What Role Can First Responders Play?
You’re often the very first person responding to a crisis that involves child neglect or abuse - or the first one to intervene when a disaster or tragedy strikes a family. You are looked to for compassion and reassurance, and the resources and referrals you share will likely be the first information the family receives.
When a family is in crisis, first responders is the most important one in showing compassion and connecting those in need to local resources.
Your response is key: If families have a good experience with first responders, they are much more likely to reach out for help in the future.
What Can You Do?
Be the face of the community.
Display your compassion and empathy as you carry out your professional duties.
Don’t forget the kids.
Interact with children or youth if they are present at the scene and it doesn’t interfere with your duties. Children and adolescents describe feeling invisible in times of family crisis as adult-to-adult interaction is the priority. Even a brief greeting and an exchange of names to show that you know they matter can make a big difference.
Be informed - so that you can inform others.
Have a good working knowledge of resources for children and youth - at school, in the community, etc. - so you can be a source of good information for families. Parenting Now!’s resource guide offers a wealth of information on everything from mental health to financial assistance.
Take care of yourself.
Exposure to others’ pain and suffering can cause “Secondary Traumatic Stress” as professionals start to experience symptoms similar to the traumatized person they are trying to help. Learn more online here.
Learn what to look for.
National child welfare experts have developed a handbook especially for first responders that outlines how to recognize and deal with cases of child abuse and neglect. The Department of Justice has a similar guide specifically for members of law enforcement.
Leave good referral information with the families so they know whom to connect with next. If possible, make a warm referral: Offer to contact the group yourself to connect the family to resources. Yes, this is time consuming - but can often yield incredibly positive results for families and decrease isolation.
Go the extra mile.
As mandatory reporters, make the effort to connect the family with resources as well as reporting what you see to child protective services. Many reports are not investigated and the family may benefit greatly from your referrals – especially in cases of suspected neglect.
Learn about trauma-informed practice.
Locally, contact the Trauma Healing Project to take advantage of their expertise.
Offer a 24/7 resources
SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Hotline (1-800-985-5990) provides counseling to people experiencing a natural or human-caused disaster. Locally, Whitebird’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 541-687-4000 or 1-800-422-7558. Womenspace’s crisis line, at 541-485-6513 or 1-800-281-2800, can help someone you’re concerned may be a victim of domestic violence.