Equipping First Responders To Help Save Children

When children are experiencing abuse at home, it’s often up to other adults in their life to see the warning signs and rescue them from harm. While mandated reporters such as teachers or coaches can only guess what goes on in a child’s life at home, first responders—EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters—have an up-close perspective and unique opportunity to identify abusive situations.

Though some first responders are mandated reporters, they often aren’t given appropriate training and resources to be able to recognize warning signs of abuse or to understand the reporting process.

Ali Rothrock wants to change that.

Rothrock joined the fire service at age 16. She wanted to help her community and learn the trade, but was instead met with continual sexual harassment and threats of violence. Hoping that this toxic work environment wasn’t common, she did a ride-along at another firehouse where she survived an attempted multi-perpetrator sexual assault by her fellow firefighters.

“After those experiences, I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. When I came through the other side of that healing journey I had a determination to become an advocate for positive change inside and outside of fire stations.”

Through her education in psychology and work as a victim advocate for survivors of domestic violence and children who had been abused, she noticed a pattern.

“When I spoke with children leaving or being removed from abusive situations, they often mentioned that they had interacted with first responders in their home, and a lot of the detectives I worked with confirmed this,” explained Rothrock. “There was one particular case where a four-month-old was physically abused to the extent that he would have injuries for the rest of his life. Based on the child’s injuries I knew that some of the first responders the baby had interacted with should have certainly noticed, but no child abuse report was ever made.”

Rothrock is founder and CEO of On the Job and Off, an organization that offers training for first responders in mental health, anti-violence, and wellness. In November, 2020 she launched the Child Abuse Reporting and Recognition for the Emergency Services (CARES) training, designed to empower first responders to be able to recognize and safely intervene in abusive situations.

 

“We talk ourselves out of what our gut knows,” says Rothrock, when talking about first responders being in situations where they could recognize signs of abuse or neglect . “Above all else, I hope people walk away from this course with the ability to trust themselves when they see or hear something they think is off. Every time we’re on scene, it’s our responsibility to think, ‘is this child going to be safe when I leave?’ If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know,’ make a report.”

 

“As a leader in victim-centered, trauma-informed services, RAINN’s guidance on the CARES training has been indispensable,” said Rothrock. “Having their support on this initiative is a dream come true.”

Scheduled for publication in 2022 from Broadleaf Books, Rothrock’s second book explores her decade-long healing journey. This book also includes interviews with other trauma survivors—from domestic violence to mass shootings—and details what has helped them on their journeys.

With the support of the Center for Fire, Rescue, and EMS Health Research, Rothrock launched First Responders Care, a non-profit that seeks to empower first responders to take an active role in their community’s resilience by offering accessible education and resources provided by a variety of diverse perspectives through an anti-oppressive, culturally sustaining and trauma-informed approach.

“First responders’ jobs extend far beyond the fire station; they’re crucial to building their community’s health and wellbeing. I wanted to create tools to help them play an active role in their community’s resilience.”

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