“To say that it is because they lack training in techniques of crisis de-escalation is short sighted” Sefton 2015

WESTBOROUGH, MA  October 28, 2015 “To say that it is because they lack training in techniques of crisis de-escalation that some deaths may have been prevented is unfair and short sighted.” This quote was first published in the summer 2015 when people (perhaps in the media) first started calling for police officer training in mental health awareness and de-escalation training for police officers. One source actually suggested providing more training in mental health de-escalation and less training in the use of force – including firearms. Some wrongly believe that this “sensitivity training” will reduce the number of officer involved shootings with those who are known to be mentally ill.  Unfortunately police shootings of mentally ill suspects has been on the rise in the past 12-18 months.  Yet the use of force in police work continues to enter the collective consciousness when images of police officers acting aggressively toward defiant high school student go viral on social media.

SRO aggression
School Resource Officer take down of resistant student from posted You Tube video

Arguably, when the police are called to keep the peace or investigate a violent person call they are required to meet this threat with heightened vigilance for personal and citizen safety.  When a violent person is encountered the use of force continuum comes into play.  In the case of the Columbia, SC high school student who was aggressively choked and slammed to the floor while seated at her desk, the school resource officer was rightfully fired. The student posed no immediate threat such that hands on tactics were required to control a menacing suspect. In this case, the student was angry at being told she needed to put away her cell phone and was defiant to teacher direction. The police were called to the classroom as a show of force when neither the teacher nor the administrator could redirect her behavior.

If the violent person is actively aggressive or menacing with threat of lethal injury to the police or others than there is unlikely going to be any successful de-escalation until the threat of lethal force is eliminated.  If the violent person responds to officer directives to cease and desist all violent action and submit to being taken into protective custody or arrest – only then can mental health assessment be initiated. At the moment of crisis the need for public safety in all violent situations supersedes the individual need for care of a mentally ill person.  In the case of the South Carolina high school student no such threat existed but non-physical tactics were ineffectively deployed. The officer may have been able to diffuse the situation with empathy, understanding, and firm authority. The arrest could not be made without a higher degree of force for an actively resistant student that first punched the police officer.

Sefton, M. (2015) Blog post taken 10-28-2015 https://msefton.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/calling-for-de-escalation-training/

Juvenile Firesetting

Godzilla
Drawing produced by child being evaluated for firesetting

Fire sometimes symbolic of internal chaos

NEW BRAINTREE, MA  It was once believed that playing with fire was a normal, developmental curiosity and could be expected.  Fire is a tantalizing and visually captivating phenomena.  It was once espoused that firesetting was symprtomatic of psychopathology that included cruelty to animals and enuresis.  This triad of emotional indicators was thought to symbolize unmet needs and perhaps frustrated infantile drives states.  The current reality suggests that errant use of fire material represents one of the most lethal expressions of childhood emotional turmoil and unbridled conduct.  Depending upon the age of onset using fire as an expression of internalized conflict suggests a serious emotional disorder in need of expert assessment and treatment.  The drawings of some children reveal an chaotic emotional development that may be portrayed by the violence among characters as shown in the drawing here.  Each animal is drawn shooting fire or electric rays. The two main characters shown are Godzilla and Raptor who are engaged in a confrontation.  Each character brings his crew to help eliminate the opponent using fire and electricity.

Exposure to fire and role models

What happens when the child turns one? His parents plop down a birthday cake with a burning candle set alight.  While singing Happy Birthday the toddler sits transfixed as the waxy, flickering bulb melts before his eyes.  Some believe early exposure to fire coupled with significant role models who use and misuse fire material cast the first spark of interest in fire.  Curiosity in fire may be a normal childhood attraction.  But in most cases the normal enchantment with fire represents one of many normal wonders that parents may introduce to children as they grow and mature.  Meanwhile, just as one would not give a loaded firearm to a toddler, one cannot permit an unsupervised child to handle matches or lighters.  The interest in fire becomes a parents responsibility to nurture and polish with age.  This normal interest then foments in homes where the prevailing affective conditions permit – decreased emotional warmth, access to fire starting materials, an absent parent, and frequently domestic violence.  The inconsistent and unpredictable exposure to violence contributes to excessive and unpredictable behavior.

Psychologist are frequently asked to differentiate children who light fires because of normal curiosity versus those who light fire out of a more pathognomic underpinning.  I was once asked to evaluate a surviving 3-year old who lit a house fire killing his 4-year old cousin.  The tragedy of this case transcended 4 generations living in one household and rendered them emotionally overwrought. “Just as we will not put a loaded firearm into the hands of an untrained child, so too must we guard against the unskilled, misuse of fire”, according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Juvenile arson is a serious crime and has life threatening consequences.  The cost to insurance companies is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars across the country.  The loss of life even more costly in terms of the human toll enacted upon families where children light fires.  The truth is that all “fire play” may be hazardous and life threatening when fire gets out of control so access to fire materials like lighters and matches should be carefully limited.  Just as parents kid proof their house when the baby is born so too should they make a house or apartment fire safe from the curiosity of a precocious child.

The most ominous case of juvenile fireplay occur in homes with one or both parents absent from regular, direct nurturing of the child. Why children choose fire play over other forms of acting out is not clear. There tends to be two peak ages where the incidence of fire play is peaked: 3-5 years and 12-15 years. It is far more common in boys than girls but girls tend to light fires that include personal belongings, Any use of combustibles or incendiary devices is highly significant and requires professional assistance. Programs such as that offered by YOU, Incorporated in Central Massachusetts have clinicians who understand the dynamics of fireplay and can help families deal with the risks. See the link below for a sensitive look at one particular story from the midwest.

http://www.traumaburn.org/prevention/seanstory/misuse/index.shtml

Bullying: The real truth about social media

bullying2_images

New Braintree, MA September 24, 2013  Bullying has been recognized as a significant factor in social development in terms of the negative impact that has been shown on victims of this repetitive intimidation and harassment.  The underlying dynamic results from an imbalance of power among peers that has been linked to risk of adolescent suicide.  Arguably, school districts across America have developed programs to combat bullies and reign them back into the social main stream but modern day bullying goes far beyond the playground. Some school districts offer mediation for bullies and victims with mixed results.  When I served as a school psychologist in 2010, members of faculty were surveyed regularly by the principal about students they feared were being bullied and those who were doing the bullying but little was done to intervene.

Bullying has been an issue for children throughout time.  Now, with some much dependence on social media and text messaging the problem of bullying has grown and is more powerful than ever.  Students were once free from intimidation and the impact of bullying once they returned home.  They could relax and allow the day’s torment to wash away.  But with intimidating text messages and social media posts being sent and received almost 24 hours a day the true impact of bullying and the stress of being bullied can be a round the clock threat and humiliation.

15-year old Phoebe Prince killed herself after weeks of intense, humiliating rumors and threats that psychologically wore her down.  “The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said according to New York Daily News in 2010.  Phoebe and her family moved to South Hadley, MA from Ireland.  Almost as soon as she arrived in South Hadley she was preyed upon by the older boys and relentlessly humiliated by the girls in the form of text messages, physical taunts, and covert threats that arrived on her cell phone around the clock.  Several months into this relentless torment Phoebe hanged herself at home.  The social media humiliation became too much.  This 15-year old Irish teen could not tolerate the vicious rumors, threats, and hostility simply because she was different.  She was new.

By outward appearance the school did what they could but the system failed miserably – as it has with too many other children.  Phoebe could not get away from the lies and rumors being cast by other students her age.  Phoebe’s parents never knew the truth of the impact of social media on their child’s suicide.  Most of us don’t know what impact a subtle post and running thread can have on an uncertain mind.  Fear and intimidation may slowly rob the sense of self we each need to be productive and to thrive.   In the moments as she planned for and prepared her final delivery, Phoebe was entirely alone with her anguish.  No person should die this way.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/phoebe-prince-south-hadley-high-school-new-girl-driven-suicide-teenage-cyber-bullies-article-1.165911#ixzz2frrmWV3j