While Hastings resident Brian Farragher, the executive president and chief operating officer at Andrus, was horrified and saddened by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he regrets that an event like this had to occur for the country to take a serious look at violence in the U.S.
“The reality is that kids get shot all the time in this country,” said Farragher, 54, who has worked in the childhood mental health field and has been with the family services center located on the boarder of Hastings-on-Hudson and Yonkers for more than 25 years.
According to Farragher, 350 children are shot and killed by guns each week and 26 everyday. He says changes in the way we view violence and anger in American culture and making sure all of our children know how to better deal with their emotions are crucial in preventing gun violence, in addition to reducing the availability of guns.
“I think it makes me kind of angry that we’re not doing a better job of reducing violence in this county and dealing with the issue of violence,” said Farragher. “When it happens to our black and brown kids, we don’t think much about it. I think if we can start focusing on this issue of violence and its impact on our kids, then maybe something good can come from this.”
Farragher was among a group of individuals selected from throughout the country to present their perspectives on violence prevention Friday at the White House’s Gun Violence Prevention stakeholders meeting.
“Physical violence erupts when there is a ponderance of emotional, social and verbal violence,” said Farragher. “If you listen to the discourse in this country, the left and right, black and white, Republicans and Democrats—it’s not enough to just disagree. You have to swear at each other, call each other names, you have to try to kill the other guy—I think the lack of civility and the lack of respect that we have with each other is a breeding ground for physical violence.”
Farragher says other complicated issues like the glorification of violence in media and film, mental illness, racism, poverty and the “haves and have-nots” also can make people feel disconnected and marginalized, which makes them more prone to settle scores.
“If we can teach kids to better manage their emotions and set up a model for our kids on how to be civilized and disagree in reasonable ways—I think all of those things would go a long way in making the world a safer place,” said Farragher.
Farragher spoke at the White House of the roots of violence as the manifestation of greater issues by explaining Andrus’ Sanctuary program, a trauma informed treatment based in neuro-science, which is offered to adults and children at the family services center.
“When kids are under a lot of stress and strain, resulting from being abused or neglected or are victims or witnesses of violence, it creates a level of toxic stress, which changes the way our brains develop,” said Farragher. “They are wired to respond to a threat. When you’ve grown up with a lot of adversity it changes your world view. You start looking at the world as a place that is not safe sometimes and you behave in way as if people are going to get you, so you get them first.”
Farragher said that people who have been injured tend to be more prone to injure others. The Sanctuary program offers patients a way to understand what has happened to them and help them realize that their reactions are normal reactions to an abnormal situation, and that they have the ability to choose how they reaction and manage their emotions.
Andrus’ Sanctuary Institute has trained more than 250 other organizations around the world in the Sanctuary model; including child care centers, juvenile facilities, residential programs, domestic violence programs and even an insurance company. The program is based on universal principals on how to treat one another and “what recovery is about, and what it’s not about.” Farragher said the program is proven to reduce violence.
“What we want to do is understand why people who become violent and help them recover, rather than lash out at somebody else,” said Farragher. “Parents too have to understand that we’re helping kids wire their brains at an early age. How we engage with kids is really important.”
Farragher said that responding to children in a punitive way by punishing or humiliating them is just going to cause more problems, and that children need to feel safe and loved.
“They need more love and not more discipline,” said Farragher. “I know that sounds really soft, but I think kids needs to have limits. I think there’s this sense that kids do bad things because they are bad kids. No one has set a limit for them and a lot of the time they’ve been very badly hurt.”