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Shootings, Tragic Deaths and Lasting Trauma Underscore Need for Strong Laws and Increased Access to Services

May 25, 2022

Statement from Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA) is devastated to hear about the horrific loss of 19 students and two teachers, and serious injuries to several more children and adults, from the recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, and sends deepest, heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and communities affected by these tragic deaths.

As we anticipate that the dreadful elementary-school shooting will be a focus in the news for quite some time, it is important to emphasize that the repeated focus on the incident in traditional and social media can exacerbate the anguish or cause secondary trauma in many children, as well as adults. Immediate and ongoing access to treatment and support services is essential for all individuals to cope with the various traumas they have endured and will likely continue to experience.

Equally critical is the need for strong legislation to prevent such dreadful violence from happening again. In 1999, following the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, NJAMHAA helped draft the Safe Schools and Communities Violence Prevention and Response Plan Act, which was sponsored by then-State Senator Barbara Buono. A pilot program was established in a limited geographic area that mirrored the provisions of the Act, requiring the county superintendent of schools to employ a violence prevention specialist to develop and implement plans in collaboration with mental health specialists. Unfortunately, limited funding prevented this program from being expanded statewide, as had been the intention.

More recently, in January 2020, State Senator Anthony M. Bucco introduced S742, which would establish the Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation, and Protection (RSVP-3) Pilot Program. This initiative would require that law enforcement officers, mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff, and students be trained to identify and report behaviors that indicate potential threats in order to help prevent school violence.

The State Legislature must act immediately to both allocate funding for the Safe Schools and Communities Violence Prevention and Response Plan Act and pass the newer RSVP-3 bill with sufficient funding so it can be implemented throughout the state. New Jersey residents’ lives are at risk and safety measures must be taken immediately.

In addition to preventing future violence, steps must be taken to help everyone cope with the tragic impact of violence. Individuals who are directly involved in violent situations, as well as many others who are indirectly impacted, are likely to experience depression and anxiety and, therefore, need immediate and ongoing mental health care.

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