As a lifelong advocate for children and adults with disabilities and a father, my own heart is broken as I think about the evil that has been visited upon the children and educators within Newtown Public Schools. The families that I have represented within the Newtown community over the years who have been affected directly or indirectly by the carnage that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School are in my thoughts and prayers today.
The President has stated, “Our hearts are broken.” Governor Malloy stated, “Evil has visited this community.” In the aftermath of this tragedy there are too many questions with the most important question “why?” that may remain unanswered. For parents of children who are seeking to comfort and console their children in their attempt to explain the unexplainable, there are resources available through local school districts, community-based mental health services providers, local health practitioners, and/or Youth And Family Services agencies I have posted links to several websites from Danbury and Yale New Haven Hospitals and the NYU Child Study Center.
The Danbury and Yale New Haven-Hospitals’ crisis intervention team hotline is: (203)-270-4283
New York University Child Study Center: talking with your children about the tragedy:http://www.aboutourkids.org/families/helping_kids_cope. The phone number for the NYU center is:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration website:http://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/about.aspx There is a free, 24/7 Disaster Distress hotline: Toll free: 1-800-985-5990 or send a text message TalkWithUs to 66746
The Connecticut Department of Mental Health Network of Care website has resources for mental health: http://connecticut.networkofcare.org/mh/
211 InfoLine by United Way of Connecticut is a crisis hotline for both children and adults. DIal 211 or 1-800-203-1234
Here are some steps you can consider:
If you are the parent of a child whose school performance has declined, their somatic complaints have increased, they are often absent or tardy from school, they have become obsessed with violence, they are the subject of repeated disciplinary incidents at school, they are isolated socially, and/or they have threatened self-harm or harm to others, then you should immediately speak to your child’s physician, contact community-based mental health service providers organizations and/or the local school district in order to determine if more therapeutic services and interventions should be provided.
In the case of the local school district, if your child has an IEP, then you may elect to review the current IEP with the school district to ensure your child’s social and emotional needs are being addressed, in addition to their academic needs. For parents of children without an IEP, if you suspect your child might have a disability the adversely impacts their school performance, then you should request a Referral to Special Education and request a PPT meeting in order to review your parental concerns, any evaluations, attendance, behaviors, and overall school performance, in order to determine whether or not your child might qualify for additional services, including special education and related services.
For more parents of young adults (over 18), who are no longer attending public schools, there are community based mental health supports, services located in each community through local hospitals, universities, private mental health practitioners, and public resources available through the State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. (link: http://www.ct.gov/dmhas/cwp/view.asp?a=2902&q=335208&dmhasNav=|).
While this unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School cannot be undone, we as individuals and as members of a larger community can take steps to prevent another tragedy in Connecticut and elsewhere by accessing existing services and resources and by demanding that our elected state and federal officials and policy makers allocate sufficient resources to keep our children safe in school, to ensure there are sufficient school-based mental health and therapeutic services available to for all students in need of such services, and that we have sufficient community-based mental health services that are readily available and accessible.
We need to remain vigilant within our communities and speak out and contact our local authorities when we see an individual who may be in need of assistance, rather than saying “There is nothing that I can do.” Our hearts are broken and evil has visited our community are words that we need not utter again. We must take individual and collective responsibility to prevent another tragedy such as the one that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School and similar tragedies that occurred at other public schools, college campuses, movie theatres, shopping malls, houses of worship, street corners, and elsewhere. “Never again” was the message in the aftermath of the Holocaust and this must be the message today with a call for action by our state and federal elected representatives and public officials as we try to make a difference and move forward.
Note: Attorney Lawrence Berliner is a Connecticut special education and disability rights law attorney with offices in Westport and Guilford. He has represented children and adults with special needs and their families for nearly 30 years. For more information, please visit http://berlinerspecialedlaw.com/