The Chattanooga Police Department and Unum announced Wednesday a new partnership to aid children following traumatic events that require police presence.
The "Cops Care" program will provide bags to children at police scenes in an attempt to bring comfort and a distraction. The kits will include items such as a blanket, a stress ball, stuffed animals and coloring books.
"This is just another item that the officers are going to have available," said police Chief David Roddy, "so that if they see a child in need — a child that has been hurt, victimized, experienced trauma — this is something that they can use to kind of mitigate where that trauma is going right then, distract the child out of that harsh and hard moment in their lives and let the officers do what they always do and strive to do, which is help our community."
The idea came about after a former Chattanooga police officer told his coworker, Officer Alex Forgey, about a stressful call where there were two children present, but there was little he could do to distract or entertain them. Alex then told his mom Ruthie Forgey, a corps officer for the Salvation Army in Cleveland, and by early 2020 she began searching for partners to help create something to help children during a crisis.
Ruthie Forgey said that while the pandemic slowed the launch, she and other community partners, including Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association President Olga de Klein, began seeking donations and doing research into what might be most helpful psychologically and emotionally for kids in an adverse situation.
According to a news release, the police department and Unum also consulted Becky Haas, an experienced adverse childhood experiences trainer, for insight.
"Cops care," said Ruthie Forgey. "Cops really care. And in situations a lot of times where they are dealing with the adults and have to be a little more stern and firm, with children they get to be tender and kind and nurturing, and this just equips them to be able to provide that nurturing and that care."
Roddy said that trauma isn't always what people expect and that the bags would be useful on a variety of calls.
"Trauma doesn't look like what many people think it does," Roddy said. "Through adverse childhood experiences training, you start to understand that trauma for a child can be everything from an empty refrigerator to an apathetic or unattentive parent or caregiver to actual direct trauma where there are scenes where people dressed like me show up."
For the initial launch, Umum provided 600 donation-funded bags to the officers in attendance, out of a total of 930 that the organization will supply in Chattanooga. About 270 additional bags will go to the Cleveland Police Department.
"Adverse traumatic experiences with children can really impact their ability to do well in school and live healthy lives," said Lisa Iglesias, Unum's executive vice president and general counsel. "Anything to help distract them, engage them in a different way, in a friendly way, during some really tough spots that the police have to assist on can only help soothe them and hopefully make it a little bit easier for them that evening."
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