On the morning of December 14th, 2012, we were simply parents — two stay-at-home moms who loved our children deeply. By that night, we were survivors of tragic loss. We sent our daughters, Emilie and Joey, to school that morning.  Only they did not come home. They had been killed in their first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our lives would never be the same.

Before our worlds were turned upside down, neither one of us had ever dreamt of starting a non-profit organization. But in the face of unthinkable tragedy, we were moved to action. In 2013, we co-founded Safe and Sound Schools to honor the lives and legacies of our daughters and to change the conversation around school safety. Today we are 7 years into that mission of relentlessly advocating for the safety and security of every child, every day. We never could have imagined in 2013 that our message would reach over 32,000 schools, impacting nearly 17 million students worldwide through our presentations, trainings, and resources. 

On December 14th, 2012 we felt as though our worlds had come to an end. Looking back, we now realize that tragic day was just a beginning. We are changing the conversation. We see a renewed commitment to protecting our children and youth across our nation. And although there is much work ahead, we are excited about what the future holds for the children and youth of our nation. We know Emilie and Joey are proud as they look down upon our work from above. 

As we look to the future, we have set aggressive goals to increase our support of school communities nationwide.  We will grow our network of partners and subject matter experts, broaden our programs and training, and expand our curriculum and materials to keep even more schools and more students safe and sound.

This Giving Tuesday, we extend our gratitude, because these two moms could not have reached any of these milestones without your continued support and generous contributions. We thank you for supporting us and honoring our daughters through the mission of Safe and Sound Schools.

Please consider donating to our mission today!!

Alissa Parker & Michele Gay, Co-Founders of Safe and Sound Schools 

 

There are two sides of the coin when it comes to mobile devices and safety. On the one hand, they provide a sense of safety through the ability to communicate and contact others in emergency situations. On the other hand, digital devices have the potential to pose significant risks when it comes to cybersecurity. This is very much true for students and young people growing up in the age of social media and mobile technology, in which our usage far exceeds general awareness of the risks. 

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This year’s campaign highlights three key steps all of us within the school community can take to be more digitally secure:

1. Own it. The culmination of small, personal details publicly shared can make you vulnerable to security risks. Posting about things such as where you go to school, where you live, who your friends are, and locations you frequent all add up to provide criminals with information that can unknowingly jeopardize your safety. Err on the side of caution when it comes to sharing your life with the world, considering how much access the public has to you through your digital profile. 

Mobile devices are with us practically everywhere we go, including places like school. As such, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the devices you are carrying with you, and the information they obtain from your usage, such as your location. Know what you are putting out there and think critically when it comes to considering what your device knows about you.  

Tech Tip #1: Own your technology usage, rather than letting it own you. Not only is a digital break a healthy thing to have every once in a while; leaving your phone at home could also limit the information that is being gathered about you through your usage. 

2. Secure it.  What does your digital device know about you?  Be aware of what information is being garnered through your digital presence even when you are not posting. Whether it be your Facebook sharing settings or location-tracking mechanisms embedded in sites such as Google, think critically and consciously about what is being shared automatically, and take steps to limit outside access to that information.  Oftentimes, we grant our devices permission to access our information without even realizing it. But we can take our power back, right here, right now! Turn off location tracking. Make sure your posts don’t get switched to a “public” setting inadvertently. Perhaps even flip your phone into airplane mode when you toss it in your bag so you can have a truly private outing, and still have communication when you need it. 

Do you know what security features are available on your device? If not, explore! Implementing these tools, such as the option for multi-factor authentication for logging into certain platforms, can be a great step towards protecting yourself from things like cybercrime.

Tech Tip #2:  Make sure your passwords are strong. Add a creative mix of letters, numbers and characters. Avoid using the same passwords on multiple sites, especially when it comes to accounts with high-stakes information such as banking and other secure records. 

Tech Tip #3: Use multi-factor authentication when possible. By adding another layer to the log-in process to confirm your identity, multi-factor authentication reduces the risk of being hacked and/or having private information stolen. 

3. Protect it. There are many factors that go into digital security — or digital insecurity. Implementing security measures is one thing, but staying on top of your safety, or keeping an eye on your “digital hygiene,” is another. Stay aware of what you are putting out there, and the “digital trail” you are leaving behind through every action you take online. 

Tech Tip #4: Reflect on your technology usage. What information do you give away by means of posting? What does your device know about you? What kind of digital trail are you leaving? Pretend for a minute that you are a stranger attempting to gain access to you. How easy would it be to access details into your personal life and/or private information? What step can you take today to increase your security? 

This National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, be proactive! By working on your “digital hygiene,” you not only have the opportunity to become more safe and secure, but to take the reigns of your digital life back, and empower yourself and your friends in the process. 

 

Every October, Bullying Prevention Month shines a spotlight on the issue of bullying, but it’s important to remember that bullying is a year-round problem that should be addressed throughout the year in schools and at home.

If you’re not addressing this issue as a parent at home, you run the risk of raising a victim or a bully. Have frank conversations with your children before bullying begins so they know why it’s wrong, the impact it can have on others, and how to handle it if a bully decides to pick on them. So this October, take some time to discuss bullying, but remember it’s a wide-spread problem every month of the year.

The Odds

Just in grades 6 to 12, approximately one-quarter of all kids will be the victims of bullying. And for those parents who think their kids will never be a bully, consider this: Around 30 percent of children have owned up to the fact that they have bullied other children.

Factors That Increase a Child’s Odds of Being a Bully

  • Having trouble following rules
  • Having problems at home
  • Being unpopular
  • Being a well-connected, advantaged child with a sense of entitlement
  • Seeing violence as a positive, or normal, thing
  • Being friends with bullies
  • Feeling the need to fit in

Factors That Make a Child More Likely to be Bullied

  • Children who are quiet
  • Being perceived as different
  • Children who are depressed or anxious
  • Children who aren’t as popular as their classmates
  • Smart kids who do well in school, which can trigger jealousy in bullies who aren’t doing well
  • Being considered annoying or antagonizing by classmates

What Kinds of Bullying Are There?

Bullying might be different from what you remember from your childhood. Sure, there are still playground bullies out there, but it has gotten more sophisticated and often sneakier. Let’s go over the various types you should discuss with your child so they have a clear idea of what bullying is.

  • Physical bullying: This is the classic bullying many people think of, involving physical force like hitting, kicking, and tripping.
  • Verbal bullying: This involves saying mean things to the person being bullied. It could be about their appearance, their family members, their socioeconomic status, disability, or ethnicity.
  • Relational bullying: This is when kids tell other kids to ignore another child. It prevents the victim from having relationships with others, further isolating them.
  • Damage to property: If your child brings a phone to school, the bully might smash it to upset them. Or the bully could steal their belongings instead of breaking them.
  • Cyberbullying: Threats and harassment can be sent through phones, email, social media, and other online sites. Unlike other forms of bullying, there is no break from this kind – it can happen at any point during the day, not just when your child is at school. 

How to Prevent Bullying

There’s no surefire way to stop a bully, but you can cut down on the chances of your child being the victim or turning into a bully by:

  • Talking: Discuss bullying with your child. Tell them what bullies do and how it makes other kids feel. Tell them they can always come to you if they have any problem.
  • Show what true friendship is: You can do this by having healthy relationships in your own life and by letting your child see that. Don’t belittle or gossip about your friends behind their backs, and your child will learn how to properly treat a friend.
  • Address inappropriate behavior: If you are aware or suspect bullying on your child’s part, address it. They need to know they have boundaries.
  • Instill a sense of confidence: Find activities your children enjoy and excel at so they have a healthy sense of self.
  • Teach them to rise above: Walking away or telling a bully to stop sometimes nips the problem in the bud.
  • Report it:If your child is being bullied, report it to the school. Keep persisting until your child is protected

Keep Communication Open

The number one thing you can do is always let your child know you are there for them no matter what. Tell them they shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to tell you anything.

If you want, share stories of problems you had with bullies when you were younger. Or if you were the bully, tell them why you did it and why you regret it. With enough attention and motivation, parents have the power to stomp out bullying from our schools and our children’s lives.


About the Author

Jenny Silverstone is the mother of two, a writer, and an editor for the parenting blog Mom Loves Best. Jenny is passionate about using her platform to spread awareness and help stomp out bullying in our schools and communities.

Editor’s Note

This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

The back-to-school season is full of excitement, and let’s face it…sometimes stress and worries. To-do lists are long, to-don’t lists are sometimes even longer. One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is the safety of your children in their school environment.

Fall is not only the back-to-school season but also a time to shed light on mesothelioma awareness. September 26th is Mesothelioma Awareness Day and is followed by Healthy Lung Month in October. Though mesothelioma is often thought of as an “old man’s disease,” it can be a danger to people of all ages.  Recent news headlines report asbestos contamination in children’s products, indicating our students are among those at risk.

What is asbestos?

Safe and Sound Schools has featured information on asbestos in the past. The important takeaways to know about this mineral are that it was once widely used, is not banned in the United States and that people are still definitely at risk of exposure. For children, the most likely way to come into contact with asbestos in schools is known as third-wave exposure.

These exposure cases stem from products that were manufactured long ago and that have asbestos fibers in them. These fibers lay dormant until disturbed. Asbestos was used as an additive for heat and electrical insulation and is often present in building materials. Once these materials degrade, are uncovered, or are improperly removed, the fibers are released.

The fibers can stay airborne for up to 72 hours, where they are at risk of being inhaled or settling onto other surfaces, like hair and clothing, that may be disturbed again. Upon inhalation, asbestos fibers embed themselves in sensitive internal tissues and can lead to scarring, tumors, and eventually cancer.

How is it a danger to children?

Asbestos is a danger to everyone. It has a dubious history of regulations in the United States that have lead to many lawsuits and a lot of confusion about how common it actually is. Litigation around asbestos exposure cases mainly focused on occupational cases in its heyday.

These numerous and costly lawsuits lead the EPA to issue the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule in 1989, which was then overturned by 1991. This left the United States without comprehensive asbestos regulations and citizens without protection from the dangerous material. Conversely, developed nations like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom do have full bans.

These back-and-forth stances on asbestos have led the general public to believe that the mineral is banned when it is only laxly regulated. This makes it difficult for parents to know exactly when their family may be exposed.

Children are most likely to encounter asbestos at school in two ways; either the school building itself or in contaminated products like school supplies and children’s cosmetics. A report ordered jointly by Senators Markey (MA) and Boxer (CA) estimated that 69.5% of local education institutes still contained asbestos in their facilities.

The report also asserted that “the states do not appear to be systematically monitoring, investigating or addressing asbestos hazards in schools.” The last comprehensive report on asbestos in schools was conducted in 1984 and little updated data on the scope of this problem has been released since then.

The EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) requires all public and non-profit schools districts to develop and maintain an asbestos response plan. However, according to Markey and Boxer’s report, “states do not report conducting regular inspections of local education agencies to detect asbestos hazards and enforce compliance.”

Recent news headlines also underscore that without regulation, asbestos can end up in any product. Last year, asbestos was found in a brand of crayons by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG). On the side of good news, their testing in 2015 revealed asbestos in many brands of crayons, but by 2018 the fibers were present only in one brand’s products.

There is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos, but like cigarette smoking, repeated exposure increases your chance of contracting a health issue. Contaminated art products present particular harm since they are used frequently and are susceptible to breaking. Also, as anyone with a child can attest, things that shouldn’t be eaten are sometimes ingested by little ones.

What you can do to mitigate the risks

While Markey and Boxer’s report seems dubious on the efficacy of AHERA, it is possible for parents to request information from their local school district on compliance to the act. The report also found that most of the AHERA testing conducted recently was not part of the required routine inspections but as a reaction to complaints lodged by parents and school employees.

Since asbestos regulations in the U.S. are lax, being personally vigilant may be the best course of action for parents. There are a number of ways to do this.

  • If your child’s school does not make regular AHERA updates, request for them to do so. You can also request to see the asbestos management plan required by the act.
  • Read all product labels on children’s cosmetics and school supplies and check for any recalls. Products containing talc could also be contaminated with asbestos because the two minerals often co-occur in the ground.
  • If a company has had recalls in the past, avoid them. Check public interest groups like USPRIG for frequent reporting on where toxins may be found.

There are many things to be aware of during the fall season, particularly the safety of our children. Take Mesothelioma Awareness Day and Healthy Lung Month as times to educate yourself on hidden toxins and how to prevent contact with your child or student on a daily basis.

 


Guest Author:
Sarah Wolverton is a cancer advocate for Mesothelioma.com, where she brings attention to carcinogens people come into contact with every day.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CancerAlliance

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MesotheliomaCancer

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

The first day of school is special in so many ways. The energy, enthusiasm and excitement as students enter the doors of the school is palpable. The crispness of waxed hallways, fresh paint and eye popping “Welcome Back!” bulletin boards bring a sense of renewal after the summer break. On those first days, I hope you take a moment and hit the “pause button” – if only for a few seconds – step back, listen, watch. In that moment take stock of the relationships inside your school. It is the people and those relationships that makes your school a special place for teachers to teach and students to learn. As the new year begins, it is those relationships that will ultimately define the quality of the education and personal growth experienced by each student. It will also be those relationships that define the culture of your school.

Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build and grow the relationships needed to influence and sustain a strong school culture. Below are three of my personal favorites you may want to consider as the new school year begins.

Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology, unlike a home visit, which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early.  It also gives teachers a chance to see first-hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective.

Every Kid, Every Day: Over the years I have been in many meetings where the question has been asked, are we sure every student in our school has a meaningful relationship with an adult in our school? We know it is important, but also know it is easier said than done. One of the best programs I’ve seen in my career was at Eastmorland Elementary School in Joplin, MO. The staff wanted to be sure their kids had adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students for the year to connect with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today?” This proved to be impactful to build a stronger sense of community inside the school.

Student Empowerment: As adults, we want to be empowered to make decisions and be a part of the problem-solving process. Our children and youth are no different. Service learning – hands on, curriculum based, student led, service projects grounded in relevancy – is a powerful tool to prepare students for the future. Your community wants and needs to see our youth problem solving and leading the way. And yes…even kindergarteners can be engaged and empowered. The schools with the strongest cultures have student empowerment built into the culture of their school and continuously seek out ways to keep students engaged in the school community.

Without question, you and your colleagues profoundly impact our children and families. It may sound cliché, but it stands true – your work makes a difference. It’s the development, management and engagement of those relationships that light the way to an outstanding school year.


About the Author:

CJ Huff is the retired Superintendent of Joplin Schools and Special Advisor for Education and Community Leadership at Safe and Sound Schools.

Did you know that an inclusive and positive school culture makes for a safer school community? This year, Safe and Sound Schools is kicking off back-to-school with the “Good Days” Tour and Contest, and asking students to think about their campus community, and how they create “Good Days.”

The “Good Days” Tour and Contest is campaign aimed at promoting positive school culture in high schools across the country.

We are teaming up with teen actor Jeremy Ray Taylor and the band Chasing da Vinci to bring “Good Days” to your school. Jeremy Ray Taylor is an American actor best known for his lead roles as “Ben” in the hit film IT and “Sonny” in Goosebumps 2. Chasing da Vinci is a sibling “acoustic-pop” band and also the singers and songwriters of the original song “Good Days.”

Bring Live Music and Workshops to Your High School

Applying is easy. Simply fill our the application and your high school could become one of the winning schools to serve as a tour stop this school year. Submit an application at https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/tour/ by September 25, 2019. If you want to go the extra mile, send us a video under 1 minute sharing what “Good Days” means to you!

The “Good Days” Tour Stop activities include:

  • A SPARK (Small Personal Acts of Real Kindness) workshop with Jeremy Ray Taylor
  • Live performance of “Good Days” by Chasing da Vinci ft. Jeremy Ray Taylor
  • Inspirational stories from Safe and Sound Schools’ co-founders and Sandy Hook moms, Michele Gay & Alissa Parker
  • Safe and Sound Schools Student Club Sign-ups
  • A Chasing da Vinci concert for teens and families
  • Swag, and lots of fun!

Spread the Word

Parents, caregivers, and school staff: Please share this opportunity with high school students in your life. Although this contest is open to the greater high school community, we strongly encourage applications from students!

Students: applying is simple. Feel free to share this contest with your friends and classmates!

Don’t forget to follow us on social media for updates. #GoodDays2019 #GoodDaysTour

 

During the second quarter, the Safe and Sound team traveled to school and professional communities nationally–and internationally to South Korea and Canada–directly reaching over 22,500 people! Nationally, the team visited  31 U.S. cities, spanning 16 states. For a full list of community visits, scroll down. 

Below are some highlights from the second quarter. If you missed our first quarter roundup, click here

Second Quarter Highlights:

  • In April, Safe and Sound Schools hosted a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus. The discussion focused on “The Importance of Mental Health in Comprehensive School Safety and Security Efforts.” 
  • In late April, Alissa Parker traveled to South Korea to share A Parent’s Perspective. 
  • In May, Jammin Hammer Jewelry kicked off an end-of-the-school-year fundraiser for Safe and Sound Schools for the second year in a row. Since then, Jammin Hammer has graciously extended the fundraiser through September. Support our mission and purchase your Safe and Sound Schools bracelets here.
  • The Building for God Community Foundation also celebrated its second year of partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, renewing a $20,000 grant to benefit our Maryland school safety initiatives. 
  • During the month of May, John Hopkins University honored Michele Gay with the Champion in Education Award.
  • Also in May, Michele Gay joined the Department of Justice COPS Office and BJA panel on school safety. National school safety leadership gathered to discuss school safety, emerging issues, and promising practices. Michele presented Rethinking School Safety and later joined a panel of colleagues and partners in school safety from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
  • In June, Michele Gay worked with the FBI filming a new segment for two school safety documentaries. And later in June, the FBI hosted Michele Gay in Clarkburg, West Virginia to speak on preventing tragedy.

New Programs, Trainings, Resources, and Research

Media Highlights

  • Wall Street Journal – Rebuild or Remain? Columbine Revisits a Question It Thought It Had Answered
  • Delmarva Now / USA Today – School Shooting Foiled in Maryland but ‘There’s Still a Lot of Anxiety’ 
  • KLTV ABC 7Tyler ISD gathers for safety workshops lead by mother of Sandy Hook victim

To stay up to date on the latest resources and happenings, make sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our email list.


Collective Community Visits

April

  • April 1, PA – Michele Gay attends the Annual Conference in Philadephia to present A Parent’s Perspective
  • April 3, MA – Michele Gay presents for the 14th Annual New England School Safety Conference in Norwood  
  • April 4, FL – John McDonald presents Stop Justifying and No Higher Calling at the University of Central Florida in Orlando
  • April 8, NY – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in Rochester 
  • April 8, VA – Michele Gay and Lisa Hamp present for Roanoke County Public Schools
  • April 10, Canada – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Banff Conference
  • April 11, DC – Michele Gay represents Safe and Sound Schools and hosts a briefing and panel discussion in cooperation with the Congressional School Safety Caucus 
  • April 15, OH – Frank DeAngelis presents at the Cincinnati School Safety Conference 
  • April 17, IL – Michele Gay presents at the Illinois School Safety Conference in Bensenville 
  • April 18, TX – Alissa Parker presents for the Texas Police Chiefs in Galveston
  • April 24, South Korea – Alissa Parker travels internationally to present for the Seoul Foreign School 
  • April 27, OR – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Oregon PTA

May

  • May 1-2, VA – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for Chesterfield Emergency Management
  • May 6, MA – Michele Gay presents for the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School District in Wakefield 
  • May 16, MD – Michele Gay presents for Anne Arundel County Public Schools
  • May 22, MD – John Hopkins University honors Michele Gay with Champion in Education Award
  • May 23  – Michele Gay participates in panel for the COPS Office 
  • May 28, TX – Michele Gay, Jin Kim, Paul Timm, and Stephen Brock present at Tyler ISD
  • May 30, MA – Safe and Sound Schools’ board members convene in Boston to discuss the mission, progress and strategy of the organization

June

  • June 6, IL – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective at the  LUDA 2019 Spring Symposium
  • June 6, WV – Frank DeAngelis shares Lessons from Columbine at Walton Elementary and Middle School 
  • June 7, NC – Frank DeAngelis presents Lessons from Columbine for The Employers Association in Charlotte 
  • June 8, TX – Frank presents Lessons from Columbine for the Summer Leadership Institute at Texas A&M University 
  • June 11, NY – Michele Gay presents A Parent’s Perspective for the Axis School Safety Symposium at SUNY Purchase.
  • June 17, WA – Alissa Parker shares A Parent’s Perspective for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office in Wenatchee
  • June 18, SC – Scott Poland presents Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliencyfor the South Carolina Association of School Administrators in Myrtle Beach. 
  • June 18, TX – Michele Gay shares A Parent’s Perspective for the National Fire Protection Association in San Antonio. 
  • June 19, WI – Michele Gay presents for the School Resource Officers Conference in Green Bay.
  • June 20, AR – Scott Poland presents Recovering from a Crisis at School at the Christian School Adminstrator’s Conference in Searcy
  • June 24, WA – Scott Poland shares Bullying and Suicide: Keys to Prevention and Resiliency at Eastmont Junior High School for the North Central Education Service District in Wenatchee. 
  • June 25 – Michele Gay welcomes the FBI to her home to film a documentary interview. 
  • June 25, TX – Natalie Hammond keynotes for the Texas School Safety Center in San Marcos. 
  • June 27 – Michele Gay and Susan Parziale attend the NASRO Coalition meeting.
  • June 28, WV – Michele Gay shares  A Parent’s Perspective at the FBI Conference in Clarksburg.

It doesn’t matter where you are – if you stop and think of it, you’ll be able to recall a recent social media post regarding a local missing teen or young adult in just the past few days alone. These calls for help seem to be increasing and with it a lot of conversation about what’s really happening: Where do these children go when they run? Why do they run? And my biggest question: in a world where human traffickers are constantly on the prowl for prey, are these kids truly runaways or have they been strategically targeted and lured away, and what’s the difference? Well, the difference is one every parent must know. Let’s dive into the details:

RUNAWAYS. Some toss “running away” to a simple point in a child’s life when they need a break or time to do their own thing. According to Empowering Parents, in order to run, a child must have the willingness, opportunity and ability. Psychologists also identify triggers like stress, failure, bullying, fear of discipline, a desire to exert power, dealing with a substance abuse, not wanting to go to school or even idealizing running away (creating a romanticized view of freedom in life on the streets) as factors that lead kids to go. While runaways face grave dangers, if they are in control of their fate, the thinking is they will return.

LURED AWAY. But what if the child ran away because they were strategically lured away? There is a huge distinction. A child who is lured away has unknowingly been in contact with a predator who has targeted them, invested in them, and at the moment they run, sees them as a financial commodity where they will be held against their will and forced to do the unimaginable. Sure, these children may willingly walk out of their homes or school, but they have been defrauded and will more than likely be trafficked. I would say the dangers for these kids are grave, making it critical that the community come together, in full force, to find them.

Before you think that can never happen here, think again. Human trafficking, particularly of girls, is on the rise. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime added that trafficking cases overall have hit a 13-year high. Further, study shows that while victims of human trafficking were traditionally thought to be homeless individuals, children or youth in the foster care system, and migrant workers, times are changing and so are the victims.

Today we are learning that traffickers are placing recruiters in churches and schools, in the heart of American cities, to find their targets.

To learn more about this, I spoke to human trafficking activist, Jennifer Hohman, founder of FightForUs.org. FightForUs.org spells out the process by which the everyday child, in a regular neighborhood, in a great home, could fall into this trap. Here’s what parents/caregivers must look out for:

The child is:

  1. Befriended– Recruiters are strategically placed in the child’s life to befriend them and gain their trust. They can be new kids at school or church. They may look like your child and will fit right in.
  2. Intoxicated– Once the friendship blossoms, the recruiter introduces alcohol or drugs to start the process of breaking the child down and creating a wedge between the child and their family. Now the child has secrets that he/she shares with the recruiter but keeps from their parents/caregivers. The child starts to “enjoy” things that make him/her feel older and more independent.
  3. Alienated– Now that a wedge is developed, parents start responding to the changes in their child by placing more rules and in turn, the recruiter uses this to drive a greater wedge between the child and their family.
  4. Isolated– In addition to causing friction at home, the recruiter drives distance between the child and his/her friends and introduces the child to a new crowd of people.
  5. Desensitized– By this stage, the child has heard so much about “life could be so much better if they were just free.” Parents and their rules are a burden, the child has already done drugs or been drinking, they may have started sleeping with a boyfriend/girlfriend or shared promiscuous images online. They start to see traditional thoughts about respecting themselves and their families as immature and no longer pertinent.
  6. Capitalized – At this point, the recruiter has convinced your child that life is better somewhere else and a plan is placed for your child to leave home. Once away from you, the trafficking starts and the retrieval of this child goes down to 1 or 2 percent.

It’s important to realize that by the time you reach step six, your child “willingly” runs away but the real issue is your child was never truly in control of this decision and the outcome. Their immaturity and the parents’ naivety all work to the predator’s advantage.

But we can all stop being naive. We can know the signs, know who your child is talking to, question everyone, and invest in your ability to protect the child and their ability to protect him/herself. Share stories with your young children about the risks of running away and how predators lure children away and why. A lot of this is achieved through simple education and awareness. Talk to your kids. Talk to other family members. Talk to your school and do whatever possible to protect your children and all children. Every child is worth the thought and conversation.


Author: Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston and Special Advisor for Safe and Sound Schools

What could fatherhood and school safety possibly have in common? Plenty, it turns out. At the heart of each is a primal instinct: survival and a need to protect. Central to each is a call to action — what we do and how we make our voices heard.

I began my professional career working with children as a general and special education teacher, and then through my doctoral training, gained a wide array of experiences as a psychologist  – working with children, adolescents and adults, forensic and health psychology, crisis and disaster mental health, and trauma-informed care and practices.

When our son was nearly two years old, I decided to leave full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in New York City to help design and open a global network of international schools, nursery through grade 12, the flagship campus of another international school, Avenues: The World School. This first campus would open the same year our son would begin his first formal educational experiences and enter nursery school. While I was excited to help build a “dream school,” I was also glad to be near my son and protect him throughout his school years.

Just as many “expecting parents” do, I sought to continue learning as much as I could about school design, safety, crisis management, and the many dangers our children face in setting out on this new journey to collaboratively design a new school. As a senior school administrator and leadership team member at Avenues and, more recently, the United Nations International School, I played an instrumental role in planning and developing key support foundations and programs, including health and safety; emergency management and crisis prevention; response and postvention; child protection and safeguarding; school climate; student physical and mental health prevention and wellness; social-emotional learning; life skills and human sexuality; and school safety,  school violence prevention, risk-reduction and intervention.

With a wonderful team of “co-parents” (aka school administrators, faculty, staff, and parents), Avenues opened in September 2012. Proud of this new venture, I was eager to participate and experience the growth and progress of this new school and simultaneously, this new stage of development of my own son as he began his early school years.

With halls abuzz and the academic year off as one would expect for a startup school, two disasters hit before winter break that, ironically, in my mind, have stuck as “the year of Sandy”: Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012.

Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster, caused some physical damages due to flooding. We needed to close school for a few days and provide essential outreach and support to school community members who lost homes. So many parents and community members reached out with a desire to provide support, and some raised important questions about safety measures for our leadership team.

As the school doors reopened, regular school routines and rituals resumed, and the fall months quickly passed. This was, of course, until a news alert from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone during the morning hours of the last day of school prior to our first winter break. It was Friday, December 14, 2012.  The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an act of human violence, shocked and traumatized the Newtown community, the State of Connecticut, the nation, and the entire world.

As an administrator, the shooting at Sandy Hook was hard to accept, but as a parent, it cut to the core of my most grave fears about our children’s safety. I saw how community members came together to show support, and how human connectedness was essential for care, healing, and rebuilding. I was glad that through work, I had a role to play in safeguarding “my” children.

Upon relocating to Cincinnati in 2017 with our son and my partner for his career, I became a stay-at-home parent and for the first time, had to send our son to school on his own. Not only would I not be in the same building during the day, but I was also no longer one of the key leaders and decision makers. This was hard, so I was on the lookout for ways I could proactively put my “primal parenting” urges of physical and psychological protection to use.

Inspired and impressed by the strength and growth of the Safe and Sound Schools mission, becoming a part of the Parent Council was a no-brainer. I applied for the program, eager to increase my own learning in the area of school safety advocacy from a parent and community member perspective.

Since starting this national leadership program, I’ve been able to collaborate with like-minded parents interested in being active, invested and empowered ambassadors, advocates, and parent leaders. Through our Parent Council training program, I’ve looked at school safety from a parent’s perspective. It has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience and a true privilege. Schools should be healthy, cheerful places of learning. The Safe and Sound Schools Parent Council is a way to foster this potential and reality.

As noted in the Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission: “the successful implementation of Safe School Design and Operations (SSDO) strategies requires the support of ‘local champions.’ Each community or school district should have a small standing committee or commission, comprised of individuals representing the school community, law enforcement, fire, EMS and public health, whose responsibility is to ensure that the SSDO standards and strategies are actually implemented in their community.”

Parents have an essential role to play in this framework. Combined with the resources of Safe and Sound Schools’ Comprehensive School Safety Planning and Development model, communities have a plethora of tools to help create safer schools. While negative news coverage may dominate the headlines, we need to keep reminding ourselves of how communication, collaboration, and proactive planning has resulted in stronger, prepared, and resilient school communities.

There is so much more we can all be doing to make our schools safe and welcoming places where our children can reach their full potential, and teachers, staff, and administrators can educate without fear. Our common voice as parents and safe school advocates is extremely important towards this vital goal, and we need to exercise it at all levels with an overarching belief of ‘everyone safe, everyone learns and everyone is successful.’

Herein is the call to action. Let’s work together to make this happen!


About the Author:
Topher Collier, PsyD, ABSNP, In addition to being the proud father of a 9-year-old, Dr. Topher Collier is a licensed psychologist and school administrator with advanced training in trauma-informed and crisis-specific care as well as in clinical care and intervention and neuropsychological, psychological and educational assessment of children, adolescents, adults, and families. 

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!