PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - "Just because a student comes to school and doesn't say anything, does not mean they're not having some difficulties fitting in," said Michael Coates, a San Bernardino parent.
Tonight's School Safety Summit hit close to home for Coates. Last week his 14-year-old nephew took his own life because he felt he couldn't fit in at school.
"I'm angry because he was one of the students that fell through the cracks. And so I made up my mind to come because some way or another I'm going to do something," Coates said.
He was one of 150 parents who came to the summit to learn what can be done to enhance school safety, and make children feel they can open up about their issues, including bullying.
"Bullying is probably going on at every school in our district," said Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit.
"The majority of our children won't come to tell us they've been bullied. We know that around 3rd grade they stop coming and telling us, therefore we need to open up the conversation," said Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and expert on preventing bullying.
Dr. Borba was the keynote speaker at the summit and said bullying is one of the only things school shooters all have in common.
"They had been bullied. The bullying continues, no one steps in and what we do know at one time is that the bullied child can flip and become the bully," Dr. Borba said.
That's where Riverside County wants to step in and let parents know about their resources, including mental health services for students in need.
"We want to make sure that we're not waiting for the big Columbine-type incident, that we're reacting to the single child who's giving signs of depression or signs of mental illness," Benoit said.
Dr. Borba said the key is starting the conversation at home and providing your kids with an open forum to voice their concerns.
"Kids need a safety net, they need to know somebody's listening to them and they need to know somebody's believing them," Dr. Borba said.
Dr. Borba added that many parents aren't aware of one of the best resources available at their fingertips: dialing "2-1-1." It connects you with a specialist who can locate health and human service resources nearest to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Other resources include:
- Riverside County Office of Education: http://www.rcoe.us/
- Riverside County Department of Mental Health: http://rcdmh.org/opencms
- Your local school district or school website