Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $862,638)
Behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM) is a fact-based, systematic process designed to identify, assess, and manage potentially dangerous or violent situations. The goal of school BTAMs is to identify students of concern, assess their risk for violence, identify interventions, and connect them to services before their behavior escalates to criminal actions or violence. The threat assessment process is not without controversy, with some concerned about the adverse impact it can have on students of color or those with disabilities, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although there is considerable information on violence risk assessment in the general population, the tools were not designed to assess risk in the population of persons challenged by ASD, neurological, or developmental issues. In addition to the urgent need to develop an ASD-specific risk assessment tool, specific guidance and training is needed for BTAMs to prevent harm to this growing population of students (currently estimated as 1 in 54 children versus 1 in 150 children in 2000) including unnecessary suspensions, expulsions, and contact with the justice system, as well as to identify students who are at-risk to harm themselves or others.
Recognizing the increasing number of children with ASD; the association of high profile acts of targeted school violence and ASD; the important role that BTAMs have in preventing school violence and their expansion nationally; the complexity of risk assessment; and, the potentially adverse impacts of the BTAM process on students with ASD–the Police Foundation (PF) project team—in collaboration with BJA, will develop, pilot, and disseminate specialized training for law enforcement, school officials, behavioral health specialists, parents, and community stakeholders to address an area that has received little attention—the use of BTAMs to identify, assess, and connect students with ASD to early care-based interventions to prevent self-harm or violence in schools. The PF team, including the Virginia Center for Policing Innovation (VCPI) and a Research to Practice Incubator (R2P Incubator), will develop a specialized threat assessment electronic toolkit (e-toolkit) and a training curriculum to provide support to school BTAMs as they evaluate risk, interview, and intervene students with ASD who represent a threat of violence to themselves or others, while accounting for—and respecting—their differences. The PF team will also pilot the training and e-toolkit in Calhoun County, Michigan, and incorporate pilot feedback and additional research into a national training and e-toolkit.