By Sarah Elmquist Squires
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
RIVERTON — Imagine you’re a teenager worried about a friend, someone who’s been distant or has even hinted that he’s thought about hurting himself or someone else. What do you do?
It can be hard to tell someone and hard to figure out who to tell.
Research shows that in four of every five incidents of school shootings, at least one person had concerns about the attacker but didn’t know where to turn.
But Wyoming’s Safe2Tell is a prevention-based reporting system that works to connect students, schools, law enforcement, and key assistance programs.
It was established in 2016 in response to youth violence and tragedies nationwide, and it aims to provide a way for kids to let someone know when they are worried about a friend or themselves.
Since the program began, it has fielded concerns about planned school violence, suicide threats, sexual assaults, drugs, self harm, and many other concerns.
Here’s how it works: Students, parents, community members – really, anyone — can use the system.
Anyone can reach out using the Safe2Tell mobile app or browser and submit a tip either online at safe2tellwy.org or by calling toll-free 1-844- 996-7233.
It’s confidential, and after a report is made, the program works to determine the best response to the concern.
One of the first incidents of school violence to rattle Americans to the core occurred in 1999, when two young gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher and injured more than 20 other people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Educators, law enforcement, and families have since worked to find ways to curb school violence and teen suicide, and one of the systems in place in Wyoming is Safe2Tell.
During the 2015 Wyoming State Legislative session, House Bill 144 was considered, with the Joint Education Committee tasked with considering different safety and prevention measures.
HB 144 was not made into law, but during the 2016 legislative session, state leaders agreed on HB 15, which created a school safety unit within the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation charged with creating a school safety tip line. While that bill failed, Senate leaders created a condensed version, SF 97, which tasked the Attorney General’s office with administering the call center and protecting the reports it receives as nonpublic records. It was signed into law in March 2016, and Safe2Tell was born.
According to the 2021-22 school year report, Safe2Tell Wyoming made a real difference, fielding 209 suicide threat reports, 177 bullying reports, 158 calls concerning drugs, 137 regarding vaping, and 97 reports of self harm.
Thirty reports of planned school attacks came in across the state, 33 of sexual assault, and 44 threats of violence were reported.
In total, 1,590 reports came in during the school year, compared to 1,241 the year before.
Since the program began, it has helped young people and community members reach out more than 7,000 times, giving them a place to turn when they fear for their safety or the safety of others.
Most people turn to the system’s mobile app or mobile browser, with just five percent of reports coming in via telephone.
And it’s not simply a reporting system.
Safe2Tell also provides resources and information for students and schools about bullying prevention, depression, suicide, and self-harm.
During the height of the pandemic, in April 2020, Safe2Tell partnered with Cheyenne Regional Health System to create a video to help teach students a coping mechanism called “The Grounding Technique.”
“While students may have mental struggles anytime during the year, many students may have increased difficulties during this time of uncertainty around COVID-19,” Safe2Tell Program Manager Bill Morse said at the time. “Hopefully this video will provide a resource as they try to cope with the issues surrounding this pandemic and the change in learning and social structure of America.”
The video, along with other resources and ways to report a concern, can be found at safe2tellwy.org.