Times Leader reporter Kim?Loccisano recently attended a public Community Connections event in Bethel, Conn. geared toward helping people better understand and cope with trauma. The event featured speakers from many of the tragedies across the country including school shootings like Sandy Hook, Columbine and Chardon High School. Loccisano attended the gathering with members of U.S. Navy SEAL Senior Chief (service retired) Frank Hoagland's Mingo Junction based companies, 360 Safe Solutions and S.T.A.R.T. (Special Tactics and Rescue Training). The team has been focused throughout the 2013-14 school year on Buckeye Local School District, assessing hazards and offering various feedback and program resources to improve those conditions, including the recent launch of their highly versatile mobile accountability and constant communications app.
"When our children boarded their school buses and their teachers headed to work on Dec. 14, 2012, we never imagined it would be their last day at Sandy Hook School. We all felt safe in our peaceful town and in our high-ranking schools. But we learned, too painfully, that we were not. The measures, plans and procedures we relied upon failed us."
"Since the tragedy, we have heard from hundreds of parents, teachers, school employees, first responders and community members who want to make a change in their communities but don't know where to start."
T-L Photo/KIM LOCCISANO
From those efforts, a mission was developed allowing for greatly improved collaborative approaches which, by design, will have a much broader reach into more resources and across what had previously been more like lines of separation than unification.
These profound, very personal reflections were offered recently by two women from the Newtown, Conn. area who joined a kick-off event for a community-wide collective and cooperative approach to the tasks of identifying and determining how to best serve the needs of those touched by the horrific trauma which dramatically altered countless lives both in the picturesque community and worldwide.
The stress and traumas an individual child experiences growing up in America today are vastly more intense and unforgiving in overall nature than those which directly shaped the paths taken by previous generations.
Impact of trauma during childhood
Each year in this nation, approximately five million children experience some form of traumatic experience. Natural disasters, car accidents, life-threatening medical conditions, painful procedures, exposure to community violence - all can have traumatic impact on the child.
By age 16, one in four will have been touched directly by interpersonal or community violence. These often have a devastating impact on children, even to the point of altering their physical, emotional, cognitive and social development, often with profound implications for their family, community and society at large, said experts with the recently established National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Traumatic events in childhood have been seen to dramatically increase the likelihood a young person will experience things like teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, failures at school, being bullied or other anti-social behaviors, experts said. These traumatized individuals are also more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, conduct disorders and medical problems such as heart disease and asthma.
Child trauma is common
- More than 25 percent of American youth experience a serious traumatic event by the age of 16, and many children suffer multiple and repeated traumas.
- Common sources of trauma include abuse and neglect; serious accidental injury; disasters and terrorism; experiencing or witnessing violence in neighborhoods, schools, and homes; and treatment for life-threatening illness.
- A child exposed to a traumatic event is at risk of developing traumatic stress.
- Children are more vulnerable to trauma because of their size, age and dependence.
- Prior trauma, past mental health problems, or a familial history of such problems may increase a child's risk.
Child traumatic stress can be identified
Children can be screened for exposure to trauma in a variety of settings, including schools, primary care, and child welfare settings. Assessment tools can help clinicians identify children and families needing treatment.
Child traumatic stress is serious
Traumatic stress can interfere with children's ability to concentrate and learn and seriously delay development of their brains and bodies. It can lead to depression, substance abuse, other mental health problems, educational impairment, acting out and future employment problems. It can change how children view the world and their own futures, and it can change their behavior, interests and relationships with family and friends. It can take a toll on a family.
Caring adults can help
Not all children exposed to traumatic events develop a traumatic stress reaction. Many children, especially those supported by caring adults, can be very resilient. Parents who take care of themselves are able to take better care of their children.
If you think you or your child may have symptoms of a traumatic stress reaction, seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
Treatment from a mental health professional who has training and experience working with traumatized children can reduce child traumatic stress and minimize physical, emotional and social problems. Trauma treatments for children may include psychotherapy and medications, and may involve families and schools.
(Information compiled from "Effects of Trauma"?at www.mentalhealth connection.org and the U.S.?Dept. of Health and Human Services.)
A school building and attached traditional playground were places a child should be able to easily feel safe from threat or harm.
Sadly, those days are all but gone - but they are certainly not forgotten, and it seems efforts to improve those realities are beginning to gain footholds nationwide, one community at a time.
The event in Connecticut provided unique firsthand access and insight from survivors, family members of victims, emergency responders, recovery services providers and others - many of whom had never encountered someone from a different community but who know from personal experience the type of raw pain only someone who walks in such shoes can begin to understand.
A young woman who is a graduate of Columbine High School, now herself a mother of a kindergarten age child, spoke to her need to conquer an unexpected fear that accompanied her youngster's daily departures for school. She had been among the students in the school's library when the massacre 15 years ago began.
Also there to speak, as only he could, was the man who had just that week stepped down as principal of Columbine High School - a task he held on to for the 15 years following the massacre in order to make good on a promise he made to see all students in the district through to graduation.
The humanity and humility shown by the football coach who chased the shooter from the halls of Chardon High School, then chose to return to his area of daily morning responsibilities - the school cafeteria, where students he knew well were badly wounded, some fatally.
He is visibly uncomfortable being called a hero for his actions that morning.
An individual who brings children to school daily spoke almost apologetically of her fear and frustration wondering what she could have - should have - done differently. She answered herself: acknowledging there was nothing she had done that could have prevented the shootings.
The Amish father whose daughters were gunned down in the one-room school house in Lancaster, Pa. was moved to outward emotions recounting the passion with which boys of the community- banished from the school building by the shooter - reestablished an exceptional positive presence there as they took up the task of ringing the school bell to mark the start of the day not long after the shootings, doing so with such purpose the bell got stuck in the tower, having to be freed before it could sound out its traditional message.
Two revelations made their way to the surface in a number of the discussions by survivors as they had the opportunity to speak on a very personal level with others in small groups.
There was overwhelming agreement on two particularly sensitive points which often seem to invite discussion from the general public which should not said survivors.
Do not presume to tell a traumatized person ample time has passed since their traumatic incident and they should now be able to "get over it." It also is not a good idea to share sentiments such as, "I understand how you feel" with survivors.
Despite the good intentions such statements represents, rarely are they appropriate or even welcomed by those who have experienced a traumatic event, as they try to make their way through to their own healing efforts.
The event in Connecticut brought together for the first time individuals who each lived through the type of deadly traumas which bring a tragedy to national attention: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Chardon High School, Nelson Mines Amish School and Sandy Hook Elementary, and even persons whose loved ones had lost their lives on 9/11.
This particular gathering was held in a community near Newtown at a non-denominational church's picturesque and inviting campus.
Organizers had not only reached across regional community and state borders, but had extended invitations to speak to others from across the country who had themselves faced similar extreme traumas and might be willing to share unique personal insights with complete strangers for the purposes of personal and community healing efforts.
Some had gotten connected prior to the gathering as their respective trauma had unfolded and survivors of earlier violent tragedies reached out to help others, new to such shattering pain, in their own personal way.
Those in attendance were not strangers for long that weekend, as kindred hearts and spirits born of fighting through unspeakable traumas and loss willingly shared profound truths and insight they hoped no one would ever have need of in future days.