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Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Summer Love

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Salty sea air . . . the wind blowing in your face . . . aah, there’s nothing like summer. Summertime is like a rite of passage for sun, fun, and relaxation. There are lots of reasons summertime is the best—including:

  • Beach time
  • Pool parties
  • Grilling and picnics
  • Outdoor gardening and greenery
  • Walking/running weather
  • Ice tea—and other cold beverages
  • Longer days
  • Summer clothes
  • And MORE!

We talked to your family at NSPN and here are what summer loves were shared:

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “Grilling out and pool or lake time.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “Summer breezes.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “What I most enjoy about summer is gently floating in an inner tube on the lake with a lemon shandy until the sun beats down with such heat that I have to slip in the water to cool off.”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “What I love most about summer is the full bloom of trees as they sway in the wind, colorful fragranced flowers, and beautiful butterflies.”
  • Sherry Casey, Operations and Administration Manager: “Flip-flops.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “The heat!”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “The long days, sitting outside and watching the sunset after working all day on the farm.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “The days are longer.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I love the long, warm days and being able to sit out on my porch enjoying the day.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “I love that the hours of daylight are so much longer and the sun is brighter. It makes me so much happier. I really love going to the best beach in the world, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “Spending time outdoors—especially, on the water somewhere. During my childhood, I spent many summer weekends boating on Lake Cumberland. I have and always will be a water child!”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “Watermelon, swimming, and the Florida heat. Call me crazy, but when I go to my car from being in a cold store, I love getting in my car and just sitting there for a moment. I eventually have to turn the AC on, but I ‘soak up’ the heat when I can.”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “Long and sunny days.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

What do you love most about summer? Feel free to let us know by commenting below.

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5 Art Therapy Facts + 3 Ways to Use Art in Your Therapy Practice Now

Written by Ginny Gaulin, Clnician & Art Therapist at RefugeeOne

You can’t walk into a bookstore without spotting several art therapy coloring books on the “What’s Hot Now” table.  The coloring books are trending, but art itself has been used as a tool for communication for thousands of years.  Art therapy as a health services profession has been official since the 1970’s, with founding figures utilizing art therapy starting in the early 1900’s.  Today, more people than ever are engaging in and benefiting from art therapy.

Here are 5 important facts about to know about art therapy plus 3 ways to start successfully incorporating art into your therapeutic practice right now:

5 Important Art Therapy Facts:

  • Art therapy is a masters-level mental health profession.

Using art for combating stress and facilitating relaxation is so beneficial, but it is not art therapy.  Art therapists have specific national credentialing and licensure, and ethical art therapy can really only be practiced when facilitated by an art therapist.  Learn more here and here.

  • Art therapy is not only for young children.

As we mature, we quickly learn how to mask our emotions verbally.  However, we are unpracticed at hiding emotions that are revealed in our artwork, making art therapy especially beneficial for clients of any age who are resistant to treatment or not used to talking about their feelings. Often the children that we see have learned early to build these defenses.  Art therapy is for everyone.

  • Artwork should be treated with confidentiality, like other clinical documentation.

Art therapists will not display artwork in hallways like art teachers in schools. If you treat the artwork and processes with clinical respect and power, the client will too.  During final termination sessions, I will often display client’s artwork on my office wall like a gallery and the client can invite family members or teachers to view the work, but only with the client present.

  • Self-discoveries through art are always more powerful than a therapist pointing out interpretations or observations.

Art therapy combines process, product, verbalizations, and interpretations of artwork. Yes, art therapists have clinical training in diagnostic art indicators, but no, we do not solely rely on them for diagnosing clients. Encouraging clients to make their own observations about their artwork is the goal.

  • Artistic skill is not a requirement for treatment.

With the focus both on product and process, art therapists cannot say enough that we are not looking for artistic skill.  Art therapists pick processes and materials intentionally to meet specific goals, which can range from reducing intimidation about art making to challenging clients artistically.

3 Ways to Use Art Right Now:

While practicing art therapy for healing is outside of a clinical counselor’s scope of practice, using art, or creative counseling, in treatment is highly impactful and encouraged!

  • Use art to aid in communication – “Can you try to draw it instead?” is a great way break the ice when clients begin to show resistance to talk therapy. Keep materials within arms reach so it takes minimal effort to participate.  If a client is immediately resistant, ask them to scribble on the page and use that to talk about their current experience. Avoid asking “what” or “why” questions, and try not to make guesses at what people have drawn, which can be unintentionally insulting and minimizing.  Ask instead: What can you tell me about your drawing? How does looking at this make you feel? Where would you be if you were in this drawing?
  • Use art as a ritual – Effective closure when ending sessions is healthy and important, and art can be a great way for clients to self-soothe. When short on time, be mindful of material choices, such as providing a smaller paper size and limiting options for drawing materials. This can keep things moving but also allows for the drawing to feel completed before leaving the session. Ask if there is anything the client would like to share about the image, but avoid diving deeper or asking specifics when seeking closure.  Resist pulling these images out to finish up next time, and instead keep them in a folder for review later.  Those external, tangible images can help document time spent in treatment and the progress made.
  • Use art to build awareness – Create a handmade art journal with your client and encourage frequent entries. Ask them to take it home and draw when they experience a specific emotion they are working on in treatment. (This can become part of a therapy check-in process if you think your client will never touch the journal at home.)  Later, encourage describing the artwork with words in the journal, which helps build mind-body connection and improve emotional identity skill.

Interested in going to school for art therapy?   Learn more here.

Want to find a credentialed art therapist?   Learn more here.

PI SM - Jan 9 - Youth Art Request

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Geek Pride

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

What’s a geek to you? According to Wikipedia, “the word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit . . .” Yada yada yada . . . There it is! “A geek is an enthusiast or person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit!” So, wouldn’t that make all of us geeks? I mean, we’re all obsessed with something. In case you’re stuck on the word obsessed—To obsess about something is to “preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually . . .” Yada yada yada. So who doesn’t have something that preoccupies our minds—continually? Now that it’s settled—we’re all geeks, and it’s time to let our geek flags fly!

Did you know there’s actually a day for geeks to unite and celebrate geekiness? This day is known as Geek Pride Day and it’s held on May 25. There are lots of ways to celebrate Geek Pride Day. For instance:

  • Have a themed party.
  • If it’s a movie or television show that you are interested in—plan a marathon—live tweet it if you’re really proud!
  • Throw a game night—in costume.
  • Join a meetup and get together with like-minded geeks.
  • Share some fun photos of your obsession on social media—make sure to use the hashtag #GeekPrideDay.

Now that you’re up to speed about Geek Pride Day, take a look at what your NSPN family geeks out about.

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “Accounting—if that is possible.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “Office supplies—the dream of being organized is fantastic.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “I LOVE data analysis!!!”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “I’m easily entertained; however, I geek out about animals in the wild, fun childhood memories, and Las Vegas partying.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “Horses . . . and dogs and cats too!” I also geek out about preparing and enjoying delicious food (gluten-free of course!).”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “I’m a sucker for time-travel books/movies. Watching Primer with someone who has never seen it before is great fun.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “Movies, cooking, and social justice.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I geek out on old houses and buildings that have been preserved and/or repurposed. I also geek out on people saving materials out of buildings that are being torn down—as opposed to sending it all to the landfill.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “Science fiction anything—TV shows, movies, books.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “Live music. My dad has been performing in a rock band since I was a little girl (sometimes even in my house). There’s nothing better than listening to great live music and watching the performance unfold right before my eyes.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “I geek out about a lot of things, but I think I geek out the most about planning and being organized. My favorite time of the year is November and December—not because of the holidays (although I like them), but mostly because it’s time to get a NEW planner for the next year!”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “Softball.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

Feel free to leave a comment below and share what makes you a geek.

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Anti-Trafficking’s Sensational Misinformation – Part II

Written by Laura Murphy, Loyola University New Orleans, Modern Slavery Research Project

Are America’s homeless youth targeted by human traffickers?  Yes.  But not in the sensational way we always hear about.

What we read about sex slavery today is alarming, sensationalized, and often perverse. Tracking down one of the most frequently reported statistics in today’s anti-slavery movement – that runaways are at high risk of sex trafficking – paints a very clear portrait of the unnecessarily exaggerated appeals that are widely-disseminated and oft-repeated.

So what do we know about the fate of runaways in the US? The Department of Health and Human Services reports that “Children, both boys and girls, are solicited for sex, on average, within 72 hours of being on the street.  The National Center for Homeless Education shortens the time window and increases the risk by saying “As many as one third of teen runaway or thrown away youth will become involved in prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.” Fox News Milwaukee recently increased the number of victims to say that “90% of runaways become part of the sex trade business — and most are coerced within 72 hours of running away.”

So are runaways solicited for sex or are they recruited by pimps or are they forced into the sex trade?  Does this happen to runaway children or all homeless youth?  Does it take 48 or 72 hours for them to be trapped?

I enlisted the students in my freshman seminar on 21st Century Slavery and Abolition at Loyola University New Orleans to search for the origin of this human trafficking factoid, and they easily discovered how tangled the web of misinformation is. A 2009 Department of Health and Human Services report indicates, “Experts have reported that within 48 hours of running away, an adolescent is likely to be approached to participate in prostitution or another form of commercial sexual exploitation; however, no definitive published research substantiates this claim.”  They cite a 2001 report by Mia Spangenburg that suggests “After only an average of thirty-six to forty-eight hours on the streets, young people are solicited for sex in exchange for money, food or shelter.” Spangenburg’s source?  A 1996 Christian Science Monitor article by Mark Clayton titled “Sex Trade Lures Kids from Burbs,” in which we learn that “within 48 hours of hitting the streets, a juvenile will be approached with an offer of money, food, or shelter in exchange for sex.” And Clayton’s source?  There is none. Clayton mentions the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which has referred to the trafficking terror faced by runaways for years. As late as 2010, NCMEC’s president and CEO Ernie Allen could only vaguely attribute the factoid to estimates made by “some runaway groups,” and NCMEC has since stopped using the stat. It is impossible to find any credible source for this claim.

This rampant misinformation and fear mongering persistently threaten to undermine the credibility of the anti-trafficking movement.

The Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola recent performed a study titled “Sex and Labor Trafficking Among Homeless Youth: A Ten City Study (full report).”  For this study, we interviewed 641 homeless residents and clients of Covenant House International’s network and unsurprisingly found that there is indeed real reason to be concerned about trafficking among homeless youth, though there remains no evidence to substantiate any of these exaggerated claims.

Among the homeless and runaway youth aged 18-24 that we interviewed, 19% of them had been trafficked for either sex or labor in their lifetimes. Furthermore, 91% of them indicated that strangers had approached them while they were homeless or otherwise financially struggling, offering suspiciously lucrative job offers. They described being approached on the street, at bus-stops and train stations, on social media.  They told stories of being approached in or directly outside homeless shelters and government assistance offices. They were offered jobs selling stolen goods, distributing cell phones, working in landscaping, in magazine sales; others were offered jobs as models, in film, or even pornography. Many of those approached assumed or were told explicitly that they were being offered an opportunity to work in the sex trade.

One young woman said that she had been offered several escort jobs by strangers who “made it seem like it was something simple, legal.” Another pimp encouraged a young woman by insisting, “Y’all are missing out on money. Y’all are young and don’t know no better. This is good money that y’all could be having.”

One woman was approached at the shelter by a young man who wanted to take her out of town with him. She told us that the young man was trying to recruit women into the sex trade right under the noses of the shelter’s watchful staff.

When asked what the strangers offer her, one woman said “They say they will take care of me and my baby” – certainly a difficult offer to turn down.

One young man reported that men would try to tempt him by offering him jobs in modeling or manual labor. He told us that a “dude asked me about a job. I was like, yeah. He heard about a warehouse and they start you off at $15, so I said cool. Then he asked me if I wanted to fuck him. Nigger, you serious? I was asking about a job!”

Taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of young people who are down on their luck and are searching for work, recruiters try to lure homeless youth with lucrative opportunities to work in the sex trade. As a result of the persistent predatory behaviors they encountered while walking around alone, residents at Covenant House expressed a great deal of anxiety about the risks involved in sleeping outside.

As researchers, we want our work to be of use to others, but because we have seen “statistics” like the 72-hour myth, we worry that our findings will be misconstrued to provide salacious headlines. We were unable to confirm or deny such exaggerated claims because youth felt like they were being approached constantly by people who were targeting their vulnerabilities, and they were unable to put a timeline on when they were approached, nor could those who did not fall for the too-good-to-be-true offers confirm their suspicions of the people who approached them.

What our research does indeed tell us is that people are targeting vulnerable homeless youth in New Orleans to offer them seemingly lucrative work opportunities that young people find dangerous or suspicious.  And we know, from the reports of the youth themselves, that some young people are indeed accepting those offers.

There is no doubt what this finding does indeed suggest: we need to rely more on valid research on the vulnerability of young and homeless people to traffickers. From that work, we can equip organizations and agencies with knowledge that will assist them in responding appropriately to the frightening realities that young people are experiencing. We hope that our new study, as well as those we’ve produced in the past, will fill some of that gap.  The research also suggests that we need more youth programs that involve resilience strategies, self-esteem, and self-empowerment that can bolster young people’s resistance if they do find themselves on the streets or otherwise vulnerable to predatory offers.

If nothing else, we hope to suggest that we can stop using sensational headlines, based in exaggeration and misinformation, to promote a cause that needs no added drama to engage us.  We should avoid all of the sensational misinformation that has dominated this issue and focus on the voices of the young people who live this reality every day.

Laura T. Murphy is an Associate Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans and Director of the Modern Slavery Research Project. She believes that community-based research is at the heart of social change. She provides research services, training, and education on modern slavery and human trafficking throughout the US as well as internationally. Her books include “Survivors of Slavery: Modern Day Slave Narratives” and “Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature.” She is currently working on a new book titled “The New Slave Narrative.”

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What’s the value of a volunteer?

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

April is National Volunteer Month, and it is a great time to recruit volunteers for long- and short-term service within your program. Volunteers are beneficial in a number of ways, including being a mentor, helping with remodeling and/or gardening, assisting with operations, and more. Here are some important factors to keep in mind when working with volunteers.

  1. Understand why people volunteer.
    Volunteers will become involved with your program for many reasons.

    The basic reasons follow:

  • They want to help others.
  • They are interested in your agency’s programs and what you offer to your
  • They want to learn and gain experience.
  • They have free time.
  • They are devoted to helping their community.
  • They know someone who was/is involved.
  • They want to volunteer for religious reasons.
  • They want to make a difference.
  1. Understand what your volunteers are interested in.
    Volunteers will not only put more effort into their service but also commit to serving longer if they enjoy what they are doing. In an effort to properly determine the appropriate position, gather information regarding the volunteer’s interest. You may consider using a Volunteer Interest Checklist for this process. Have your volunteers identify their interests. Do they prefer working with youth, teaching a skill, picking up or delivering items, washing automobiles or providing maintenance support, performing clerical duties? Take time to get to know your volunteers before placement.
  1. Understand the value of volunteers.
    Volunteers, like staff, need to be linked into your program in ways that ensure they are productive, challenged, and given an opportunity to grow. They should be valued for what they do and who they are. Volunteers are NOT free. There are real costs associated with recruiting, interviewing/screening, training, evaluating, and recognizing volunteers. Effective supervision is a necessary investment. The volunteer coordinator and staff who assist the volunteers must recognize that time must be allocated to relating to, managing, and assisting the volunteers. Staff must be available to volunteers in order to relate to them on both a professional and a personal basis. Volunteers are dedicated to your organization—it’s important for your organization to be dedicated to them. Don’t forget to say “thank you.” Ways to recognize your volunteers are limitless.

    Recognizing volunteers is crucial to sustaining their interest and dedication. Remember above when I shared the reasons they are volunteering? Providing recognition validates that their service is making a difference and meeting their needs. There are lots of ways you can recognize volunteers—and not all recognition requires a budget line.

    Awards
    There are two types of awards; both are given periodically to recognize the efforts of volunteers.

    Things

  • Certificates
  • Pins
  • Group photographs
  • Items of clothing, such as T-shirts, caps, etc.
  • Small gifts

    Events

  • Lunches and dinners
  • Picnics
  • Parties and celebrations
  • Field trips
  • National Volunteer Week celebrations

    Rewards
    Rewards are intangible day-to-day activities of recognition and motivation that are given to volunteers. Rewards tend to be more effective “long-run” motivators for volunteers.

  • Saying thank you
  • Giving respect and equal status
  • Involving volunteers in staff meetings on a regular basis
  • Maintaining a personal interest in the volunteer
  • Giving the volunteer more responsibility

    Remember the following recognition tips when offering awards and/or rewards:

  • Tailor recognition to the volunteer.
    • What type of recognition would be most meaningful to the particular volunteer?
      • Some prefer public and some appreciate smaller private recognition.
    • If appropriate and welcomed, grant recognition in a public forum, preferably among the peer group of the volunteer.
  • Time recognition so that it is as close as possible to the achievement of the volunteer.

This is just a small snippet of the helpful information available about volunteerism. If you’re interested in learning more about volunteers, including setting up a volunteer program, position development and design, recruitment, screening, volunteer checklists, interviewing, volunteer orientation and training, service records, program director and staff training, supervision, and recognition, feel free to contact us today at info@nspnetwork.org.

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Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Earth Day Is More than Just a Day

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Earth Day is just around the corner (April 22). The observation of this day has generated awareness of personal responsibility and the effects individuals can have on the climate. Each person leaves what’s called a carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is defined as a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by an individual or event, expressed as CO2e.

Have you measured your carbon footprint lately? Are you taking steps to decrease your footprint? You might be doing so without even realizing it! Small things, such as those listed below, will help reduce your CO2:

  • Turning down your thermostat on winter nights
  • Turning up your thermostat in the summer
  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR lights
  • Replacing your windows and appliances with ENERGY STAR models
  • Washing clothes in cold water
  • Performing regular maintenance on your vehicle(s)
  • Recycling newspapers, glass, plastic, aluminum and steel cans, and magazines

How do you think your NSPN family members rank in their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint in their personal lives? We asked them: “What do you do to reduce your carbon footprint?”

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “At my house, we recycle. We grow food in our garden and we do some amateur composting.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “I recycle.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “Definitely not enough.”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “I turn off—and sometimes unplug—unused lights and electronics. I also recycle (most of the time), maintain a steady, yet comfortable temperature setting, wash full loads of clothes, cover door and window cracks during the winter, look for multiple uses of plastic containers and paper towel rolls, and carpool when possible.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “Not enough I’m sure! I do try to keep lights off when not in use.”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “We try to carpool and use public transportation when possible. We also try to buy local goods when available.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “I recycle.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I recycle a lot! I use real cloth napkins and try not to use paper products too much. I also try to buy things that don’t have a lot of packaging—large containers instead of a bunch of small ones. I could go on!”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “I recycle at home and work. I wear lots of sweaters in the winter in my very cold house.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “I recycle and reuse anything I can.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “Sadly, my carbon footprint is fairly large. I’m oh so guilty for funding the Styrofoam plate makers and the plastic cup and cutlery makers. I also hate to sit in the dark so I always have lights on. But, I do recycle and I drive a hybrid car.”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “I drive a fuel-efficient car.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

If you want to see how big (or small) your family’s carbon footprint is, take a look at this calculator:  https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator. Feel free to let us know what steps you take to help the earth by leaving a comment below.

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Safe Place – One Professional Youth Worker’s Journey

Written by Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network
In honor of National Safe Place Week

Safe Place logo

The first time I heard about Safe Place® was 30 years ago. Like many others, I had seen the sign around town but didn’t quite understand the intent. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it isn’t hard to understand – Safe Place – you know, a place to be safe. How hard is that? However, I didn’t “get it.” I didn’t understand what it meant to be unsafe. I didn’t understand what it was like to not being able to sleep at night for fear something would happen to me. I had never experienced what it felt like to be bullied and not have anyone in which to confide. The words that I heard in my childhood had been filled with love, hope, encouragement, and strength. So, as I drove by fire stations, libraries, and fast food restaurants, I looked at the sign – I saw the availability of Safe Place as a good thing. Now, I know it is more than good – it is a critical link for all youth in crisis.

How did I come to this perspective? It started on the day I saw an ad for a local youth shelter. I was armed with a resume, a degree, and a sense that it was my turn to make a difference. I was lucky enough to get the job and like all first time youth care workers, I quickly learned all that would be part of my career. I learned to play basketball (or at least throw the ball in the air); I learned to assist youth with household chores; and, I learned to really listen. As the youth who were not a lot younger than me shared their stories – I was professional and then go home and cry. They shared their stories of abuse and neglect as if they were telling me what brand of toothpaste they used and I couldn’t understand why or how the things I heard about happened.  I felt helpless. I saw them enter a system that had insufficient resources to meet their needs and sometimes, I saw them return to situations that were questionable and, at times, dangerous. I wanted to contribute in a way that gave youth choice – a way that honored their right to ask for help. It was during this initial year of service that I received my training on how to be a Safe Place volunteer.

As a Safe Place volunteer, I presented information to youth in local schools and I would be surrounded by youth who asked questions. There was usually at least one youth who asked more questions and I knew that although 100 youth may have heard my message – the meaning of what I had was special to him or her. The situations we discussed – bullying, relationship violence, parental substance abuse, school problems, and many others – were important and life changing.  I was provided an opportunity to provide a link to help and I found that in many cases, the youth really just wanted someone to listen.

I had an opportunity to meet with businesses to make sure they understood the program and how they had a critical role in helping keep youth in our community safe. These business leaders asked questions and challenged me in ways that helped hone my negotiating skills and my insistence that it never hurts to ask. I asked for everything – donations of money, time, in-kind gifts, and other resources – all geared toward helping youth be safe.

As time went by, I was soon offered the job of Safe Place Coordinator and I embraced the opportunity. I learned to manage volunteers and to help them feel needed and appreciated. I learned how to create successful fundraisers and to build public awareness about the program. I learned to face skeptics who found it easy to assume that all adolescents in need of help were simply unruly kids who needed to learn respect and how to follow rules. I learned to advocate for community needs and how the answer “no” was simply an opportunity to present the question in a different way.

The different question came when I was asked to serve on the National Safe Place Advisory Board. I was given the chance to come together with other coordinators, counselors and executive directors – all committed to the expansion of the Safe Place program. I learned so much from this group of change agents. They taught me how to solution think. Every group can easily identify barriers and challenges to progress. This group focused on using the barrier as a springboard and we would dive deep into the dynamics of the situation and even we agreed to disagreed – we did it with respect. I learned how Safe Place could work differently in each community and the flexibility of the program while still protecting the agencies and the youth involved. If possible, I became even more passionate about the potential of Safe Place to assist all youth in crisis. It just took the right partners in each community.

I served on the National Advisory Board for 20 years. I served as Chair of the group and as a member of the Board of Directors. With each new leadership role, I found myself utilizing all of the skills, knowledge, and connections that Safe Place had brought me in each task I accepted.

In 2013, my Safe Place journey brought me to the place I probably always belonged. As a staff member of National Safe Place Network, it is part of my daily responsibility to put the needs of youth in crisis first and to try and find ways to help each community reach out to youth in their communities. It is in this role that I continue to try and listen, solution think, negotiate, advocate, and hope. It is in this role that I celebrate every TXT 4 HELP contact, every crisis call resolved, and every new Safe Place city launched. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Safe Place – you may not truly know Safe Place. The third week of March is National Safe Place Week. Communities across the country will find ways to celebrate this public/private partnership that brings the best of social services, businesses, first responders, public officials, and community members together to provide one simple thing – a place for youth to get help – when and where they need it most. Whether the youth is hiding in a closet and the only link to safety is a text or the youth is being followed by bullies and sees a sign on a nearby store – the offer is clear and easy to understand. We want to help you – all you have to do is ask.

So it takes me back to my initial days learning about Safe Place. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it isn’t hard to understand – Safe Place – you know, a place to be safe. How hard is that?

A Heart In Pieces

Written by Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

I was in a local grocery store recently. As I entered the store, I was bombarded with signs that Valentine’s Day is once again upon us. Red roses with white bows. Balloons reaching for the sky. Bouquets of candy bars. Sweets for the sweet. As I wandered about the aisles, my mind drifted toward the hearts that will be broken on this day when love is celebrated.

Somewhere there is a young boy who will be taunted and shamed by other boys who notice the small valentine he has clutched in his mittens for the teacher. They will grab the delicate card he worked hard to make and they will stomp it into the snow as they call him names. He won’t shed a tear – at least not now. He has learned not to cry. He knows that showing he has a heart will only make things worse. The older boys will get bored and move on to other targets. He will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young girl who has loved being daddy’s secret valentine until the day his touches made her scared. They made her uncomfortable. They made her confused. Now, when daddy says “I love you”, she nods her head and prays that he will not want to come to her when mommy goes to work. On this day, she will think God must have been too busy and as her father leaves her room she cries her heart out – and then she will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young mother who has worked all afternoon to make sure the right meal is on the table. Her husband will come home and she will know the drinking began before he ever left work. Her efforts will be buried under criticisms of how the food tastes, how the house looks, how she has changed, and how she disappoints him. She has long ago stopped hoping for a card or a rose. She nods in agreement to every word with the hope that her gift on this day will not involve touches filled with rage and disgust. As she looks in the mirror that night, she thinks about how she will cover the new bruise. She will pick up the broken pieces of the mirror and carry on.

Somewhere there is a father who will lose his job today. He has been saving every penny to pay bills that have filled his mailbox since his heart attack last year. The company can no longer afford to insure him so it found other reasons to let him go. He sits in his truck in the parking lot and takes out the handful of singles in his wallet to see if he has enough to take his wife a small gift for Valentine’s Day. He knows he must have gas in the tank to look for new work so he heads home and knows the woman who sat by his side while he recovered will stand by his side through this new challenge. She has his heart and together, they will celebrate the gift of life and carry on.

Somewhere there is a family surrounding a young family member in a hospital bed. Each member of the family prays for a miracle that is getting harder and harder to believe in. Their hearts are breaking and they ask the questions – Why him? Why now? Why? If he passes on this day their memories will be forever connected to their love for him and the pieces of their spirits that will travel with him on his journey. They cannot imagine or trust in the strength they have to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Our world is full of people who celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of love, romance and endless possibilities. Our world is also full of people who see every day, including this one, as another day of heartbreak, fear, worry, and loneliness. Youth care workers, domestic violence counselors, workforce advocates, and hospital personnel are just some of the many hearts that do important work every day. They commit themselves to helping lift up others in times of need. On this day of love, please take a moment to thank someone for the gifts they share with others and know that the heart they lift up may someday be yours.

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Myths and Misconceptions: Human Trafficking Doesn’t Happen in My Community – Part I

Written by: Valerie Douglas, Director of Counseling & RHY Services, The Center for Youth Services, Inc.

I’m a big Liam Neeson fan. I mean seriously, I love him in everything from Star Wars to Love Actually to Rob Roy – even as the voice of Aslan the Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia! However, if I dare to so much as mention his name to a colleague of mine, she rolls her eyes and sighs heavily. I think she’s being incredibly unfair, because her disdain is all based on one movie – Taken.

You see, my colleague, Nicole Thomson, is a trauma therapist who has been working with survivors of human trafficking for over 15 years. When she first started her work in the Bronx, New York State was still arresting 11 year olds as “child prostitutes.” Thankfully, we have come a long way from those dark, misinformed days, but we still come up against many myths and misconceptions about human trafficking – like those seen in Taken.

Nicole’s frustration is that the Taken films perpetuate some lingering myths: that trafficking victims* are well-off, young, white, suburban women abducted off the street by strangers and held captive on secret yachts. Now, this isn’t to say that stranger abduction doesn’t occur, or that young, white, suburban women aren’t trafficked, or even that there are no secret yachts! What irritates her is that there is such little representation of actual trafficking in the media and the depictions of it that do come through only show a tiny sliver of who is being trafficked and who is a “real victim.” Nicole and I provide training on trauma and trafficking to a broad range of people, including law enforcement, child welfare workers, teachers, community advocates, and youth-service providers. Believe me when I say that we have heard many misconceptions. We have found that the myths about trafficking fall mainly into two ends of the “victim/not a victim” spectrum.

On one end is the portrait of a “true victim,” like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken- a young woman kidnapped while out of the country on vacation.  Yes, stranger abduction is something that happens, but the data and research on the commercial sexual exploitation of minors describes a very different picture for the vast majority of victims. What we know is that most young people who are targeted knew their trafficker prior to the onset of exploitation. They may have met them online or out in the community.   In some cases, they find them in their own homes. Yes, a child can be trafficked by a parent or guardian – say for drugs or to pay the rent.  It is also not unlikely that they love their trafficker, or consider them a source of support and affection. Much like child molestation, children are more likely to know their perpetrator vs. being picked up by a stranger on the street.

Unfortunately, the “stranger” myth is given more life by well-meaning advocates trying to raise awareness with calls to action to address human trafficking, often using imagery and stories that more closely resemble Taken then reality. Child Welfare’s own data tells us that youth involved with foster care, child protective services, the juvenile justice system, or with a history of running away are the most vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers. Most minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation/trafficking are disconnected from supportive families and are what some call “systems kids.” Traffickers know that it is easier to groom and exploit a youth who already mistrusts the adults and agencies that say they will help them.

This swings us to the other end of the misconception spectrum. This end does not see the trafficked youth as a victim, but as a criminal or a manipulator, or, sadly, a youth beyond hope of “saving.” Despite progress in educating the public about human trafficking, there are some deep-rooted beliefs that trading sex for money, drugs, or a place to stay is a choice that can always be avoided; that somehow, the youth is to blame. It doesn’t help that many youth are not grateful when “rescued” and are not interested in yet another service provider controlling their lives. The reality of these young peoples’ lives, and reactions adults receive when trying to help, means many providers/systems/adults get frustrated and give up trying to engage.

It is also not uncommon to hear folks argue that since the youth committed unlawful acts, or were paid for their services, that they are not a victim. If the youth wasn’t locked up on that secret yacht, but out in the community, perhaps even going to school, the suspicion of their victim status becomes even greater.  It can take time and patience to educate people about trauma bonds and the abusive relationship a youth may have with their trafficker.  This relationship often resembles what we see in domestic violence. During trainings, Nicole and I will ask people to reflect on what they know about how difficult (and dangerous!) it is for a domestic violence victim to leave their abuser/partner. We ask them to keep that in mind when working with a youth who is being controlled by, or, in a relationship with, a trafficker. Much like domestic violence, it can be hard for those of us on the outside looking in to understand what the ties are that keep the victim from “escaping”, and to offer unconditional support through trauma-informed services.

Ultimately, the biggest myth of all is that this is something new in our society. As long as there have been vulnerable young people, there have been predatory adults exploiting them. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be done. It means that we need to respond to youth in crisis in ways that meet their needs, and we need to examine how our “helping” systems can do better to reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen young peoples’ connections to healthy, supportive family and community.

After all, we can’t all have Liam Neeson for a dad.

(*Please note that my use of the label “victim” is purely for the context of this discussion. Many young people who have experienced trafficking prefer “survivor” and some prefer no label at all.)

Try a Mantra for 2017

Written by: Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education & Public Policy for National Safe Place Network

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Looking back in my 2016 work notebook, I have a list of “possible mantras” instead of actual resolutions for the previous year. I was coming back to work after several months of maternity leave and I guess wasn’t quite ready to commit to a traditional resolution. Instead, I was adjusting to my life as a new mom working full-time. Some of my “possible mantras” for 2016 included: “This is enough;” “Don’t forget to breathe;” and “No is a complete sentence.”

I wish I had reviewed my 2016 mantras more frequently than in January and now.

So this 2017, I’m going to try again to pick a mantra, write it down, post it around my workspace and my home, and use it. And I’m going to just pick one, not make a whole list of them.

If you are a person who also has trouble sticking to a resolution, may I suggest a mantra as well? I got the idea here: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/forget-resolutions-embrace-a-yearly-mantra-instead-226656. The author provides an example: instead of deciding to exercise three times a week, your mantra could be “move more.”

Here are some other examples of possible mantras to replace popular resolutions:

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Do you have other ideas for mantras or resolutions? Let us know on Twitter at @nspntweets.

Happy 2017.