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Office of Mental Health

Violence Prevention: Assessing Risk and Red Flags

While most threats that youths make are not acted upon, all threats whether written, verbal, or physical must be addressed and responded to.

What threats from youths should make you worry?

When a youth makes a threat, you must assess:

  1. How serious is the threat that was made?
  2. What do you know about the youth who made the threat?
  3. Has the youth specified a plan to carry out the threat?
  4. Does the youth have the means to carry out the threat?

To help assess questions one and two, consider the "red flags" that research has found to be most associated with violence in youth.

Evaluation of any threat must be done in the context of the individual youth's past behavior, personality, and current stressors. To help assess this, evaluate whether the threat or plan is realistic or could be accomplished; a 6-year-old threatening to blow up the school with an atomic bomb will probably present less risk than a 14-year-old threatening to kill a teacher with a gun. Access to guns or other weapons raises a threat to a potentially lethal level. Determining if there are guns present in a youth's home or whether the youth is part of a gang that may have access to weapons will help to assess the risk of violence.

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