Project Pinwheel

A note about COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed added stress on many individuals and families. Stressors related to job loss, changes to routine and other hardships have, in turn, increased the amount of risk to children and families. As a first responder, you may encounter those who have been isolated or those who are experiencing great amounts of stress. Making a connection with individuals and families and providing support, resources, empathy and encouragement can benefit children and families.

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.
Listen and Connect

Listen and Connect

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.

  • When possible, take a moment to connect with children and youth present during an incident response—make sure they have an opportunity to communicate with you and feel acknowledged and heard by an adult in a position of trust. Learn more about vicarious trauma and trauma-informed techniques for first responders.
  • Interact with families at fun community events like National Night Out Against Crime, Touch a Truck and other community celebrations. Giving children the opportunity to meet people in your profession—and in uniform—gives them a chance to develop trusting relationships and positive associations with first responders.
  • Find other opportunities to help and influence children and youth. Get involved in child or youth mentoring programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) or the Police Activity League (PAL).


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.

Educate and Share

Educate and Share

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:

  • Communities in Schools works to help kids succeed academically and in life by providing intensive case management for students considered to be at high risk of dropping out. There is always a need for mentors, tutors and other volunteers so consider signing up to help a child in need of your support.
  • Children’s Home Society provides counseling for children and families and parenting resources.
  • ParentHelp123 provides a wide range of information and resources for families from child development to financial support.

For families in immediate need during times of crisis, refer to the following resources:

  • The YWCA offers a 24-hour hotline (326.2255.CALL) for individuals experiencing family violence.
  • Lutheran Community Services and the Kalispel Victim Advocates Program also offer resources to those impacted by family violence.
  • SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Hotline (1.800.985.5990) provides counseling to people experiencing a natural or human-caused disaster.


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.

Take Care of Yourself

Take Care of Yourself

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:

  • The Office for Victims of Crime developed a toolkit for first responders to learn about vicarious trauma and how to care for themselves and others.
  • The Disaster Distress Hotline is a phone-based, free, confidential counseling resource for individuals experiencing emotional distress due to natural and human-caused disasters and is sponsored by SAMSHA.

1 “Secondary Traumatic Stress,” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, last accessed December 6, 2019,