A popular instrument of policing in and out of schools, the anonymous tip line has been featured frequently in the news lately. When the system works, police intervene. What does that mean for students? Where do school counselors come in to the equation?
In 2019, violence in schools is on the minds of everyone in a school, which is why legislation like the STOP School Violence act securing tiplines breezed through Congress.
Worst Case Scenarios are the Least Commonly Reported
EdWeek reports: “Though most reporting systems are created out of concern about school shootings, operators say they are far more likely to receive tips about suicide...and bullying than school violence.” The article also mentions that in 2017, nearly half of the reports received through one anonymous tip line were concerns about suicide whereas less than 10% were about school attacks.
What role do school counselors play?
With anonymous tiplines, school counselors play little to no role in filtering reports or supporting students post report. Oftentimes, they’re forced to report unsubstantiated anonymous threats for fear of liability, putting what may be a child needing support in front of law enforcement whose training in supporting mental health needs may range from lacking to disaster-inducing.
Police training for crisis intervention
Over the last 5 years, police training for mental health crisis interventions in adults has come under fire. Parents may wonder more specifically-- what training for depressed children do police receive?
What is the process for school counselors and tiplines?
The process for tip lines in schools isn’t standardized with a centralized dashboard, creating mountains more work for already taxed counselors. With the average student to counselor ratio at 482:1. Having an anonymous tip line system is a way for schools to circumvent the liability this shortage places on the school counselor’s office. But how do police handle being in front of students for emotional support?
Hope for positive change in the future
A 2018 study exploring the efficacy of enhancing police training on youth focused crisis intervention team training reported an overwhelmingly positive response (86%) from police post training. We hope to see more such programs developed and enacted in the future, for the benefit of both students and police.
Do tip lines alone help students?
It is said that these tips greatly aid in preventing school shootings and in-school violence. They're told that having tip lines available to students at their fingertips, enables instantaneous reporting and thus prevention. In fact, according to this Pew article, they are only part of the puzzle:
"School districts need a system for keeping track of and addressing worrisome behavior way before a student reaches a crisis point, said William Woodward, one of the report authors and director of training and technical assistance at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado. The center is working with Colorado schools to improve intervention."
Police are acting as school counselors because tip lines, some of which are funded by the government, force counselors to report before engaging with their students directly and offering their support. Better training for police will help improve outcomes in the future, but better platforms for counselors to field tips, whether anonymous or with names given, improve student outcomes now.
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