What Law Enforcement Can Do
First responders often interact with people on their worst days. How you respond to individuals during a crisis can make a world of difference—both immediately and in the future.
When a family or individual is facing crisis, yours is one of the first faces they see after a call for help. Some of the individuals you encounter during an incident response look to you for reassurance, support and guidance. Their interactions with you—and how they felt about them—may guide their future decisions about when and if they will reach out for help from law enforcement or other first responders.
A friendly face and an empathetic ear can go a long way in building trust, both in day-to-day experiences and in times of crisis.
Your responsibility as a mandatory reporter requires that you report suspected neglect and abuse to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). When it’s necessary to do this, try to connect the family with resources that could help.
Ensure that the individuals you have interacted with during an incident response know what to do next and who to contact for help going forward. When possible, offer to reach out on their behalf if you’re concerned that they may avoid contacting organizations that can help them. This act of care can be an important step in supporting and helping families experiencing crisis.
Stay up to date on state and local resources for children and youth so that you can be a source of information for families. There are many local programs that you can suggest to parents and youth in need of guidance, assistance or help with basic needs. Here are a few examples:
For families in immediate need during times of crisis, refer to the following resources:
The Children’s Bureau, an office of the Administration for Children and Families, and the Department of Justice have developed manuals to help guide law enforcement and other first responders in how to recognize and manage incidents where child abuse and neglect is suspected.
Be prepared to interact with individuals and children with varying needs and abilities. Check out the Isaac Foundation training for first responders on effective interaction techniques for children with autism.
Those working in law enforcement, as well as other first responders, are often confronted with the trauma and crises of others during their workday, either seeing it first-hand, or hearing about it when taking information from individuals at the scene.
This can lead to direct traumatic stress in the former case and secondary traumatic stress in the latter. While many people are familiar with the concept of traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress, also known as vicarious trauma, is not as widely understood and is defined as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.”1 Essentially, listening to the traumatic experiences of others can result in emotional strain for the listener.
It is important for first responders to have support and access to information about direct and secondary traumatic stress—here are some resources: