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Child Study Center aids Arkansas town after shootings

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1998 - Summer


The day after four girls and a teacher were shot to death at a middle school in Arkansas, Yale psychologist Steven Marans, Ph.D., was on a plane.

Two boys, ages 11 and 13, were accused of setting off a fire alarm on March 25, then ambushing schoolmates as they ran from the building. As the small city of Jonesboro tried to make sense of the incident, one of nearly a dozen violent outbursts in schools around the nation this past school year, Dr. Marans was summoned as an observer and consultant.

The reason was Yale's Child Development-Community Policing Program, a unique collaboration between mental health professionals at the Child Study Center and New Haven's police department. The CDCP Program, which provides counseling and other support to children who have witnessed violence, has been replicated in four U.S. cities with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The partnership between mental health and law enforcement in New Haven has given us a unique opportunity to think about violence from many perspectives,” says Dr. Marans, who helped launch the program in 1991 with center Director Donald J. Cohen, M.D. '66, and city police leaders. “We have gained an awful lot of experience over the last seven years.”

During his two days in Jonesboro, Dr. Marans talked with counselors, parents, teachers and students and attended a meeting of about 500 students and parents. “They have a very arduous task at hand, which is to mourn the loss of life and to mourn their loss of friends and children,” says Dr. Marans, the Harris Assistant Professor of Child Psychoanalysis. Those who saw the shootings or lost friends may experience depression, eating and sleeping disorders, a sense of disbelief, psychological numbing and a degree of fearfulness. Children may be more clinging and dependent and needy than they are typically.

The town of 50,000 people is left to wonder why two children would set out to kill other children. “Having the easy availability of guns and inadequate supervision has been a potent and lethal combination. But every human being has anger and feelings of rage at times and longings for attention. Those feelings that are common to all of us do not typically find expression in murdering one another,” says Dr. Marans. “We know this behavior is not typical in the majority of children, and our children need to know that as well.”