Public Safety and Healthy Development
Mark Schwartz has been a Chittenden County Police Officer for the past 5 years. He is married and resides on a farm with his wife where they have 4 dogs and enjoy riding horses.
As a public safety officer, I have observed that it takes a community to keep children in safe and stable environments that are optimal for healthy development. Public safety is an essential part of this community, and beyond the people closest to a child, police officers play an important role in ensuring that each child is growing up in a safe environment where she/he can learn and thrive.
Every day, I witness how today’s demands on families can compromise that environment.
With most families having to rely on dual incomes, working parents are juggling full-time jobs while trying to provide the best for their children. On the job, I meet parents who do not have adequate support and who often find themselves in untenable situations that are not beneficial for their children’s healthy development.
A fellow officer of mine recently managed a case of neglect in which a woman was leaving her 6-year-old child home alone while she worked an evening shift. By helping the mother connect with an afterschool program that went late into the evening and served dinner, he facilitated a healthy situation for the child as well as the mother. She was so thankful—she was completely unaware of this option for her son. Now her son is in a situation where he is safe, in good care, has the opportunity to play with other children and receives a wholesome meal for dinner. Also, she is able to continue to work to support her family and is able to be more productive with piece of mind knowing that her son is in a secure, caring environment.
This is a worst-case scenario, but parents who are mentally and physically drained from their daily routines are also simply less likely to have time to engage their children in the stimulating activities that help build strong brain connections and support their healthy development. With the support of local organizations, like the community-based after school program sponsored by the police department, children can get involved with activities and events that stimulate them mentally and physically. While most people think of police as enforcers, we are here to help with prevention in order to support healthy child outcomes as well. We offer support, resources and training to ensure that parents are receiving the support they need.
Building community trust is the cornerstone of successful policing and law enforcement. We must involve the whole community in ensuring our children have a strong start.
Ideas to involve the community:
- Request a visit by a police officer. Talk to children about how police officers are their friends and are available to help should a dangerous situation arise. Make sure children know how to identify an officer.
- Schedule a visit with a firefighter: either transport children to the fire station or invite a firefighter to a community or child care center. Educate children with basic information on fire safety and what to do in the event of a fire. Explain the various tools and equipment carried on the fire truck.