Dating violence has been recognized as a significant child and adolescent health problem in the United States, and studies have linked adolescent dating violence to suicidal ideation, unhealthy weight gain, sexually transmitted diseases, and other physical and mental health problems.
However, little is known about the role of school personnel in preventing and responding to adolescent dating violence. In the study, “Adolescent Dating Violence: A National Assessment of School Counselors’ Perceptions and Practices,” in the August 2012 Pediatrics (published online July 9), researchers conducted the first national assessment of school counselors’ practices and perceptions of adolescent dating violence prevention.
The majority of school counselors (81.3 percent) reported that they did not have a protocol in their schools to respond to an incident of dating violence. Ninety percent of school counselors reported that in the past two years, there had been no staff training to assist survivors of dating violence, and their school did not have a committee to address health and safety issues including dating violence. However, the majority of school counselors (61 percent) reported that they had assisted a survivor of dating violence in the past two years. Most of the survivors who received help were female students. The main barriers identified by school staff in assisting survivors of dating violence were lack of formal training and lack of time. School counselors also perceived that dating violence is a minor issue and that even if they want to help, parents might not approve of the school’s interference. The most common method of responding to a survivor was calling the parents and guardians or referral to legal authorities. Only a little more than 1 in 10 school counselors referred a survivor to child protection agencies and school nurses for legal or medical assistance.
Study authors also found that school personnel who received formal training perceived dating violence to be a serious problem, and were significantly more likely to assist survivors of dating violence.