Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

April 15, 2013

School nurses are the first line of defense in assisting adolescents suffering from physical or mental abuse as a result of dating, but most aren’t getting enough training or guidance, says a new study from Ball State University.

"Providing Assistance to the Victims of Adolescent Dating Violence: A National

Assessment of School Nurses’ Practices," which was recently published in the Journal of School Health, surveyed 348 K-12 school nurses to discover a number of barriers to assisting student victims. These include lack of training, insufficient time and lack of private space to consult with victims.

The study’s lead author, Jagdish Khubchandani, assistant professor of community health education at Ball State, said that more than half of U.S. adolescents reported being involved in a special romantic relationship within the past 18 months. About 72 percent of eighth and ninth graders reportedly “date” by the time they are in high school.

A recent national survey found that 30 percent of teens reported being a victim of adolescent dating violence (ADV) in the last year. ADV is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship.

The study found a school nurse is usually the first adult to interact with young students after a violent incident, with 55.3 percent of school health professionals reporting they had assisted a victim of ADV in the past two years.

"It is a problem that only recently received considerable national attention," Khubchandani said. "Young people often won’t talk to their parents, but feel safe to open up to their school nurse. That is where they can help, but only if we get past the barriers."

The study found:

  • Most school nurses (86.4 percent) reported that they did not have a protocol in their schools to respond to an incident of ADV.
  • The majority of nurses (88.1 percent) reported that in the past two years training to assist victims of ADV had not been provided to personnel in their schools 
  • Most respondents (71.5 percent) said their schools did not conduct periodic student surveys that include questions on teen dating abuse behaviors. 
  • Nurses who had a school protocol for responding to an incident of ADV perceived significantly fewer barriers to assisting victims of ADV and assisted more victims.

"Our study clearly shows that schools need to establish a means for assessing the status of ADV in their student population" said Khubchandani, who is also a member of the university’s Global Health Institute (GHI). "Schools also need to provide in-service education for school personnel regarding prevention, assessment and interdiction of ADV."

By interceding, school nurses should be able to educate young people about proper dating behaviors and possibly stop violent behavior, Khubchandani said.

"Adolescents sometimes believe that unhealthy relationships are the norm, especially if they have been raised in such an environment," he said.. "Adolescents are vulnerable to relational violence as they are exploring and experiencing different patterns of adult relationships. This may mean that some adolescents are probably not aware of the interactions within a dating relationship that are unacceptable to their peers or to their community."

Victims of ADV are at an increased risk for a variety of academic, legal, and health-related issues, ranging from minor physical ailments to severe mental health problems including homicide and suicide, he said.