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How Pediatricians Can Advocate for Children’s Safety in Their Communities

   

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers its deepest sympathies to everyone affected by school shootings. The AAP firmly believes that children deserve a safe environment in which to grow and learn. Many members have asked what they can do to help. As a pediatrician, you are in a unique and powerful position to advocate for children's health issues.

Here are steps pediatricians can take to make changes:

  1. Learn where AAP stands.

  2. Advocate.

    • Connect with your AAP chapter to find out how your state is working to address firearm safety and other issues.
    • Engage your local media. Send a letter to the editor and/or offer yourself as a source for interviews. The AAP has developed speaking points on firearms, mental health and school violence to assist you. The “Media Resources” tab of federaladvocacy.aap.org allows you to look up media outlets and contacts by zip code to help you submit letters to the editor and opinion editorials.
    • Contact your local school district to offer your assistance and expertise.  Become familiar with your school district’s emergency management plan.  Know the names and means for contacting school health and safety team staff (e.g., medical advisor, school nurse, psychologists, social workers) and how you may assist them in the event of a crisis.
    • Reach out to your state legislators and members of Congress to advocate for improved gun safety legislation and funding for mental health services. The AAP Federal Advocacy page includes a draft email and speaking points to assist you in reaching out to your federal legislators.
    • Advocate in the community for improved children’s mental health services including access to mental health professionals, community-based psychosocial interventions, and substance abuse services. Begin discussions with community mental health providers, schools, and parents on ways to improve early identification, treatment, and referral services for students.
    • Contact the AAP Division of State Government Affairs for more information on advocating on these issues at the state level.
    • Sign up to be a member of the AAP Key Contact network to learn more about this and other federal policy issues important to children.
  3. In your practice:

    • Address firearms safety as part of your routine anticipatory guidance with children of all ages. Ask about the presence of firearms in the home, and counsel parents who do keep guns to store them unloaded in a locked case, with the ammunition locked separately. While the safest home for children is one without a gun, safe storage practices can significantly reduce the risk of gun injury or death.
    • Advise families to remove guns from the home of any child or teenager who is depressed. Educate families that suicide attempts with a gun are very likely to be fatal, and that the presence of a gun in the home is associated with increased risk of suicide among adolescents.
    • Instruct parents to ask if there is gun in the house before sending their children to play at a friends’ home.
    • Screen for mental health concerns and substance use at well-child visits, and have mental health materials available in the office. Provide anticipatory guidance on parenting practices to promote resilience and lessen the effects of toxic stress. 
    • Know how to access mental health and substance use support services in your community for children and families.
    • Reinforce families’ awareness of their school districts’ crisis plans, particularly calling attention to the school’s plan for parental notification in the event of lockdown, shelter-in-place, or evacuation to an alternative site.
    • Promote adjustment and help children cope. During or immediately following a disaster, efforts should be focused on helping children by providing psychological first aid and identifying children who will benefit from counseling or mental health services.
    • Encourage parents to minimize their child’s exposure to media (television, radio, print, Internet, social media) and if they do watch, suggest that parents record, screen and watch with them. In the days following a crisis is a good time to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.
    • Talk with parents and children who come into your office to gauge how they are feeling after this national tragedy. As a routine, include discussion of “media diets” with parents and kids of all ages. Screen time, exposure to violence, and use of social media can all impact children’s and adolescents’ mental and physical health.
    • Take care of yourself. Compassion fatigue is an inescapable aspect of a pediatrician's work. Listening to trauma stories or helping patients/families deal with a tragedy or loss can have an emotional toll. Remember to “Put your own oxygen mask on first” and help yourself by taking a break from your professional activities, engaging in activities that you enjoy, using positive self-talk to counteract negative thoughts, eating healthy meals, and getting regular exercise.

Resources for Families and Teachers:

Additional Resources for Pediatricians: