, Salem, MA

April 16, 2013

Symposium asks: How safe are our children?


---- — SALEM — Four months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, community leaders in this city are sitting down to ask themselves a question: How safe are Salem’s children?

The symposium scheduled for tomorrow at Salem State University is, in part, a response to the fatal shootings in Connecticut, but the goal is to be much more than a discussion, an organizer said.

It’s a call to action.

“Talk is cheap,” said Yvonne Vissing, director of the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies at Salem State. “What can we say that hasn’t been said before?

“What we can do ...” she said, “is talk about what we are doing ... and what we can improve.”

An estimated 100 community leaders have been invited to the all-day session that will focus on a number of youth-related concerns: school, mental health, legal, criminal justice, social service and other issues.

Participants will meet in small groups to discuss two key topics: What are the issues Salem should be addressing as a community regarding child and youth safety, and what kind of strategic plan can Salem come up with to deal with those issues?

Participants, who include school, police, youth, human services, college and other local leaders, will be asked to continue working on the project over the summer and to return in October to map out a child safety plan for Salem.

There are two keynote speakers for the 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. program: Diane Levin of Wheelock College, who has investigated the impact of violence and sexual content in the media on children, and Sally Padden, a judge at Salem Juvenile Court, who will discuss community collaboration in The Point neighborhood.

At the start of the program, Salem State students will be stationed at tables to present projects on suicide prevention, gun safety, gangs, safety in day care and other topics.

In the end, organizers of the “Salem as a Safer Child Community Symposium” hope to identity issues and map out a plan.

“People are going to have to step up,” said Vissing, a sociology professor. “If we are leaders of our community, then it is our obligation to lead and create a structure and opportunity for everybody to step up and do the right thing — and that’s to help kids.”

Individuals or organizations that would like to participate in tomorrow’s program can contact Vissing at Advance registration is required.

Tom Dalton can be reached at