School communities are often faced with the overwhelming emotional strain of unexpected loss of life. This can come in many forms – automobile accident, illness, suicide, natural disaster or other causes. Regardless of the reasoning, a sense of loss and inadequacy is often felt by students and school staff for a period of time.
Typically, the primary focus for support services such as grief counselors and clergy has been for the students. A growing trend among athletic trainers throughout the country is to utilize peer support teams known as ATs Care. It is the goal of such programs to assist with initial interventions and make necessary professional mental health referrals when necessary.
What is ATs Care?
ATs Care is a relatively new initiative developing under the direction of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). Nationwide representatives have begun certification and organizing state or regional teams. Currently, ATs Care response teams are responding in New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. It is hopeful that eventually all states will have teams available for call-outs.
What Does the ATs Care Committee Do?
The ATs Care Committee helps the district and state athletic trainer organizations to formulate peer-support teams as desired. It also provides training for the athletic trainers in assisting individuals in crisis and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) methods and theory. Additionally, the committee supports district and state-level Athletic Training CISM teams as requested.
What is ATs Care Planning in the Future?
ATs Care is working to become a registered CISM team with the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). District representatives will be working with the athletic trainers. An initial priority of the committee is to assist all 10 district boards and state organizations to help identify and address district needs for the ATs Care program. As a new resource available for athletic trainers, ATs Care is working to develop and deliver continuing professional education opportunities in the area of CISM, stress response and peer support.
If I Want to Get Involved, Where Am I Needed Most?
To make a peer-support program work it needs strong people, programming and organization at the “grass-roots” level. Athletic trainers can help their colleagues directly by getting involved in a team at the local level. Districts and/or individual state organizations will be forming, developing and training ATs Care Teams.
How Do I Get Involved or Seek Assistance?
Individuals can contact one of the following: their district representative to the ATs Care Committee; Katie Scott, MS, ATC, Athletic Trainer in Residence, NATA National Office (katies@nata. org); or their district director. Contact information can be found at: https://www/nata.org/membership/about-membership/member- resources/ats-care.
School athletic trainers become very close to their student-athletes and communities. As they continue to serve and assist others in need, they often neglect their own needs. It is wise for school administrators to encourage athletic trainers to seek peer-support and/or employee-assistance programs. Although the school tragedy cannot be erased, no one should face it alone.
Perry Denehy, M.Ed., ATC, AEMT, is retired after 33 years as the head athletic trainer/ health educator for Sycamore High School in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. He was also a Captain with the City of Mason Fire Department and a member of the Southwest Ohio Critical Incident Stress Management team. Denehy can be reached at Perrydenehy@gmail.com.