Message from CEO on Newtown tragedy

Dear Friends of Hathaway-Sycamores,

In the wake of the recent, horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services—first and foremost—wants to express our deepest sorrow and heartfelt condolences to all who have been impacted by this unimaginable event.

As one of Los Angeles County’s largest private providers of children’s mental-health services, Hathaway-Sycamores also feels a responsibility to address misperceptions that have emerged following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a starting point, it’s imperative that the public does not forge a connection between mental illness and acts of violence. In this regard, we echo the sentiments of the National Alliance on Mental Illness: “At this time, there is no indication that mental illness was a factor in the tragedy. It is important to not make assumptions or speculate in such cases. The overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.” Additionally, we also want to caution against forming any similar association between violence and autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Disorder.

There also is no question that this unthinkable tragedy has had a ripple effect across America and that people of all ages are experiencing emotional repercussions ranging from profound sadness to feelings of anxiety or an inability to concentrate and be productive. First, we want to emphasize that these are normal responses to such a traumatic event.  We also want to increase awareness—particularly among parents—about a condition known as secondary or vicarious trauma. This can occur when a child hears about or witnesses other people’s suffering and may include watching or hearing about terrifying events on television, such as the tragedy in Newtown. Some steps parents can take to minimize the negative impact of this shooting on their children include:

  • Turn off the television and minimize your children’s ongoing exposure to the tragedy;
  • Listen to your children—ask how they are feeling (allow for sadness, fear, and other emotions, but do not try to force them to talk about it);
  • Give simple and honest responses to children’s questions and share your own feelings of sadness;
  • Provide calm and reassurance, and emphasize your children’s safety (particularly focus on the rarity of these events, as well as the specific safety measures that have been taken at home and school to protect your children); Children will follow your lead when it comes to feeling safe versus terrified

If your or your children’s symptoms of trauma or feelings of grief persist in the weeks ahead, such as depression, anxiety, sadness or anger, we would urge you to consider consulting a mental health professional.

This tragedy, and especially the deaths of children and loved ones, points us to the important challenges that lie ahead as we work diligently to build stronger communities. More than ever, as an organization we are passionate and committed to our mission of cultivating hope and resilience to enrich the well-being of children, adults, families, and communities.


William P. Martone
President and CEO
Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services