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Continued: St. Cloud police reach out to kids scarred by trauma

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 6, 2014 - 7:16 AM

“It’s cool he comes to our house because I wouldn’t want to go in to the police station and talk,” Erika says. “He connects with you differently than a therapist because he’s really fun and outgoing, and he’s not always serious all the time, and I don’t like serious people.”

To wit, when he walked into the Eberles’ home, he greeted Erika with a loud, “The Princess is in the house,” because she has “Princess Erika” stenciled on the back of her car.

Riding back to his windowless office at police headquarters, McConkey, 53, reflects on his new position — which is poised to encompass nearby Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, St. Joseph and Sartell. Part matchmaker and part first responder, McConkey tries to follow up on tips from cops or cases gleaned from police logs within 48 hours.

He’ll talk with the traumatized kids and streamline the process to get in with a licensed therapist within two weeks. At times, he’ll step out of his job description, helping find housing for a parent facing eviction or stepping in to assist an officer who needs him to talk down an irate person involved in a domestic clash.

“I’m not a cop or a social worker, I’m kind of a neutral party and my niche is the communication piece because I’m a people person,” he says. “We’re dealing with serious issues and we dig deep, but I try to balance all that with humor and model joy to help them get through all this difficult stuff.”

He’s a pastor and chaplain

A native of Willmar and married father of three kids ages 17, 21 and 24, McConkey spent years as a youth worker with a Christian organization, often working one-on-one with kids at the Hennepin County juvenile detention center. He worked in a residential treatment center for a decade in St. Francis, juggling patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious mental conditions.

He’s also a licensed pastor and has volunteered as a police chaplain in St. Cloud for seven years. That’s helped forge a vital sense of trust with the officers whose daily logs and reports he scours, searching for cases where he might be able to help kids.

His new position — he’s officially a “trauma-informed advocate” — is a two-year, grant-funded collaboration among the cops, mental health agencies and leaders of the Stearns County attorney’s office and its Department of Family and Children Services.

It came about in a fortuitous, if not fluky, way. Matthew Engelking, chief of the Stearns County attorney’s juvenile division, was among those making a presentation on the county’s domestic violence court at a meeting a couple of years ago in San Diego.

When they were through, they noticed the Greensboro, N.C., police were up next, speaking about their Child Response Initiative, which includes a child trauma advocate connected to the police department. The Stearns County folks listened, wide-eyed.

Greensboro’s program actually traces back to a five-year grant in Minneapolis, where advocates and therapists went on ride-alongs with officers and were trained in trauma by Gewirtz from the U. That program ran out of cash in 2009.

An easy sell to police chief

“We had been brainstorming about what we could do to help kids, who are the unserved victims of domestic violence,” Engelking said. “What Greensboro was doing really resonated with our team.”

When he made the pitch to St. Cloud Police Chief William B. Anderson, “the words were barely out of my mouth before he said: ‘Yes.’ ”

Anderson, who grew up in crime-torn Detroit, didn’t need much convincing.

“Home should be a place of peace and solace and if that place has the most anxiety, trauma and fear, I don’t need a room full of Ph.Ds to do 20 years of research to know the impact that’s going to have on that little person and what kind of adult they will turn out to be,” Anderson said.

Saves money in the long run

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  • Paige McConkey, an advocate with the St. Cloud Police, visits traumatized kids at home to help them feel more at ease.

  • Paige McConkey, a trauma informed advocate for Central MN Health, who works through the St. Cloud police department, drives to the family of a St. Cloud man who was killed in an automobile accident involving an intoxicated family friend who was driving. By getting services for young trauma victims early on, McConkey and many experts in the area believe they can lessen the damage caused by trauma. “This program is going to keep kids out of the back of your cars,” McConkey says he tells police officers.] (DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune When so often mental health issues go unaddressed until it’s...

  • Paige McConkey, a trauma-trained advocate who works through the St. Cloud Police, seized on a lighthearted moment as he interviewed Meadow Eberle, 11, left, and sister Summer, 7, last week. The girls’ father died in 2013 while riding with a drunken driver.

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