ELKLAND — Parents, teachers, law enforcement officers, child welfare services, students and members attended a Drug Endangered Children training program Tuesday, Oct. 29. Eric Nation and Stacee Read, both of the National DEC Alliance, spoke about the challenges children in drug endangered environments face as well as proactive responses community members can take.
The event was hosted at the Northern Tioga School District administration building.
Nation, a former undercover officer and commander of a multi-jurisdictional drug task force before he began working for DEC, talked about how his goals changed over the course of his career. When he began in law enforcement, his goals were to protect those who could not protect themselves and to help those who could not help themselves he said. Over time, those goals changed for Nation and he lost focus.
“The one thing we left behind, almost my entire narcotics career until I had an ‘Aha’ moment, was our children,” he said.
After realizing he was failing the children he saw in drug-endangered environments, Nation made a change and began working for the National DEC Alliance.
The focus has to be about the children who are impacted by substance abuse every day, he said.
Read spent 20 years in the child welfare field before getting involved with DEC at the state level. She said that because the child welfare workers weren’t trained well and weren’t knowledgeable about addiction, recovery and the impacts it has on families, the child welfare system was missing important information that was effecting children.
Nation and Read told their stories as a way of illustrating that even when they were trying to do what they thought was right, they weren’t working together. As a result, children and families were suffering.
During the presentation, Read and Nation discussed the the number of children at risk, the effects of abuse and neglect, modeling behavior and the positive things the community is doing to improve the welfare of at-risk children.
For example, according to Michele Regalbuto, the DEC Alliance in Tioga County has around 60 members including commissioners, attorneys, probation officers, state police, child services and school administrators throughout the county.
“When they talk about having to work together, I feel very confident in saying, we are working together. If I need something from the state police I can text (them). If I have a question for an attorney, I have their personal phone numbers and they have mine. If anybody has a question about what to do as far as a mandated reporter and what should you report and how should I report it, people know they can call me,” Regalbuto said.
That collaboration across these fields has played a role in resources the Tioga County DEC Alliance has put into practice such as the Handle With Care program, which enables schools to recognize students who have suffered traumatic experiences outside of school.
“They have a really good foundation of folks in different foundations that have already come together. That collaboration is going to be key moving forward,” Read said.
As Tioga County continues to work to address the drug crisis, a new subcommittee of DEC is being formed in Elkland. The first meeting of this group is scheduled for Nov. 14.
“We recognize that there is a problem and we are not OK with it. We are going to try to build the relationships now in a smaller community instead of the whole county,” Regalbuto said. If successful, the Elkland subcommittee could be a template for other communities to follow.