Virginia schools hiring more counselors to help kids with gun violence

Emotional trauma can be more severe than the physical injury

By Jenna Zibton - Anchor

RICHMOND, Va. - Two children were shot in a park. Both were hit by stray bullets that police believe were fired from a nearby basketball court. They're some of the staggering number of children who suffer from the trauma of gun violence, and their recovery goes far beyond physical wounds.

As NBC 12 reports, last school year, 26 Richmond public schools students were shot, two losing their lives.

"He's doing good; he's doing good," said Raquan Moses, whose son was shot in the crossfire at a park.

The scars on Jaquez Moses' arm and chest will be permanent, but his father prays his emotional scars won't be. The 11-year old was hit by two bullets in a shootout at a community picnic in a Richmond park.

Markiya Dickson, 9, was also hit but didn't survive.

"I think about this every day. Why did this happen to my son? Why did it happen?" said Moses.

Jaquez is now recovering from the shooting that happened about three months ago, and his father, Rayquan, is making this journey his top priority. He's taking weeks off work and rides with his son on the city bus to counseling.

"I want his mind to be back where it was at. My son said he don't want to go to the park no more. My son said he's scared it's going to happen again. This is the things he tells me. How does that feel for a father to hear?" said Moses.

His son is functioning but the emotional trauma of becoming a victim to gun violence can be more severe than the physical injury.

Bob Nickles is part of a large network of counselors, psychologists and violence specialists who work with Richmond public schools to help children who've experienced a crisis, like Jaquez.

A positivity wall in a middle school therapy room is packed with hope-filled words like 'resilient.'

"Any time a critical incident happens for a child, we prioritize safety first," said Nickles. "Healing is hard to come by when things still aren't safe, predictability, a place to sleep."

Richmond schools have more than 150 psychologists, therapists and violence specialists on staff.

"A lot of the work that's done in therapy isn't necessarily verbal. Sometimes it's sitting with someone and being together and being safe," said Nickles.

"I never encourage a child to get over. I say we're going to work together to figure out how we're going to get through and what we're not going to allow it to take from you," said Angela Jones, who oversees the Richmond school's Crisis Response Team which immediately reaches out to children who've been impacted as well as classmates and families also suffering. "A lot of the outpouring looks like anger when we have some underlying anxieties and fears and depressions."

Right now, at first glance, Jaquez doesn't show any signs of being through a tragedy.

"I gotta go through a whole lot to make sure my son is alright, and I'm going to continue to do that until I know that he's straight," said Moses.

Richmond schools increased its budget for crisis response, adding $250,000 for more counseling. They are also aiming to become fully 'trauma-informed,' meaning everyone on staff, including teachers and bus drivers, has training in understanding what a child victim is truly experiencing.

Roanoke City Schools hired six additional counselors and four additional social workers to help with similar situations.

This is part of an ongoing 10 News series about kids and guns. There will be multiple stories in August about how to keep your family safe. As many police departments have told us during interviews for this series, it is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun, it is about locking up guns so kids and/or criminals don't have access to guns.

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