Parent Concern About Children's Safety at School on the Rise

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Children no more likely to express fear to parents than before recent shootings

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds an uptick in parents' fear for their children's safety at school. This follows the recent wave of school shootings across the country, the most prominent of which was an attack at an Amish schoolhouse earlier this month. Parental fear is now the highest it has been since early 2001. Meanwhile, parents report their children are no more likely to express fear about their safety at school now than before the recent shootings.

The Oct. 6-8 poll finds 35% of U.S. parents with a child in kindergarten through 12th grade say they fear for their oldest child's safety at school, an increase from 25% in August this year. In recent years, fear had been at or near historical lows, dropping as low as 21% in August 2005.

Gallup first asked this question in 1977, and has done so regularly since 1998. Parents' fear has typically risen in response to news of school shootings, reaching a high of 55% in the immediate days following the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999. Fear also spiked to 45% following two school shootings in Santee, Calif., and Williamsport, Pa., in March 2001.

The increase in parental concern is also evident in the results of Gallup's annual Crime Poll, conducted Oct. 9-12. In that poll, 40% of Americans say they "frequently" (20%) or "occasionally" (20%) worry about "having a school-aged child of yours physically harmed while attending school." That is easily the highest level of fear in the six-year history of asking this question, and is one of Americans' top crime fears along with having their home burglarized when they are not home (50% worry at least occasionally about this) and having their car stolen or broken into (47%).

While parents' fear has risen in response to the recent school shootings, children have not expressed any greater fear to their parents than they did in August. Just 12% of parents say their school-aged children have "expressed worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school," compared with 11% in August.

Generally speaking, parents' fears about school safety have always appeared to be greater than those of their children. The height of children's expressed fear to their parents was 22% in March 2001, which is about equal to the lowest measurement of parental fear in the history of the trend. There are several possible reasons for this. Parents are probably more aware of the high-profile school shootings reported in the news than are their children, and one of the lessons of the Columbine massacre is that such violence could happen in any school. It is also possible that the reverse is true, that parents overestimate the threat. Children may have a better sense of the threat to their safety because of their first-hand daily experiences than do parents who can only evaluate the threat based on more limited information and second-hand accounts. It is also possible the method for assessing children's fear underestimates the actual level of fear. While parents would be intimately aware of their own fears, they would not be aware of their children's fears unless their child expressed them. Many children may harbor some fear but may be unwilling or unable to discuss it with their parents.

Subgroup Differences in Fear

Parents with children in elementary school are more likely to express fear about their children's safety than parents with children in middle school or high school. Looking at combined data on this question from 2003 to 2006, 31% of parents with children in kindergarten through grade five express fear for their child's safety while at school, as do 24% of parents of middle school children (grades six through eight) and 22% of parents of high school students.

But younger children are no more likely to express fear than are older children, according to the parents' reports. Eight percent of parents with children in kindergarten through grade five say their child has expressed fear, compared with 9% of parents of middle school students and 11% of parents of high school students.

Parents' own fear levels vary little by gender and place of residence (urban, suburban, or rural). However, there are large differences by the parent's educational attainment. In the combined 2003 to 2006 data, 41% of parents with a high school education or less fear for their children's safety at school, compared with 20% of those with some college education and just 12% of college graduates.

The greater worry among parents with younger rather than older schoolchildren is only found among parents with a high school education or less. Among parents with some college, worry is consistent regardless of their children's grade level.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with 272 parents with children in grades K-12, conducted Oct. 6-8, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Results for combined data from 2003-2006 are based on telephone interviews with 918 parents of children in kindergarten through grade 12. For results based on this sample, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Next, in terms of your family,

D21. Do you have any children who will be attending school in kindergarten through grade 12 this year?

Yes

No

No
opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

31%

69

*

17. (Asked of parents with children in grades K-12) Thinking about your oldest child, when he or she is at school, do you fear for his or her physical safety?

BASED ON 272 K-12 PARENTS

Yes,
fear

No,
do not

No
opinion

%

%

%

2006 Oct 6-8

35

65

--

2006 Aug 7-10

25

75

*

2005 Aug 8-11

21

79

*

2004 Aug 9-11

28

71

1

2003 Aug 4-6

24

76

*

2002 Aug 5-8

31

68

1

2001 Aug 16-19

32

68

0

2001 Mar 9-11

45

54

1

2000 Aug 24-27

26

74

0

2000 Apr 7-9

43

57

0

1999 Aug 24-26

47

53

*

1999 May 21-23

52

47

1

1999 Apr 26-27

49

51

*

1999 Apr 21

55

45

0

1998 Jun 5-7

37

62

1

1977 ^

24

70

6

^Gallup for Kettering Foundation

18. (Asked of parents with children in grades K-12) Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school?

BASED ON 272 K-12 PARENTS

Yes

No

No
opinion

%

%

%

2006 Oct 6-8

12

88

--

2006 Aug 7-10 ^

11

87

2

2004 Aug 9-11 ^

10

89

1

2003 Aug 4-6 ^

8

91

1

2001 Mar 9-11 †

22

77

1

2000 Aug 24-27 ^

8

92

*

1999 Aug 24-26 ^

18

82

*

^WORDING: Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?

†WORDING: Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go to school?


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/25021/Parent-Concern-About-Childrens-Safety-School-Rise.aspx
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