I spent part of Sunday engrossed in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ newly published policy statement: Firearm-Related Injuries and Deaths in Children and Youth: Injury Prevention and Harm Reduction
A press release describing the findings illustrated the enormity of the public health emergency with the following explanation:
“Each day, 28 US children and teens — the equivalent of a high school classroom — die from gun violence, making it the No. 1 killer of youth through age 24. Firearms have become the leading cause of death among children in the United States.” retrieved from American Academy of Pediatrics: Firearms Violence Prevention Demands a Public Safety Approach Like Regulation of Motor Vehicles
Can we sit in silence while the equivalent of a classroom of students is killed every single day? How many more are injured? Most of these deaths are not noticed because they happen in homes where guns are plentiful, but they are also unlocked, loaded, and accessible.
About 85% of firearm deaths in children ages 12 and younger occur in the home. Teens ages 13-17 are equally likely to be killed at home (39%) or on the street/sidewalk (38%), according to research based on 2014 data.
Many firearm tragedies escape public attention because they occur in a home, sometimes in a child’s own home or at a friend’s house, or their neighbor’s or grandparent’s residence,” said Eric W. Fleegler, MD, MPH, FAAP, a co-author of both reports. “Research tells us that families tend to underestimate how children will behave when they encounter a gun and miscalculate the risks. Suicide risks are also a huge concern, especially in families where teens are struggling with their mental health. – retrieved from Medical Xpress Firearms violence prevention demands a public safety approach like regulation of motor vehicles by American Academy of Pediatrics
There are financial resources being made available for hospital-based and community-based violence intervention programs. This is a very positive move forward, working collaboratively to address the epidemic of firearm death and injury. I can’t help but wonder if including school-based violence intervention programs might accelerate the process by implementing a harm reduction model for those at most risk, our children and teens.
Anti-bullying programs, a long-standing part of school repertoire, do not address the root cause of violence. It addresses bullying, harassment, and intimidation, but does it prevent the escalation of anger that is often the precursor to violence? Too often these programs become a checkbox on a long list of mandatory school training. For example, I have 36 mandatory trainings that I must complete every year. They are automated PowerPoint lasting anywhere from 8 min – 120 min that I find myself mindlessly hurrying through to check off the box.
What we really need is meaningful training that is ongoing, interactive, measurable, and meets the needs of the learners. Schools must become safe spaces that are healing-centered. It is a new way of interacting at school, through a social justice lens. The human factor is at play in schools, the developing brain, and self-regulatory systems are growing and learning. We have to create spaces to support students flourishing, not only punish negative behavior. The behaviors are symptoms of a larger issue and when not addressed, or worse, kicked down the road for someone else to handle, can fester like a virus until one day, due to the exact factors that were never addressed, can lead to revenge or retaliation.
We cannot accept or normalize the death of our children from gun violence that is predictable and preventable. It will take a sea change, a transformation in public policy and public will to put the health and safety needs of our students at the center of the decisions that are made in schools, communities, and homes.
Join me, we can make a difference. in the health and safety of our school communities. Push for change, share the data, tell the stories, and yell from the rooftops if that helps. School nurses can add a public health perspective to any school safety plan. Ask us, we will not turn you down. We want to be part of the process of transforming our schools into healing-centered spaces where both students and school staff flourish.