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Program seeks to minimize child trauma when parents are arrested

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Buffalo Police will begin formal training later this year, so they may lessen the risk of child trauma in cases during which the youngster witnesses a parent being arrested or engaging with officers in other police matters.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, when speaking of the challenges of policing, said the city has made police reforms and have some underway now, including the one introduced Thursday inside the Community Health Center of Buffalo.

"We think that this program, Safeguarding the Children of Arrested Parents, is critically important to strengthening the community-police relationship," Brown said. "We think it's essential to reducing trauma in children in our community, and putting children of parents who have been arrested on a healthier path to success in the community."

The Osborne Association, which serves individuals and families touched by the criminal justice system, will team with Buffalo Police and, in partnership with the University at Buffalo's Institute of Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, train officers while developing a set of policies and protocols for situations when a child is present as an officer needs to make an arrest.

Former US Attorney Denise O'Donnell now serves as a senior advisor for the Osborne Association.

“Our vision, to be really innovative and to attack this problem in a multi dimensional way, was to have a much broader view of how we could implement child sensitive policing in Buffalo," she said. "But equally important, to really make a difference in reducing trauma to kids with that experience."

O'Donnell says the program will focus on Buffalo's most vulnerable children, including those living in Black and Brown communities that are highly policed and among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Deputy Police Commissioner Barbara Lark spent most of her police career working in East Side neighborhoods, including community policing events. She recalled one encounter with a very young child during a community event.

“As I walked through and waved my hand at this young boy, about three years old, he was sitting with a female adult. And I was expecting a friendly response. And he said ‘I don't like police,’" she said. "So I really was taken aback by this. And I spoke to the female adult that he was with. She was his aunt and she said to me, his father was arrested.”

Lark added that she was determined to end that encounter by changing the boy's mind, and she was able to do so after giving him a coloring book and stickers. But she noted that police are already aware of the impact their work often leaves on children. The training, which is expected to begin this summer, will be according to Lark their first formal training in minimizing child trauma.

“What we'd like to do is train our officers on how to more effectively deal with children, that's going to be trauma. We want to give them the language, the training, so that they know the proper language to use and can be sensitive to these children," said Lark. "We're going to adopt this child sensitive policing practices and protocols. And we're going to put what we need in place to provide the best services that we can.”

AT&T and the Western New York COVID-19 Community Response Fund are providing the money to support the training.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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