Many of our higher risk families and their children were able to maintain some level of functionality because attending school for the children/youth and work for the parents/caregivers helped them to “bind” (manage) the anxiety that ongoing closeness would have generated. Quarantining, job loss or the threat of job loss during the pandemic, along with unabated closeness, has intensified family anxiety and therefore risks that may have laid dormant pre-COVID are now being activated. We are already seeing the increase in domestic/relational violence as well as child abuse in many regions. While most families will adjust to this temporary circumstance, others will not.
In our recently released “Rising to the Challenge: Staying Connected to All Our Students” guidelines (See: https://www.nactatr.com/risingchallenge.html) we highlight the reality many school related professionals and others are now remotely entering our students homes and in many cases their bedrooms where they are remotely communicating from. As you are aware, in the Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA™) model we emphasize the “bedroom dynamic” as a location where there is often blatant evidence of planning that an individual is moving on a pathway to violence, suicide or both. Teachers, educational assistants, and others are seeing and hearing verbal exchanges that justify activation of our VTRA protocols.
Visual Examples Include:
First hypothesis in VTRA is: “is it a cry for help”? We are aware that sometimes children and even adult family members may escalate an already dangerous situation knowing a professional (another adult) may be overhearing and using the opportunity as a cry for help.
Our standard has been clear, that all professionals who are not VTRA trained, or part of a VTRA team, must “Consult, Consult, Consult” when confronted with any concerning behaviors that could potentially activate the protocol.
Things for Leaders to Do:
1) Educate all staff about the existence of your school and community protocols if you haven’t already. In essence, give them “Fair Notice” or remind them of the practice and that we are still conducting VTRA’s as necessary.
2) Provide all stakeholders with a reminder of the “Categories for Action” including:
VTRA Modification During the Initial Phase of COVID-19
Having consulted on numerous VTRA cases during the pandemic, it is evident that we can still conduct Stage One VTRA’s. Because “baseline behavior” is the single most important variable in determining if someone is moving rapidly on a pathway to serious violence or suicide, we can still collect historical data from team members that can establish a shift. We can strategically decide what team member has the best connection with the “Person of Concern” (POC) or the parent/caregiver for a remote interview. If there is evidence of escalation then police and children services will still make contact as necessary. If it is eminent risk it will always be a 911 call.
Stage Two VTRA’s are not recommended at this time due to the intimacy required between team members and the POC and their families. If necessary, we will provide guidelines for conducting Stage Two VTRA’s during the pandemic should the quarantine phase extend further than anticipated.
Stage One VTRA is “data-collection and immediate risk reducing interventions”. As well, because serious violence is evolutionary but it is also contextual, we can still create a context in most situations to mitigate initial risk.
The Stage One Report Form remains the primary guide for data collection and semi-structured interviewing and is for use by VTRA trained professionals only which includes:
Three Primary Hypotheses
Bless your hearts!
J. Kevin Cameron, M.Sc., R.S.W., B.C.E.T.S., B.C.S.C.R.
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
Diplomate, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
Executive Director, North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response