It is not uncommon for a police officer to arrive at the scene of the crime and find a child who has witnessed some sort of violence. Youth who witness violent crimes are more likely to suffer from depression, perform poorly in school, develop drug/ alcohol abuse problems or become juvenile offenders, according to several nursing studies.

That is why the UNM College of Nursing honor students have come up with a simple approach that the Albuquerque Police Academy has implemented to train its cadets on how to comfort, acknowledge, observe and protect children at the scenes of crime.

According to the nursing students, Marissa Romero, Brenda Bannowsky, Van Nguyen and Molly Ashcraft, more often than not these young witnesses are bypassed and ignored and may not be treated until trauma-related behavior manifests, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

As part of their public health roles, nurses and law enforcement personnel are in the most opportune place to provide positive images to these children. Police officers can be key resources to promote prevention of further damage to children's psyches.

The prevention model the nursing students developed, called "A COP," which stands for acknowledge, comfort, observe and protect, covers basic guidelines that law enforcement officers and other adults who may be present at crime scenes can use to minimize trauma for children who have witnessed something disturbing.

For example, the first step is to ensure the child's safety and attend to his/her comfort needs. The students say this can be as simple as offering a quiet place to sit down while informing the child that what just happened is not his/her fault.

They added that the police officer can also reassure the child that everything is being done to help him/her and the involved family members. This honest and compassionate dialogue can positively and permanently influence children as they often replicate what they see.

As nurses, Romero, Bannowsky, Nguyen and Ashcraft, hope that their familiarity with stages of growth and development of children used in the intervention model they have shared with police officers will help promote a safe environment for children exposed to uncertain and chaotic events at crime scenes.

The UNM College of Nursing provides nursing education, research, service and leadership in nursing for the state of New Mexico. With degrees at baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels, including nursing education, and community health, the College focuses on asking and answering the most difficult questions about nursing care and how nurses can design and manage health care delivery to meet the needs of the state.


Contact: Angela Heisel, 272-3322