Trauma coalition at Rutgers opens conversation about why tragedy occurs and how to affect change
Amid a surge in numbers of school shootings in recent years, the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth Program (TLC) at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) offers students a program that focuses on trauma relief.
The first seven weeks of 2018 have seen eight school shootings that have resulted in either death or injury, including the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students were killed, according to The Guardian.
Maureen Brogan, coordinator of TLC for the state of New Jersey, said its duty is to respond to any type of traumatic event statewide that involves someone younger than 22.
The coalition began in 2000 in Mercer County, New Jersey, as a response to the high rate of student deaths and suicides among young people. It was started as an effort to provide more counseling to schools and the youth community after any type of tragic events. After Sept. 11, 2001, every county in the state adapted a TLC program, Brogan said.
She said the TLC in every county works with local schools, colleges and communities to cope with any traumatic events. Brogan, as the statewide coordinator for the coalition, oversees all of the counties in the state.
She described her job as providing “psychological first aid” by assisting young people through the first few days after a traumatic incident and helping them move back to their normality.
“If something should happen, such as a car accident, a homicide, a suicide, a death by illness, any loss of life, the school will reach out to us and ask for some assistance in either breaking the bad news or dealing with the events,” Brogan said.
For many years, the coalition’s main focus was on suicide. Brogan said approximately 24 to 27 percent of their responses are to suicide. Over the years, the coalition has developed programs that are both proactive and reactive to school suicides.
She said that suicide is the hardest topic for both schools and families to deal with, because it is the most difficult issue to discuss.
In light of school shootings, the TLC has been asked by different schools in the state for information on how to speak with students, as well as adults, about school shootings, Brogan said. The coalition has also provided schools with social media guidelines for dealing with a traumatic event that is also public.
“We’ve gotten calls from schools that say things like, ‘Hey, it didn't happen here, but we just want to know about it,’” she said. “When the students are talking about it, we want to be there to help.”
Brogan said that both her and TLC have received phone calls about the upcoming school walkouts across the country to protest school shootings. Although TLC has taken a neutral stance on the walkouts, it is engaging with students in the conversation about school safety as well as the aftermath of a shooting.
“If the students are doing it, have a conversation as to why they are doing it. Also have a conversation about what other ways can they express this concern and foster change,” she said. “We need them to understand that they are not walking out because everyone else is doing it, but to acknowledge it is for a cause.”
Brogan said that in times like these, following a massive school shooting, their main concern is the safety and well being of students. Although they do not dictate what schools say to their students, they do provide training and psychological aid to any school in the state that wishes to engage in a meaningful conversation about traumatic experiences.
“We are really talking to the schools about sending both a consistent and safe message about what they are teaching to their students, and also to always relay the message to care about their students,” Brogan said. “We definitely want to further and continue a dialogue with students about how to approach delicate issues and care for their mental fitness in the aftermath.”