LIU Post psychologist testifies before Sandy Hook panel
LIU Post psychologist Thomas Demaria testified Friday before Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission that children exposed to threatening events should be subject to long-term monitoring.
Such monitoring through their school years would protect them from future vulnerability, victimization and mental health difficulties, Demaria said.
"We have to follow them through time to make sure there are no aftereffects," Demaria said after his presentation. "Because the kids aren't showing symptoms right now doesn't mean they aren't wounded."
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The commission, formed after the fatal school shooting in Newtown that killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members, has drawn national experts and politicians to speak about gun violence and mental health.
Demaria said there were about 50 people in Friday's meeting, including members of the commission.
Demaria urged that all school staff be educated on how to handle bereavement issues when dealing with children and their families. He said the education should go beyond the school setting and include parent and community organizations.
After a traumatic event, Demaria said, educators should strive to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, and there should be limits on gifts from the public to the children to help restore that normalcy.
"The school needs to be restored as a sanctuary," Demaria said later.
Demaria, co-founder of the World Trade Center Family Center at LIU Post, was on a panel of mental health experts meeting in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford for the invitation-only event.
The nature of informal memorials can yield important clues to the emotions young people are experiencing, Demaria said.
"It's a good way to get a sense of what the kids need to do to process their feelings," he said in a statement.
In addition to Demaria and Connecticut mental health officials, others testifying included Marleen Wong, assistant dean and clinical professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and John Barry, superintendent of the Aurora, Colo., public school system.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is a 16-member panel of education, public safety, psychiatric and legal experts who convened for the first time on Jan. 24.
The members were appointed by the Connecticut governor.
The group is chaired by Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson and charged with reviewing current policy and making specific recommendations in the areas of public safety, with particular attention paid to school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention. Its initial report is due in mid-March.
Demaria and students in the LIU Post Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program counsel people from communities post-tragedies -- from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti to serious crimes or fatal accidents.
Among the topics of their research is the creation of memorials after traumatic events -- official ones as well as spontaneous, informal tributes, often assembled by young people processing grief.