Assessing the psychological sequelae of staff working with assaultive developmentally disabled children and adolescents in a residential setting

Patricia Simon, Fordham University


Although much has been written about the incidence of assaults on staff by psychiatric in-patients, there is a dearth of research on the topic of assaulted staff working with developmentally disabled individuals in a residential milieu. The present study used Needs Assessment to investigate whether student-to-staff assault at a residential school serving developmentally disabled children and adolescents was being underreported. Further, the present study examined whether assaults on staff were associated with psychological sequelae, and to what degree staffs styles of coping buffered the relation between incidence of assault and sequelae. Ninety-seven direct care and professional staff, providing educational and residential services to developmentally disabled individuals, participated in the research. Archival records of behavior incident reports and Worker's Compensation insurance claims confirmed that there was a disparity between incidence and formal reporting of assaults. In addition, participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure student-to-staff assault in terms of incidence and formal reporting, and to assess to what extent staff experienced psychological sequelae, including intense responses, post-stress reactions, and burnout. No significant differences in the incidence of student-to-staff assault were found within each demographic variable, including age, education, rank of staff, previous experience working with developmentally disabled individuals, and current experience at the residential school. Present study results indicated that the incidence of student-to-staff assaults was seven times greater than formally reported. Assaulted staff with higher levels of rationale filed formal incident reports less frequently. Incidence of assault was not predicted by education level, ranking, length of previous work experience in the field of developmental disabilities, although results indicated that staff employed at the residential school for shorter lengths of time would be assaulted at a greater frequency. A significant relation was found between incidence of assault and psychological sequelae, although coping styles did not buffer this association. Although the study limited itself to one setting, the school was prototypical of other residential settings that serve the developmentally disabled. Study findings extend the research base on assaults on staff to include developmentally disabled individuals and have important implications for training and supportive interventions.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Occupational psychology|Special education

Recommended Citation

Simon, Patricia, "Assessing the psychological sequelae of staff working with assaultive developmentally disabled children and adolescents in a residential setting" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9999834.