The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice


JJ/SE Shared Agenda & Tools for Success
Prevention: Home, Community, and School Connections
Risk Factors
Levels of Prevention
Prevention Literature Review (MS Word) (PDF)
Promising Programs and Practices

Prevention: Home, Community, and School Connections

Prevention and Early Intervention

Prevention is a process of intervention designed to alter the circumstances associated with problem behaviors. Effective prevention practices decrease problem behaviors and subsequent difficulties children and adolescents experience in school and in the community. Prevention includes a wide range of activities that address the needs of an equally wide range of children and youth.

EDJJ will focus on prevention programs in community settings that serve troubled youth who have been identified as disabled or are at-risk of being identified. This population includes children and youth who have not been involved with the juvenile justice system. Thus, the focus of prevention is on students served in regular public schools, alternative school programs, day or residential treatment, and programs within the juvenile justice system that are established to divert youth from formal commitment.

There are very few direct causal connections or correlations in the social sciences. Understanding factors that place children at risk for school failure and antisocial behavior can help us develop and implement prevention strategies. However, knowledge of risk factors is a double-edged sword. Those interested in prevention must ensure that decisions about children’s needs are based on objective measures of student performance rather than on stereotypic profiles. We must use what we know about risk factors to provide all students with the best chances for success.

A disproportionate number of minority children experience school failure. This inequity may be due, in part, to the fact that many of these students come from neighborhoods, cultures, and backgrounds much different from those of teachers and school administrators. These children may be treated differently simply because of their differences. Along with an understanding of risk factors, school personnel need training in cultural sensitivity to ensure that students who need assistance receive it. Another risk factor associated with academic and behavior problems is that many youth who are poor and racial or ethnic minority attend schools that lack sufficient resources to provide quality education services.

One of the best predictors of serious problem behavior and school failure is a history of similar problems. While early intervention typically connotes actions taken during early childhood, a more productive definition should include prevention practices directed at students of all ages, at the first sign of problems. Thus, early intervention refers to prevention strategies initiated after one suspension rather than ten, one arrest rather than five, and one grade level behind in reading rather than three.

Risk Factors - A Cycle of Failure

Children’s homes and families constitute one of the earliest indicators of potential academic failure. Research has demonstrated a connection between poverty and school dropout for both regular and special education students. In addition to poverty, students at risk often come from families where academic skills such as reading are not modeled, and where multiple family stressors are present (e.g., alcohol and other drug abuse, divorce, child maltreatment). High levels of poverty are also associated with forms of community social disorganization (e.g., high rate of unemployment, insufficient resources for after-school programs) that place youth at risk for school failure and delinquency.

How do risk factors affect a child's life? Home, community, and school risk factors are connected and negatively affect outcomes in each of these domains. For example, children in poverty often have less verbal interaction with their parents, resulting in significantly lower vocabularies at the time they enter school (Hart & Risley, 1995). Once in school, they typically are served by teachers from middle or upper income backgrounds who use a more complex vocabulary and assume a level of familiarity with print materials that is far above that of many low income children. Early academic failures are second only to poverty in predicting school failure. Thus, through no fault of their own, these students are academically behind their age peers at the time they first enter school - and these deficits negatively affect school outcomes.

Students whose behaviors identify them as academically or behaviorally deficient are more likely to be exposed to negative interaction and punishment in the classroom and are less likely to be engaged in instructional time with their teachers. Classroom time for these students becomes aversive and is highly predictive of behaviors such as disruption, non-compliance, or aggression that lead to further negative interactions with teachers and often, eventual exclusion from school. The seeds of failure are sown early in life; children who do not read by the fourth grade have a very low probability of ever learning to read. Moreover, students who fail in school are far more likely to experience continued problemscontinued problems in adult life. The justice and welfare systems overwhelmingly serve individuals who have poorly developed academic skills and have experienced school failure. Lower levels of literacy are strongly associated with higher rates of delinquency and incarceration.

Prevention Practices - Breaking the Cycle

Most prevention efforts begin in school because it is the place where professionals have the greatest, and typically the earliest, access to children. School-wide efforts to prevent student failure can be organized under a system of positive behavioral interventions and support (Sugai et al., 1999) that involves the entire school. As students with academic or behavioral problems first become evident, increasingly intensive interventions can be applied in attempt to facilitate their success.

As more intensive interventions become necessary, the home and community increasingly become involved in the process. For students with the greatest needs, interventions involve full and equal collaboration between school, family, and community agencies to create comprehensive plans. Interventions that address multiple risk factors in a variety of settings, rather than those implemented only in a single domain, are more likely to be successful in preventing delinquency among youth with intense needs (Catalano, Loeber, & McKinney, 1999).

The intent of all intervention plans under a system of positive behavior support is to prevent problem behavior by creating success. A multi-level model of intervention, described in the next section, addresses the needs of all students in a school.

Systems of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support in Schools

To effectively meet the academic and behavioral needs of all students, educators must plan and implement interventions on multiple levels. Furthermore, these interventions must be proactive and positive–that is, they must focus on clarifying expectations and teaching students the skills needed for success, rather than simply waiting for misbehavior to occur and responding with punishment. Decisions regarding which level of behavioral support to apply to which students are based on students’ responses to less intense levels of intervention.

School-wide (universal) prevention systems address all students and include:

  • evaluating the school environment to determine when, where, and in what contexts problems are more likely to occur

  • creating strategies to prevent problems identified by school faculty and staff

  • teaching all students rules and routines that will support and encourage desired behavior

  • regarding inappropriate social behaviors as errors and responding to these with appropriate correction and re-teaching procedures

  • establishing behavior support teams to monitor the effectiveness of prevention strategies

  • monitoring and evaluating student progress on a formative basis

  • using data-based decision rules to identify those students whose academic
    or social performance indicates that they are at-risk for school failure

  • Research has shown that universal prevention systems are effective for 90% of the student population. Students who do not respond when provided with universal supports become eligible for the next level of intervention.

    Individualized (targeted) prevention systems address students for whom universal intervention has not been effective (as demonstrated by such data as office discipline referrals) and include:

  • developing intensive and individualized behavior intervention plans and other strategies

  • ensuring that all adults in the school understand what skills these students are learning so that all settings foster academic and social success

  • establishing behavior support teams to develop behavior intervention plans, monitor student progress, and modify intervention plans as necessary

  • including effective instructional strategies, functional replacement training, counseling, and classroom supports in behavior intervention plans

  • When appropriately and consistently used, targeted prevention systems are effective for 7-9% of students. Students who are not successful with this level of support are eligible for the next level of intervention.

    Intensive prevention systems will be needed for 1-3% of students and include:

  • coordinating input and services from the home, community and school to develop intervention plans that encompasses multiple life domains (wraparound planning)

  • making placement decisions from a continuum of alternatives and selecting the least restrictive environment in which the student can reasonably be expected to succeed

  • incorporating effective instruction, functional replacement training, counseling, and classroom supports into school-based interventions

  • monitoring student progress continuously and adjusting intervention strategies on the basis of data decision rules

  • What EDJJ Will Do

    The Center for Education, Disabilities, and Juvenile Justice (EDJJ) will conduct, review, and disseminate research on effective prevention practices. In addition, we will organize training and technical assistance activities that support efforts to prevent children and youth - especially those with disabilities - from becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Upcoming regional conferences and training events related to these objectives will be posted on our web page.

    Prevention Strategies References:

    Catalano, R. F., Loeber, R., & McKinney, K. C. (October, 1999). School and community interventions to prevent serious and violent offending. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

    Colvin, G., Kameenui, E. J., & Sugai, G. (1993). School-wide and classroom management: Reconceptualizing the integration and management of students with behavior problems in general education. Education and Treatment of Children, 16, 361-381.

    Eber, L., Nelson, C. M., & Miles, P. (1997). School-based wraparound for students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Exceptional Children, 63, 539-555.

    Hart, B., & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

    Lewis, T. J., Sugai, G., & Colvin, G. (1998). Reducing problem behavior through a school-wide system of effective behavioral support: Investigation of a school-wide social skills training program and contextual interventions. School Psychology Review, 27, 446-459.

    Scott, T. M., & Nelson, C. M. (1999). Using functional assessment with challenging behaviors: Practical School Applications. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 1, 242-251.

    Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D. C., MacKenzie, D. L., Eck, J., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S. D. (July, 1998). Preventing crime: What works, what doesn’t, what’s promising. Washington, DC: Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

    Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, Lewis, T.J., Nelson, C.M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C.J., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A.P., Turnbull, H.R. III, Wickham, D., Ruef, M., Wilcox, B. (1999). Applying positive behavioral support and functional assessment in schools. Technical Assistance Guide #1 (TAG 1). Washington, D.C.: OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support.

    Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (1999). Discipline and behavioral support: Practices, pitfalls, & promises. Effective School Practices, 17(4), 10-22.

    Additional information on positive behavior support is available on the Internet at

    Please email EDJJ with any questions and/or comments
    University of Maryland, 1224 Benjamin Building College Park, MD 20742
    Phone (301) 405-6462 Fax (301) 314-5757

    For information about the website or to be linked to EDJJ,
    email the webmaster.