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Yonkers Expert Talks Violence Prevention At White House

Brian Farragher, executive vice president of Andrus in Yonkers, spoke at the White House on how to change the conversation with gun violence and mental health.
Brian Farragher, executive vice president of Andrus in Yonkers, spoke at the White House on how to change the conversation with gun violence and mental health. Photo Credit: Paul Bufano

YONKERS, N.Y. – In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, President Barack Obama called for a federal task force to explore ways to curb gun violence. Experts from around the country, including one from Yonkers, were called upon for advice.

The man asked to speak at the White House’s gun violence prevention stakeholders meeting was Brian Farragher, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Andrus , a Yonkers organization that provides programs and services for children and families throughout Westchester County and the tri-state area.

Farragher has worked in childhood mental health for more than 25 years, and was brought in to discuss Sanctuary , a program developed at Andrus that examines the roots of family violence in young people.

A scary notion is that guns are so readily available in the United States to people with emotional health problems, Farragher said.

"The meeting was comprised of about 30 experts from various fields including law enforcement, educators, nonprofits, the technology sector and from the National Rifle Association ," Farragher said. "I think violence is a public health problem, and just as how we've changed the conversation about other public health problems, including cigarettes and seat belts, we were called upon to brainstorm solutions once again.”

Over the past eight years Farragher has worked to implement the Sanctuary Model, a trauma-informed system of care, and create the Sanctuary Institute, which offers training and consultation to other organizations seeking to implement the model.

Andrus is trying to change the question from what's wrong with a person to what's happened to a person, Farragher said.

"There's a lot of evidence that any childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect and mental illness in the family, will lead to problems for children later in life," Farragher said. "One of the things we do is help the kids understand the reactions they have so that they can accept that they are common for kids who have gone through such traumas. We then also teach them how to self-regulate their actions."

The White House meetings were brought about by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and will ultimately go to advise Obama on his policy decisions, Farragher said.

"While the shooting in Sandy Hook was tragic, senseless killings from gun violence are a weekly occurrence," he said. "I don't think gun control is the only solution. We need to take a serious look at the mental and emotional health conditions in this country, and see how we can treat them. Having said that, if it were up to me I'd still melt down all the guns in the world."

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