DARLINGTON – When children are involved in a traumatic experience, be it a car accident or a fire, it can really effect them mentally, if not physically. REACH-A-Child, an organization from Dane County, is trying to combat some of the mental stress on children by offering First Responders and Fire and Police Departments REACH BAGS.
Curtis Fuszard, the Executive Director of REACH-A-Child, dropped off 24 REACH BAGS to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department full of children’s books for ages 2-13, for the officers to use to help comfort children or to use as a positive interaction between law enforcement.
“First Responder departments hand out stuffed animals to children. We have heard it is hard to keep them clean or store them and while the child is holding the stuffed animal for comfort, they may still be looking at the traumatic incident,” Fuszard said.
With the REACH BAGS, it allows the children to look at the books and focus more on the books rather than the situation. Research reveals that the brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time. By giving a child a book, their attention is taken away from the crisis. A Marquette University study showed that the REACH-A-Child program could help reduce the impact of PTSD in children.
Theresa Burgess, Emergency Management Officer for the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department, stated that Sheriff Reg Gill brought the idea back from a Badger Sheriff’s Conference and she did a little research and inquired about how the department could get the bags.
Meanwhile the sample bag was placed in the dispatch as children often spend time in the lobby while their parents are reporting crimes or giving statements.
“One afternoon, I walked into the lobby to see two young children sitting so nicely as the older sibling read a story to the younger. It was quite priceless really. The children got to keep the book and had a very positive law enforcement contact. That is what we strive for. We are sometimes meeting children during a negative situation that they are often involved in or simply an innocent bystander. This is an opportunity to provide them with something positive,” Burgess said.
Since 2007, REACH-A-Child has been providing REACH BAGS to First Responders across Wisconsin after a husband and wife from Middleton visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. They saw messages from children who were sad and traumatized from the experience and felt they could help children who are traumatized each and every day. They began gathering children’s books and took them to the police and first responders throughout Dane County and then throughout Wisconsin.
In 2016, REACH-A-Child delivered REACH BAGs to enough First Responders to comfort 9,621 children. Their goal this year is to help First Responders comfort 20,000 children.
Lafayette County is the 10th sheriff’s department to adopt the program. All 450 Wisconsin State Patrol vehicles have a REACH BAG. The departments are never charged for the resources. All the money is raised through community partners and fundraising events.
“More and more departments are using them proactively. We are providing them with an extra supply of books to have more positive experiences with children. There is a true power a book can have,” Fuszard added.
For more information on how to donate or to learn more about REACH-A-Child, visit their website at www.reachachild.org.