UMMS expert: Training needed to ID potentially violent youth

Gina Vincent teaches youth risk assessment to national juvenile justice agencies

By Bryan Goodchild and Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

January 18, 2013

An expert in identifying violence-prone teenagers, Gina Vincent, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, believes school personnel should be taught to recognize red-flag behaviors of potentially dangerous youth to prevent another national tragedy.

Dr. Vincent, a forensic psychologist and co-director of the National Youth Screening & Assessment Project, advises juvenile justice agencies across the country on how to determine which troubled teens are most likely to re-offend.

“There should be a much better education around what factors put people at higher risk for violence,” said Vincent, director of translational law and psychiatry research in the Center for Mental Health Services Research in the Department of Psychiatry at UMass Medical School. “That education should occur in the school setting among teachers and school counselors. Regular mental health clinics should have this type of training as well.”

Most social workers, clinicians, teachers and school guidance counselors are not trained to spot behaviors that research has shown indicate a higher risk of committing harm, she said.

“They are not educated in how to identify what youth might be more prone to violence than others,” she said. “I think it’s important to educate those individuals who are working with youth on a daily basis. It’s important because they can identify which youth may be in need of some type of assessment and refer them.”

While a history of aggression is an obvious predictor of violent behavior, other factors, such as showing a lack of empathy or remorse, risk-taking, impulsivity, substance abuse and problems at home may also be signals that a student should be assessed, she said. Adamant that most adolescents are not prone to violence, Vincent said there is no reason to screen all students.

Watch this Expert’s Corner video to hear Vincent discuss youth screening and risk assessment: