I truly have struggled to address the stunning implications of the recent massacre of such sweet innocents in Connecticut. The last few days have moved by much like a slow-motion film, and mostly have been unbelievable. This delay in my personal response to the tragedy may stem from my early (and perhaps premature) days of taking care of young children. After all, I began caregiving at the age of nine. I knew at this early age that I had to keep my younger brother and cousins safe from harm. No high falls or swallowing small objects. No running out in the street. No eating toxins or touching hot objects. No playing with fire or sticking things in the electrical outlets. No disappearing acts. No trust of strangers. Even then, I knew that I had to have a system, a method to keep them safe. I was in charge and I had to maintain a vigilant eye over them. I slept only when they slept.
As an adult, I have embraced a career that always involves keeping watch over children. Probation officer, group home therapist, program and training director for state residential facilities, pediatric hospital child protection administrator, national and international child welfare and juvenile justice consultant, and now, executive director for a comprehensive child and family welfare agency. In all of these roles, child safety has been the fundamental entitlement I committed to provide for all of the children and youth we served. Safety ensures psychological, spiritual, and physical well being and healthy growth. Death, in any form, is the enemy. Maltreatment by adults. Negative peer pressure. Self destruction. Unemployment and illiteracy. Addictions and disabilities. Hopelessness and rage. And so, I am highly evolved in my consciousness of methods that keep children safe. Respond to your instinct, your gut about danger. Notice divergence from normal patterns. Promote close teamwork and strong relationships. Promote interdependence, fairness, and authentic dialogue. Demand compliance with protocols and procedures that constitute a “method” and represent best practices and plans. Know when to keep others out of the environment, and do so. Anticipate what could possibly go wrong and rehearse an effective response. Train and educate. Keep safety as a mindset and as a foremost agenda at all times.
So what went wrong in Newtown? Were there subtle messages that were missed, or was it simply our human inability to create a fail-safe or fail-secure method, that, in the presence of insanity and chaos, would protect our children, or at least minimize any harm to both their caregivers and them? When the best plans fail (and they will), how do we prevent or mitigate against unsafe consequences for our young?
Two additional police officers were assigned as security to my granddaughter’s elementary school this week. Her mother reports that these law enforcement professionals are friendly and appropriate. I know that no one can control life’s trajectories, but somehow this nationally elevated consciousness may be a very good thing. As I wrap my mind and heart around this devastating loss for the families, the community, and the nation, I am reassured that many, many more of us are thinking about how to keep all of our children safe. And may be this is the only fail safe approach we could possibly adopt.