A scheme where police officers give a cuddly toy to young children they meet during their daily patrols has been expanded across the North East.
The ‘Trauma Teddies’ scheme was launched in September but was started as a pilot operation that just covered part of Newcastle.
It involved knitted teddy bears being stored in patrol cars of response officers so that they can hand it to young children they meet when responding to incidents.
They could be handed to children who were involved in a road traffic collision or to a young child who had gone missing.
In the last month, the scheme has received an overwhelming response from local communities with more than a hundred teddies donated across the force.
Now the decision has been made to expand the pilot forcewide so patrol cars in Gateshead, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland will carry ‘Trauma Teddies’.
Chief Inspector Clare Langley has overseen the implementation of the scheme in Northern Area Command and said they could be a vital tool to help comfort young children.
She said: “This is a really fantastic scheme that has already had a number of success stories in Newcastle during the pilot.
“We have had an overwhelming response from the public and more than a hundred knitted teddies have been handed in by members of the public.
“It made sense to expand this scheme across the force as in the short time we have been running it we have found there is clearly an appetite to keep it going.
“Many of the children we come into contact with are scared, frightened and have never had any contact with the police before.
“Our officers are fantastic at comforting these young children but giving a child a teddy bear can be the thing that really builds a connection with them.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “I very much welcome this initiative to Northumbria. It recognises the effect a traumatic experience can have on a child and such a simple gesture is a step towards making a child’s experience less painful.
“Our officers sometimes have to attend devastating road traffic accidents or are called out to domestic incidents where a child has witnessed frightening scenes which result in seeing someone they know, and even love,
being taken away.
“A teddy won’t fix things but if it can help officers distract a child from what’s happening and offer them some comfort. I’m very thankful to everyone who has donated these bears – they will make a difference.”
Trauma Teddies were first introduced in Australia in a bid to comfort young children whose families had been left homeless by forest fires.
It was then adopted by the Red Cross to comfort young refugees before arriving in the UK when it was adopted by some police forces.
Victims First Northumbria suggested the scheme in the region and collected the first batch of teddies as well as producing a number of colouring books to hand out.
One of the early success stories includes a four-year-old boy who went missing and thought he was in trouble when he returned to see police at his house.
He was inconsolable until police handed him a teddy at which point his face “lit up” and he realised police weren’t just there to tell him off.
And last week a two-year-old boy was handed a ‘Trauma Teddy’ to comfort him after his mother was involved in an incident in North Shields and had to be spoken to by police.
Chief Inspector Langley said the teddies were really important to help show children at a young age that they could speak to their local police.
She added: “A lot of the work we do in schools and in our local communities is all about breaking down those barriers between children and police.
“We don’t want kids growing up with a negative view of the police and an opinion that our only role is to lock them up when they’ve done something wrong.
“This is about showing them that we are people to and that they can come to us whenever they have any concerns.”
Rachel Hardman, of Victims First Northumbria, said: “The Trauma Teddies appeal has been imperative in providing support to children across Northumbria.
“At VFN, we are keen to work with our partners to provide an excellent service to victims across Northumbria.
“Once a child receives a teddy and a safety colouring book, VFN receive a notification and we make contact with that family to provide support.
“This means that once the initial incident has been taken care of by our partners the Police, VFN can continue to provide independent support and coordinate a range of needs the family or indeed the child may have.
“We are really pleased and grateful for all the donations that have been received and are confident that the appeal will continue to be a success.”
Anyone who wants to help, or donate a bear, can get in touch by emailing either [email protected] or drop them off at their local station.