavioral adaptation. In the structured and supportive context of residential treatment, her behavior problems have subsided. This is reflective of a systems view of development: Behavior is highly malleable and is responsive to both external and internal changes in the child’s developmental system. The positive behavior changes probably reflect the immediate impact of several contextual factors (i.e., consistency, predictability, lack of immediate stressors). The girl’s behavioral success will likely be short-lived if other interventions are not put into place to address emotional factors (e.g., concerns about her mother, concerns about her own future, difficulty in developing trusting relationships with others) and cognitive factors (e.g., hostile attributions, poor social information processing skills). The team should attempt to find a therapist who could develop a relationship with the child during residential treatment and continue to work with her during and after the

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transition to her aunt’s home. The child’s academic and social strengths should be identified, and strategies that promote success in these domains should be developed. All of these tasks require a treatment coordinator who will systematically coordinate these efforts and monitor how the different activities affect each other. This individual should be identified early on and should take a lead role in developing the child’s wraparound services. In addition, the transition back to the community should be carefully planned. Giving the child an extended opportunity to become familiar with and experience success in her new classroom and after-school program before she moves in with her aunt will help. Once the child is back in the community, the different service providers need to work together to monitor and identify which factors are showing improvement and which need additional intervention support. For example, based on the girl’s performance in class, the team may decide that she will benefit from tutoring in general organizational skills, which can occur during the after-school program. This will also provide support in a content area that is difficult for her. Her social behavior in school and her activities in therapy may indicate that carefully structured play and social activities in the after-school program to foster and support new social skills would be useful. Included might be playing with younger children (with careful adult monitoring) to give her the opportunity to be successful in using new skills that children her age have mastered and doing things with older children (again under careful adult monitoring) who can model appropriate behaviors and be supportive of her. In addition to formal intervention support, as the girl’s developmental system begins to show positive change, the team may decide to build in natural supports (e.g., involvement in an extracurricular activity, identification of a community mentor) that will operate as positive constraints for sustaining these changes. The critical points are that the interventions must necessarily be dynamic because they are dealing with a changing system, and they must also help to create a system that becomes self-sustaining. On one hand, the team must identify the interconnections among the different factors and develop interventions in ways that not only change a particular factor but also positively affect other factors. On the other hand, team members must ensure that the positive changes are not simply an ephemeral response to a particular intervention but are supported by other factors within the system. When these two considerations are addressed, the developmental system of the child can be reorganized so that developmental trajectories realign and the likelihood of experiencing a productive and successful life will be maximized.

Service Delivery Implications of the Developmental Science Framework The developmental science framework suggests that the prevention of school violence should be viewed as a holistic effort at both the individual and school levels. Interventions at the

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individual level must focus not only on the problematic characteristics of youth but also on the interplay between the characteristics of troubled youth and their developmental context. Likewise, interventions at the school level should not be limited to a narrow focus of targeting high-risk youth (i.e., indicated strategies) or to the development of broad sweeping practices (i.e., universal strategies) that may not be responsive to the particular needs of a youth with problems. Instead, preventing violence in schools requires the school to provide comprehensive services that (a) go across the universal, selective, and indicated levels and (b) utilize a developmental science framework to help guide collaborative assessment and intervention (see Table 1). Such efforts would be considered prohibitively complex and costly if they required the development of completely new service delivery structures and the creation of new interventions. Our intent is much more modest: The aim is to provide a conceptual framework to help marshal the efforts of existing school and related services professionals in a systematic manner that optimizes their collective effectiveness. In our preservice and inservice training efforts, we have found that teachers and related services workers can learn to use a developmental science framework to assess students’ needs and to develop interventions at the universal, selective, and indicated levels (T. W. Farmer, Farmer, & Stahlman, 2000). Systematically implementing this framework across school and community agency structures requires more than training, however. Other necessary elements include an integrated service delivery structure and designated individuals who will coordinate services across the different levels. With regard to the development of integrated service delivery structures, one need not “reinvent the wheel.” For the past two decades, tremendous effort has been expended across the nation to develop systems of care or wraparound services (e.g., Stroul & Friedman, 1986; Kutash et al., 2005). Research has indicated that these system-level interventions show promise in delivering more coordinated, collaborative, and individualized care (Bickman, Smith, Lambert, & Andrade, 2003). Overall evaluations of such system-level interventions, however, are equivocal in terms of individual-level outcomes and costs (e.g., Bickman et al., 1995; Bickman, Lambert,Andrade, & Penaloza, 2000; Bickman, Smith, Lambert, & Andrade, 2003; Friedman & Burns, 1996). Therefore, schools may find that building upon the infrastructures created by such system-level interventions will be most useful in focusing future efforts on systems integration and the key concepts of coordination, collaboration, and quality of care to guide development and provision of indicated interventions for youth with EBD (e.g., Durbin, Goering, Streiner, & Pink, 2006; Farmer, 2000). Such collaboration is a necessary component of school violence prevention (Hoagwood, 2000). The systems-of-care framework offers a strong philosophical and pragmatic foundation for interagency collaboration, and developmental science can augment this approach by providing a conceptual framework to help guide the develop-

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TABLE 1 Developmental Dynamics of Aggression, Levels of Prevention, and Intervention Approaches Developmental dynamics

Prevention level

Intervention aims

Intervention approach

Social/contextual supports for conflict aggression

Universal

Supportive context for all students

Classroom and schoolwide positive academic, behavioral, and social supports

Students at risk for aggression who experience a developmental system of positive constraints

Selective

Prevent the negative reorganization of students’ developmental systems

• Use individualized strategies to ameliorate risk • Provide individualized strategies to support system of strengths • Monitor to prevent negative reorganization of the developmental system

Aggressive students who experience a developmental system of correlated risks

Indicated

Promote positive reorganization of students’ developmental systems

• Assess interconnections of correlated risks • Identify how different factors support and sustain each other • Develop individualized strategies that systematically focus on reorganizing the entire system • Establish natural supports and a developmental system of positive constraints

ment of collaborative interventions for specific youth (T. W. Farmer & Farmer, 2001). Thus, schools will not need to develop a new service delivery structure. However, schools will have to designate coordinators within the system who have a broad knowledge of the workings of the different agencies, a strong understanding and commitment to the core values of a system of care, and an effective comprehension of the application of developmental science to intervention. Such coordinators should be school-based intervention specialists. These specialists would provide consultation and support to direct service providers, establish and monitor linkages across the service delivery system, and supervise the coordination of activities across all levels of prevention and treatment. At the universal level, this would involve assessing schoolwide intervention needs and establishing universal strategies to address them. At the selective level, this would include developing programs to identify and support youth who need services to prevent the reorganization of their developmental systems. At the indicated level, this would require setting up and monitoring service delivery structures to facilitate wraparound interventions that promote the positive reorganization of the developmental systems of youth with EBD. Perhaps most important, intervention specialists would monitor activities across the different levels to avoid problems related to incompatible or conflicting services and to ensure there are no gaps in the service delivery structure. With such a delivery structure and specialists in place, schools should be able to promote the adjustment of all students in ways that reduce the likelihood of violence. JOURNAL

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CONCLUSION The prevention of school violence is a complex task. As previous work (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 2001; Sprague & Walker, 2000; Walker & Sprague, 1999) has shown, a multilevel model of school-based violence prevention is necessary, along with a theoretical framework to help guide such efforts. In this article, our goal was to articulate conceptual guides that can contribute to the establishment and coordination of multilevel service delivery models. Central to this mission is a focus on not only the reduction of physical aggression but also the contextual factors that contribute to social aggression and interpersonal conflict. Likewise, other adjustment difficulties of troubled youth that contribute to their involvement in violence must be addressed. All of this requires a comprehensive service delivery structure to facilitate (a) universal prevention strategies that promote supportive academic and social contexts for all students, (b) selective prevention strategies that support the positive constraints of moderate-risk youth while promoting adaptation in their areas of risk, and (c) indicated prevention strategies that provide coordinated services to carefully reorganize the developmental systems of youth who experience multiple problems.

About the Authors THOMAS W. FARMER, PhD, is an associate professor of special education at the Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include the development and prevention of antisocial behavior, the social dynamics of bullying, and the social development of youth with

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disabilities. ELIZABETH M. Z. FARMER, PhD, is an associate professor of health policy administration at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include effectiveness of communitybased interventions for youth with externalizing behaviors and the influence of treatment trajectories on life course pathways for youth with EBD. DAVID B. ESTELL, PhD, is an assistant professor of educational psychology at Indiana University. His major research interests include peer relations and the development of aggression. BRYAN C. HUTCHINS, BA, is pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a research coordinator at the Center for Developmental Science. His research interests include child and adolescent social development and school-based behavioral intervention and prevention programs. Address: Thomas W. Farmer, College of Education, Room 227, CEDAR Building, Penn State University, College Park, PA 16802; e-mail: twf2@psu.edu

Authors’ Note This work was supported in part by two school-based violence prevention grants (U81CCU416369 and R49CCR419824-01) from the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention and by two grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (R305A040056 and R305030162).

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