What if scientists could use artificial intelligence (AI) to create a tool that could prevent school shootings or other violence?
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center researchers are working on just that. A team there announced Thursday that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded it a five-year grant totaling $2.8 million to develop an automated risk assessment system, designed to detect potential school violence and prevent it.
Principal investigators say there is “a critical need to develop a rapid and accurate approach to interview students, assess risk characteristics, and provide supportive evidence for prevention,” hospital officials said in their announcement.
The researchers plan to recruit 1,000 children, ages 10 to 17, for their work. The kids, primarily patients from Cincinnati Children’s, will be from the Cincinnati area, other parts of Ohio and neighboring states, officials said. The research team already has about 400 kids lined up for the project, officials said.
“Our goal is to prevent those strains of aggressive behaviors before they grow to some major problems like a school shooting,” said principal investigator is Yizhao Ni, who works in Cincinnati Children’s Division of Biomedical Informatics. “We try to prevent that at the earliest stage so that it can prevent some sort of violence.”
The study will be among the first efforts that leverage natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to analyze interviews, identify risk characteristics from student language and predict violent outcomes, hospital officials said.
“There hasn’t really been a short-term type of risk assessment for schools,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Drew Barzman, director of the medical center’s Child and Adolescent Forensic Research Program. “When you add in artificial intelligence and NLP, and it’s really quite innovative, because I don’t know of any other type of violence risk assessment that uses artificial intelligence within forensic psychiatry.”
“Typically with school violence, there are red flags,” Barzman said. “There might be a threat or bullying.
The victim may be at risk for becoming a school shooter or the bully (might become a shooter). There might be some other psychiatric concerns as well, so we’re looking … to help out before it escalates to the point that it becomes school violence or a school shooting.”
The scientists will build off of a previous study and refine the artificial intelligence technology to predict potential future violent outcomes.
Barzman and Ni said they are including all spectrums of violence: verbal threats, physical aggression and bullying in their research,
They said AI is a support tool for clinicians. “When we use the AI technology, the idea is to help our clinicians make more efficient and more effective decisions,” Ni said. “It’s not to replace our psychiatry. It’s to show that this is objective evidence we found from a student interview that might help you develop more effective strategies to mitigate their risk of violent behaviors.”
The researchers will ask participants a series of 28 questions. While the kids answer those questions, an automated, computerized system will analyze the responses, predict risk potentials, and improve prevention by helping inform recommendations, the scientists said.
They use two scales in rating participants’ responses. Barzman and his team from Cincinnati Children’s created a school safety scale they call the Brief Rating of Aggression by Children and Adolescents (BRACHA). The safety scale is a modified version from a gold standard risk assessment, the HCR-20 that was used in adult forensics. Cincinnati Children’s is a national pioneer in creating the scale; many hospitals have requested to use the scale, Cincinnati Children’s officials said.
“We’ve done a good job with keeping some high-risk students in school safely,” Barzman says.
“We’ve also done a good job with identifying psychiatric needs and making sure high-risk students receive the needed treatment to lower their risk.”
The goal is to help establish a nationwide solution for school violence risk assessment, which will benefit healthcare institutions, schools and students, Cincinnati Children’s officials said.
School violence has increased over the past decade, and more than 1 in 5 students report being bullied at school, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence has a far-reaching impact on the entire school population, including staff, students and families.
A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information in January concluded that adolescents and young adults were experiencing more anxiety and depression during the early months of the pandemic.
And Cincinnati Children’s officials said the new research will help improve safety as students return to full in-person schooling.
The medical center announced plans last month for a new inpatient behavioral health facility in College Hill, to address what they called “unprecedented” levels of child and adolescent depression, anxiety, mood disorders and other behavioral health problems in the United States.
Demonstrators pass a memorial to school shooting victims in Houston in 2018 Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center researchers have announced a five-year grant totaling $2.8 million to develop an automated risk assessment system, designed to detect potential school violence and prevent it. | Cincinnati | Police gather information at Northwest High School, near the scene of a shooting on Newmarket Drive in Colerain Township on Nov. 21, 2019. | Albert Cesare / The Enquirer
Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer