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One man’s mission

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ST. CHRISTOPHER’S
St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which has locations in Langhorne, Yardley and Abington, recently appointed Dr. David Schonfeld as pediatrician-in-chief.

By Megan Badger

Wire Managing Editor

Each day, people deal with loss.

But for children, it’s not easy to face tragedy without proper guidance.

Dr. David Schonfeld has been providing that support to children around the world for 25 years. Schonfeld is the new pediatrician-in-chief at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, bringing a unique set of skills and experience to the Philadelphia area. Schonfeld is an expert on school crisis and bereavement.

Schonfeld is also the founder and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB), which provides support to children and schools following a crisis. After a natural disaster or school shooting, Schonfeld works closely with the community, schools and children to help them cope with loss.

He first started doing school crisis work during a fellowship at the University of Maryland 25 years ago. Since then, he has trained at tens of thousands of schools in New York, Connecticut and worldwide, teaching administrators and teachers how to prevent a crisis and effectively reach out to children after such events.

“When you talk to a child, I find that once you get them to open up you have to leave,” he said. “Then it disempowers the people that are there.”

Instead, Schonfeld works to empower teachers, administrators and community members with the proper education to deal with the crisis long after the experts leave. He believes all educators should know the basics on school crisis and bereavement from the time they receive their degree.

Schonfeld, through his affiliations with various crisis groups, has responded to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, and the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., to name a few. He is also sought after internationally to deal with tragedies, and has traveled to countries throughout Asia and Europe in addition to the United States.

“I try to work directly with leadership and the administration of schools to provide in-service training for staff,” Schonfeld explained. “I meet with leadership to plan response and recovery efforts.

“For Newtown, the shooting happened on Friday and I was contacted by the American Federation of School Teachers the same day,” he continued. “I came out on Saturday to help them and support their members.”

Due to his work with the community and school administration following the Newtown tragedy, Schonfeld was asked to join the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on school safety, a task force created by Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.

The expert panel was created to review current policies on school safety, mental health and gun control, and to make recommendations to the federal government. The group’s work has only just begun, with its first meeting taking place in January and its second on Feb. 15. Still, Schonfeld said the group plans to make initial recommendations as early as March.

Part of Schonfeld’s new role at St. Christopher’s is integrating the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement into the hospital’s Center for the Urban Child, a new initiative at St. Christopher’s to help disadvantaged children. The center will benefit children who are more likely to be exposed to health disparities, violence and loss. The project and new center will launch in 2014.

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children is located in Philadelphia, with locations in Langhorne, Yardley and Abington.

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