Hey readers! Today I am talking about something that needs more attention in the OT world: gun violence prevention. (*This topic may be difficult to read or discuss for some. Please feel free to exit this page if you need to.) Occupational therapists have an important role in school settings, where we work with children and teens to participate in academics. However, I also believe that OTs have the potential to play a major role in gun violence prevention in schools. Unfortunately, I could not find any resources detailing how OTs can prevent gun violence in schools. AOTA describes the role of OT in schools here, including OT’s role in anti-bullying, violence prevention, and school safety campaigns. But how do we do that? Is there evidence showing the best method? If you have any articles (preferably research-based) that can help answer these questions, please comment below.
I am embarking on a level II fieldwork placement in a school system next September, so this topic is even more important to me now than ever. Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety both offer great resources to learn about gun violence in America, both in and out of schools. In 2019, there were 103 acts of gun violence on school grounds. Learn more here. I want to learn how I as a future OT can help keep children safe in schools, including my own children one day. (Don’t even get me started on my fear of sending my own future children to school… and I shouldn’t have to feel like this!)
Since I couldn’t find the answers I was looking for online, I turned to my Instagram community. I asked all of you what you knew about gun violence prevention and the role that OTs can take on. Some of these ideas came from school-based or pediatric occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants on Instagram, and some are my own. I intend to dive deeper into this topic throughout my level II fieldwork placement this fall and into my career. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments!
Occupational therapists are in a unique position to lead anti-bullying campaigns. I do not know what this might look like, but getting the entire school – students and teachers – on board is ideal. OTs can use their knowledge on social participation, development, cognition, mental health, emotion regulation, and meaningful occupation to develop a program to fight bullying on their school campus. If you have led a campaign like this, I would love to learn more!
Not all acts of gun violence on school campuses are due to bullying. Another thing that OTs can do is teach students how to regulate their emotions. In addition, we can help get to the root of the problem and uncover what is causing their emotional regulation challenges.
Another way that OTs can get involved is by taking a seat at the table when schools discuss the topic of safety and gun violence prevention. We have a unique point of view and can offer insight that others may not notice. Furthermore, we may have a different point of view on things like lock down drills and the trauma that children experience after lock downs, whether they are a drill or real.
Parent & Caregiver Education
OTs can offer caregiver education in terms of gun violence prevention. Some topics that may be discussed include ensuring that all firearms are secured in a lock box, if a family chooses to own them. Furthermore, we can recommend that caregivers ask other caregivers if guns are in their home before allowing their children to attend a play date. If guns are present in the home, caregivers have the right to know how they are stored and if they are secure before allowing their children to go to that house. Finally, it is of the utmost importance that caregivers check-in regularly with their children. If a caregiver notices something wrong or different, there is no harm in seeking out help from a counselor. Ask your child how they are feeling, what school is like for them, and about their friends.
While OTs can be part of the team when addressing gun violence prevention, we should never take on more than what is within our scope of practice. Be sure to make the appropriate referrals to school psychologists and counselors when necessary, and notify caregivers accordingly.
Clearly, our role not just in the classroom working on handwriting or attention difficulties. We must advocate for the ability to work with entire student bodies as well as with children who may not otherwise have been referred to OT. Advocate for your ability to work with students who are seeing the school counselor for mental health concerns. Advocate for the time and budget to create a school-wide anti-bullying program.
Finally, know the facts. The United States’ death rate from gun violence is 10 times higher than other high-income countries. Learn more on the Moms Demand Action website. There are lots of ways that we can advocate for our students without changing our job description. Join a volunteer group, contribute to a fundraiser, attend a walk, vote, and share what you have learned with others. It is my hope that one day, gun violence will not be a concern in school settings. OTs can help work towards that goal.
Thanks for reading! I hope this inspires you to add gun violence prevention into your practice, whatever setting you are in. If you are an AOTA member, check out AOTA’s Societal Statement on Youth Violence (2018) as well.