Children

August 12 is International Youth Day

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The United Nations declared August 12 International Youth Day in 1999, providing an opportunity to celebrate young people around the world. The focus of this year’s International Youth Day is to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can read more about the agenda here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

The United Nations has also developed a toolkit with activity ideas to celebrate International Youth Day: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/Toolkit-IYD-2016.pdf

One activity listed in the toolkit is “Advocate.” While the toolkit stresses advocating for celebrating International Youth Day and encouraging youth to make sustainable consumption choices given this year’s focus, an important advocacy activity in the United States is for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every country except the United States has ratified the treaty.

Ratification of the treaty has resulted in greater restrictions on employing children, greater focus on child heath, and a decrease in legal corporal punishment against children. It is past time for the United States to pass this treaty and solidify its commitment to children at home and abroad.

Biking with Ninja Turtles: Exploring Boundaries with Kids

Written by: Lisa Tobe, Executive Director, Wildflower Consulting

I lost my six-year-old son Mateo under a yellow helmet with a face-cover. I could see his little hands and knee knobs stick out from what looked like black Kevlar body armor. My friend, Thea, stood beside him explaining the gears, throttle and brakes on the blue four-wheeler their seven-year-old son Trey rides. Mateo nodded gravely. I watched the side of his helmet bob up and down in slow, short movements. She had his rapt attention, but I wondered if he’d absorbed the directions. I hadn’t.

Instead, I thought, “Oh crap, am I really going to let him ride that four-wheeler by himself?” I’d been flooded with panic about the idea of broken bones, concussions and spinal injuries. Up until then Mateo had only ridden a bike attached to mine, a three-wheeled Green Machine that could do a wicked skid at the bottom of a hill or a red, battery-powered, plastic race car that barely moved across our gravel driveway.

Thea lives outside Nucla, a rough and tumble Colorado outpost with a great view of the LaSal Mountain Range. Kids run around outside unsupervised starting at a young age, the outdoors their only playmate when not in school. Unlike their urban/suburban counter-parts, these children have hayfields instead of soccer leagues and ponds instead of spray parks. When we first arrived, Mateo did not want to ride the four-wheeler period, so Trey proudly walked him around his family’s 22-acre ranch. We told them to be back before dark. By then, Mateo and I were several days into our cross-country trip to Quincy, California, a small town I lived in for almost a decade before returning home to Kentucky. Thea and I hadn’t seen each other since before we became moms. We sat on their porch catching up while the boys explored.

I’m a parent-in-training. I had Mateo when I was forty-one. I have been reading books about parenting since before he was born; books that told me how to be pregnant, how to give birth and how to raise him. They talked about attachment, strong-willed children and the whole-brain approach. The authors provided advice about how I could make Mateo happy, smart and compassionate, among other things. I read these books in what we in the south call ‘fits and starts’ whenever I got overwhelmed with his behavior. I thought if I followed their guidance, Mateo would be this perfect, happy child that turned into an amazing man. But I’m learning that parenting is as individualized as our DNA.

Mateo helmet
Mateo wearing his bike helmet. Photo credit: Melissa Simmons

I raise my son in a little village of helpers, which includes my parents. My dad has much more patience with Mateo than he ever did with his kids and perhaps counter-intuitively seems more afraid of bad things happening to Mateo than he did with us. My brother, Artie, and I grew up in the relative freedom like most children raised in the seventies. We scuttled up trees and scurried around the streets and woods in our neighborhood with impunity. We had few rules:

  • Tell our parents where we were going;
  • Stay within a one-mile radius; and,
  • Return home for dinner, when it got dark or when dad whistled.

My parents warned us about cars but never about people. We biked over a mile to school alone as young as seven, and by eight we were allowed to go on solo hikes around our cabin in Western Kentucky. During these excursions, I imagined being an Indian Princess hunting for food or a race car driver flying around the speedway. I felt fearless.

While my parents follow my lead, we have complex generational and personal differences about raising children. They placed a television in Mateo’s room at their house and give him desert after every dinner, often consisting of ice cream with multiple toppings. Both are remnants of my childhood.

Both my parents and I want Mateo to be independent. We know that everyone thrives in the I-can-do-it moments when Mateo learns sometime new. It’s just that we have differing opinions of independent, which have become increasingly divergent as Mateo gets older.

My parents worry about losing Mateo. They asked me to nail Mateo’s first-floor bedroom windows shut. I let Dad drill holes, but kept the nails on the window sill. I wanted Mateo to feel the breeze moving through his room.

As young as two, I took Mateo traipsing through the creeks by my parent’s house. He loved playing in the water and chasing elusive creatures that squirted past his chubby legs. At first I held his hand, afraid he might drown in the 6 inches of tepid water that made up our latest playground. But eventually I let go, following closely behind as he rambled and fell among the brown and green algae covered rocks. The water splashed around him before soaking through his blue shorts. Mateo cried at first. But when I extended my hand, he let me pull him up and tumbled uncertainly forward trying to offset his waterlogged diaper. When Mom saw our appearance, worry lines deepened around her mouth.

Before our trip, I had started giving Mateo a little more room. I exercised during his swim lessons or went biking during his soccer practices. I’d let him go to public restrooms without supervision. At first I hovered outside the door. Eventually, I had him meet me back on a certain aisle or rejoin me at a restaurant table. I admit that each time I saw him walking back, I felt relieved. I also started feeling less trapped by the crushing public perception that a child always has to be supervised.

Mateo and I have never had a long conversation about physical boundaries, just to stay away from the street and ponds. He also has some natural fears that keep him in our yard. I work at home and can often see him from my office window, where a collection of ramshackle fences border our acre in Louisville. Gaps have begun to emerge in the black wooden fence that folds around the side and back of our yard. Several poles lean in or out pulled off center by time and weather. Some slats, held in place by a stubborn nail or two, scatter at odd angles. A wire fence runs half way up the other side of our yard, separating us from a pond and horses. Cars and trucks rush past on a busy street in front of our house, parents running errands or construction workers expanding a subdivision that used to be woods. I’m told that our eighty-year-old house used to be a school and that the fields that surround it were filled with trees before a new owner decided they would get in the way and cut them down.

I mow about 1/3 of our yard. Tall grasses and wild plants grow in the rest. My mom calls them weeds. Mateo pretends they are a rain forest, although I have to admit he’s hardly ever in that part of the yard. Mostly, he stays around his play set and trampoline, beside the house where the grass is cut. I don’t worry too much when he roams out of sight. Like my outdoor cats, I figure he’s not far.

I could only imagine what my mom would do if she’d been standing there when Mateo got on the four-wheeler. After giving him directions, Thea threw her legs over the seat behind Mateo holding onto the steering wheel. She gently coached him. Then she let him drive alone at the top of her driveway where he hopscotched across the gravel as he got used to the engine and the brakes. After about three wide circles, Mateo stopped in front of us, his learning energy depleted. He wanted Trey to take him on a ride. They headed off in dust covered cloud energy. He came back sweaty and ecstatic.

“Mama, mama,” he said tumbling in the house.
“Yep.”
“I’m going to ask Santa for a four-wheeler.”
“Oh?” I grinned. “You’d better tell him to bring 22-acres with him too. There’s nowhere to ride a four-wheeler at our house.”
“OK, I’ll ask.”
“I don’t think it will fit in his bag.”
“But Mama? Maybe Santa can have someone else drop it [the land] off, and then he can bring the four-wheeler.”
“You can always ask.”

More and more lately, I have noticed that Mateo wants both me and his independence, a complex need that we have been sorting out in increments. Still there’s this complicated mix of teaching Mateo to ask for help and letting him just go for it. When we stopped at my friend’s place just off Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mateo made himself home in the wood-covered lot. He scrunched himself up the house-sized granite boulders.

“Do you think I can get down that way?” Mateo pointed down what appeared to be the equivalent of a straight-edged cliff.
“I think you might. If you miss, it will hurt. It’s your choice.” This is standard refrain when I’m unsure.

Mateo peered over the granite face before heading back down the same way he’d come up. I never know what he’ll decide. Thus far his biggest injuries have been scratches and bruises. It probably works this way because of two reasons, he actually does have a pretty good handle on his limits and I won’t let him do anything that seems like sure death. I really like this natural check-in process he has developed. I feel safer because of it, so I continually push all our boundaries, the adult comfort and the child’s will. He has done these new things alternating between wild abandon and mild trepidation.

I watched for a few minutes. “Don’t kill yourself,” I told him before I walked into Seth’s house to sort our laundry.

After two weeks, we finally reached Quincy, a town of 6,000. My neighbor offered him the use of any of their bikes, a balance-bike without petals, one with training wheels or a two-wheeled bike. To my surprise, Mateo picked the big-boy bike.

Last year, he’d tried to learn to bike on our gravel driveway in Kentucky. It had been a hot late spring day. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, me teaching him to learn to ride without training wheels or him learning. I only vaguely remember learning how to do this. I might have been five or six, no helmet, no knee or elbow pads, just a pile of dusty skin and determination. I’m sure my brain had been flooded with all those confusing chemicals that told me to be excited and afraid.  I’m sure there was blood and Band-Aides before the triumph. Mateo wore full riot gear including wrist guards. When he pushed down on the petal, Mateo lurched sideways and threw out his leg to try to catch himself. He missed. I missed. The red bike landed on Mateo. He wailed. I pulled him up.

“Let’s try again.”
“I can’t.” A small sweat droplet slid down the back of his jaw where one day he’ll sprout facial hair.

I’m not sure what had changed since last year, but now Mateo gets up when he crashes. He still blames me for the falls, but I see that as progress. He told me that I’d held on too long or not enough or … Truth be told, I didn’t’ mind, because his words guided me as I tried to help him find his balance.

“You’re pulling me,” Mateo said in a soft, frustrated voice. I had been running beside him in a sports bra, holding onto his bike with one hand and the shirt I’d stripped out of earlier with the other. At the end of the day, I found myself covered in a dust bath and Mateo able to ride a bike. By the second day, he was a pro.

In many ways, this little rite of passage opened up both our worlds. He wanted to ride to the end of our road, so I let him alone. When Mateo came back, Eli, a six-year-old from the corner, tagged behind him riding an oversized pink bike, his fresh crew cut covered by a bright yellow dirt bike helmet. Book-ended by two single mom’s, who live down the street from each other, these two boys disappear for hours now, somewhere in the expanse between our house and Eli’s. My neighbor’s two grandkids, both boys, have recently joined the fray. As I wrote this, I could hear them urgently creating story lines where their bikes become race cars, horses and Ninja Turtle dirt bikes.

Kids do not have as much freedom to roam today, for a number of reasons. Some families live in areas with high crime rates; schools are farther away; traffic seems more congested and quite frankly our society’s perception of risk does not align with reality. A  University of New Hampshire research center report published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that the rate of crimes against children dropped between 2003 and 2011.[i] As cited in a 2007 Pediatrics’[ii] article, several studies has shown that unsupervised and child-driven play enhances imagination, resiliency and confidence, as well as teaches negotiation and decision making skills.  I can see these things in Mateo. Somehow we have negotiated the boundaries that feel safe to both of us, and this has allowed him to center himself more in this world and himself.

The night Mateo learned to ride his bike, I typed as he related the story to me. He described his fear and new-found confidence.

“I had trouble. Sometimes I couldn’t really start myself. Then my mama helped me, so I thought I could do it and I did. Mama held the back of my seat. Then when I said I was ready, she let go, and I could do it.”

Mateo Bike
Mateo riding his bike.
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[i] JAMA Pediatrics. April 2011.Trends in Children’s Exposure to Violence, 2003 to 2011 David Finkelhor, PhD; Anne Shattuck, MA; Heather A. Turner, PhD; Sherry L. Hamby, PhD

[ii] Pediatrics January 2007, VOLUME 119 / ISSUE 1 The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Kenneth R. Ginsburg. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182

How to Talk to Teens About Drugs

Written by: Sonia Tagliareni, writer and researcher for www.drugrehab.com

Adolescence is a period of uncertainty, during which teenagers are not inclined to share anything with their parents. It may be challenging to broach the drug and alcohol conversation. Your teen may try to avoid the conversation, or you may not know how to begin.

The conversation must be rewarding for both of you so it is important that you consider the issues you wish to discuss before the talk. Communities have plenty of substance use prevention resources that can help you. Your teenager will be more receptive if you remain calm and collected during the discussion. Be prepared to address any concerns and questions your child may have after your conversation.

Educate Yourself

Understanding the different types of drugs and their effects on the body will help you answer any technical questions your child may have. It is important to explain to your teenager that addiction is a chronic brain disease and to teach them about the cycle of addiction. You should emphasize that drugs affect a person’s judgment and often land them in trouble.

Don’t Lecture

Anticipate your teen’s possible reactions and you approach the conversation. Talk to your teenager when you are both relaxed and free of distractions. You don’t want them to think that the conversation is a lecture; they will not be receptive to you and may become rebellious.

Establish Expectations

Discuss your expectations about drug and alcohol use and provide sound reasons for avoiding substances. If you adopt a negative and authoritative attitude, your teenager may rebel by consuming alcohol or drugs. Also lead by example; your teenager will more likely take your advice if you lead a healthy lifestyle.

Don’t Interrupt Your Teen

Do not interrupt your teen when they are expressing themselves, even if you disagree with them. A good way to respond to your child when you think they are wrong is to show them the source of your information. If you do not know the answer to a question your teenager asked, you should simply say that you do not know and suggest looking for the answer together.

Create Scenarios

Role-playing with your teenager may be a fun way to teach them strategies for avoiding substance use. Create a few scenarios in which your teen is confronted with the choice of using or not using. If they have trouble saying “no,” teach them other ways in which they can refuse the person offering drugs or alcohol, including suggesting a different activity or simply walking away. Teenagers should know that it is acceptable not to consume alcohol at parties or use drugs with their friends.

Talking about the dangers of substance use multiple times over the course of your child’s adolescence reinforces the message. Your teenager will see you as a concerned parent and will be more likely to come to you for advice when faced with difficult situations. The goal of talking to your children about drugs and alcohol is to provide enough resources for them to make good decisions when you are not around.

Aug 2016 - Monthly Tip - Talk to Teens about DrugsImage credit:  https://www.drugrehab.com/teens/prevention/ 

Sources:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2009). Make a difference. Retrieved from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MakeADiff_HTML/makediff.htm#Talkingwith

About the author:

Sonia Tagliareni is a writer and researcher for www.drugrehab.com. She is passionate about helping people. She started her professional writing career in 2012 and has since written for the finance, engineering, lifestyle and entertainment industry. Sonia holds a bachelor’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology.

National Safe Place Week 2016

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National Safe Place Week 2016 (#NSPWeek2016) is upon us! This nationally recognized week serves to raise awareness of Safe Place, an outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. NSP Week is also a dedicated time to recognize the various partners who collaborate to offer immediate help and safety for young people. Partners include licensed Safe Place agencies, businesses, civic and social services organizations, volunteers, donors – both on the local and national levels. These partners stand together to strengthen the safety net for youth in America and that’s exactly the reason we’re celebrating this week!

To understand more about the program, let’s look back at its origin:

Safe Place launched in Louisville, Kentucky in 1983 as an outreach program of the YMCA Shelter House, a youth and family service organization of the YMCA of Greater Louisville. Access to emergency counseling and shelter for youth was raised as a community need and YMCA Shelter House figured out a solution – the creation of Safe Place. Neighborhood businesses and community volunteers stepped up to the plate and designated their business locations as Safe Place sites, creating multiple “front doors” through which youth could access the local shelter program. Who knew this local outreach effort would become such a successful and impactful program and go on to become a nationally recognized prevention and intervention initiative?

Safe Place logo

 

How Safe Place works:

  • A young person enters a Safe Place location and asks for help.
  • The site employee finds a comfortable place for the youth to wait while they call the local Safe Place licensed agency.
  • Within 20-30 minutes or less, a Safe Place representative will arrive to talk with the youth and, if necessary, provide transportation to the shelter for counseling, support, a place to stay or other resources.
  • Once at the Safe Place agency, counselors meet with the youth and provide support. Family Agency staff makes sure the youth and their families receive the help and professional services they need.

Here are some facts about the national Safe Place program:

  • More than 333,000 youth have been connected to safety and support as a result of Safe Place outreach and education.
  • Safe Place is managed by 132 licensed Safe Place agencies in 37 states and the District of Columbia. 
  • Safe Place serves more than 1,400 communities across the country.
  • There are more than 19,000 designated Safe Place locations nationwide. Locations include convenience stores, libraries, schools, fire stations, social service agencies, public buses and more.

Fire station 2

Did you know there are ways you can get involved right now to help us expand the national safety net for youth? Here’s how:

  • Raise Awareness of Safe Place on social media channels. Below are a few sample posts you may share on your Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram to show support for youth safety:
  • Sample Facebook Post: [Image of Safe Place sign] Have you ever seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Businesses and organizations display the Safe Place sign which means any young person can go inside, ask for help, and immediately connect to safety and supportive resources. Learn more and get involved: www.nationalsafeplace.org.
  • Sample Instagram Post: Snap an Instagram photo of the Safe Place sign in your community and share it along with the following post:Have you ever seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Businesses and organizations display the Safe Place sign which means any young person can go inside, ask for help, and immediately connect to safety and supportive resources. Learn more and get involved: www.nationalsafeplace.org @nspnstagram
  • Become a TXT 4 HELP Ambassador. Share information about TXT 4 HELP, a nationwide text-for-support service for youth. How TXT 4 HELP works: Teens simply text the word SAFE and their current location (address, city, state) to 69866 for immediate help. Users will receive information about the closest Safe Place location and / or youth shelter and they will also have the option to text interactively with a professional for more help. It’s quick, easy, safe, and confidential. To learn more about TXT 4 HELP, please visit: http://nationalsafeplace.org/text-4-help/

NSP Week - TXT 4 Help Tuesday

  • Donate to National Safe Place Network. Help us expand the Safe Place program into more communities across the country and connect more youth to supportive resources: http://bit.ly/nspngive

We also offer more advanced opportunities to get involved:

  • Volunteer with a local licensed Safe Place agency or a youth service organization in your community. To find a licensed Safe Place agency near you, please visit www.nationalsafeplace.org and choose your state from the “Find a Safe Place” drop down menu. Not in a Safe Place community? Ask us how you can help introduce Safe Place to a youth service organization in your area. You can also make an impact by volunteering for a youth serving agency in your community.
  • Help start Safe Place in your community. The implementation and ultimate success of the Safe Place program depends upon support from entire communities – from corporations and government leaders to youth service organizations and individuals. Please contact Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations, to learn more about what’s involved in implementing Safe Place in your community. Susan may be reached at 502.635.3660 or sharmon@nspnetwork.org.
  • Become a corporate / individual sponsor of National Safe Place Network. Are you interested in helping advance the Safe Place program through a personal or corporate sponsorship? Sponsorships enable NSPN to positively impact more youth, assist young people with services they need, expand Safe Place into new communities, and ultimately build a stronger safety net for youth. If you’re interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Laurie Jackson, NSPN President/CEO at 502.635.3660 or ljackson@nspnetwork.org.

All of that is to say – Happy National Safe Place Week, everyone! Your support strengthens the national safety net for youth, and for that we are grateful!

President Obama’s FY 2017 Budget Released

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

President Obama released his 2017 budget proposal last week. It includes some bright spots in funding for runaway and homeless youth programs and supports for child welfare programs. This is just a proposal though, and serves as a blueprint Congress will use to build its own budget.

Here are some highlights from the proposal:

  • $6 million increase for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs, including the Basic Center, Street Outreach, and Transitional Living Programs.
  • $2 million to conduct a prevalence study of youth homelessness
  • $11 Billion to address family homelessness through creating of housing vouchers and rapid re-housing assistance
  • $85 million for the education of homeless youth
  • Funds to support demonstration grants to help states implement the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014

For additional highlights of homeless programs in general, check out a summary from the National Alliance to End Homelessness: http://www.endhomelessness.org/page/-/files/FY%202017%20Budget%20Rundown.pdf

For additional information about programs and funding related specifically to children and young people, check out First Focus’s highlights: https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/NSPN/big-investments-in-kids-in-the-presidents-budget.pdf

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Written by: TC Cassidy, Director of Technical Assistance, National Safe Place NetworkRHYTTAC

By the time someone has been trafficked the system has already failed at what should be its primary goal: PREVENTION. We need to work to prevent human trafficking from occurring so the need for services doesn’t exceed the availability of services. Prevention efforts are not often sensational; however, focusing on preventing some of the risk factors that lead to an increased vulnerability to human trafficking will prove the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Prevention ranges from low or moderate cost activities such as awareness campaigns to help inform the community as well as potential victims of the risk of becoming a trafficking victim to more expensive solutions such as strong enforcement of laws through arrests and prosecutions of traffickers.

In due course prevention efforts will decrease the number of people who perpetrate trafficking and the number of people being trafficked. Prevention efforts aim to reduce risk factors while promoting protective factors.

Prevention efforts:

  • provide information, resources, and safety planning skills to potential victims;
  • attempt to reduce the likelihood that an individual will become a trafficker;
  • change societal norms that blame victims;
  • empower community members to recognize and respond to instances of trafficking; and,
  • advocate for changes to policies and laws to reduce the occurrence of trafficking across vulnerable populations.

Nine Principles of Effective Prevention Programs

In an article titled “What works in prevention: Principles of Effective Prevention Programs,” the authors considered research from four areas (substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, school failure, and juvenile delinquency and violence) to identify characteristics consistently linked with successful prevention programs. The Center on Disease Control’s (CDC) Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances (DELTA) projects, which ended in 2013, used these nine principles as guidelines when developing their prevention programs.

The nine principles identified by Nation, et al. identified in their research indicate effective prevention programs should:

  1. Be Comprehensive: Strategies should include multiple components and affect multiple settings to address a wide range of risk and protective factors of the target problem.
  2. Incorporate Varied Teaching Methods: Strategies should include multiple teaching methods, including some type of active, skills-based component.
  3. Administer Sufficient Dosage: Participants need to be exposed to enough of the activity for it to have an effect.
  4. Be Theory Driven: Preventive strategies should have a scientific justification or logical rationale.
  5. Foster Positive Relationships: Programs should foster strong, stable, positive relationships between children and adults.
  6. Be Appropriately Timed: Program activities should happen at a time (developmentally) that can have maximal impact in a participant’s life.
  7. Be Socio-Culturally Relevant: Programs should be tailored to fit within cultural beliefs and practices of specific groups as well as local community norms.
  8. Include an Outcome Evaluation: A systematic outcome evaluation is necessary to determine whether a program or strategy worked.
  9. Be Delivered by Well-Trained Staff: Programs need to be implemented by staff members who are sensitive, competent, and have received sufficient training, support, and supervision.[1]

National Safe Place Network would add an additional principle to this list as we believe prevention programs/efforts should address the intersectionality of human trafficking. Considering intersectionality of risk and oppression factors, such as age, race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc., will ensure those responsible for delivering/managing the prevention program/effort consider their impact when conducting prevention work with individuals and groups within specific populations.

Please visit http://www.nspnetwork.org/national-slavery-and-human-trafficking-prevention-month to access free resources on preventing human trafficking in your community.

[1] Nation, M., Crusto, C., Wandersman, A., Kumpfer, K. L., Seybolt, D., Morrissey-Kane, E., & Davino, K. (2003). What works in prevention: Principles of Effective Prevention Programs. American Psychologist, 58, 449-456.

Miracles in the Face of Many Challenges

Written by: Steve Tarver, President / CEO, YMCA of Greater Louisville

It’s Christmas Eve, after six in the evening. Most of the stores are closed and the streets are starting to get very quiet with little traffic. The daylight hours are few, so it’s dark outside. Cars parked in driveways and lights on in most homes indicate that families are gathering for holiday celebrations.

It’s during this time that I like to stop by our YMCA youth shelter. Like many others, it’s a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operation. Normally, I will have picked up some gift cards which I like to deliver to be handed out to the staff that are working that night along with one for each child that happens to be spending that evening with us.

This past year (2014), it struck me…Where would these children be without the opportunity to be at our shelter? And further, the same question applies for every day of the year. Not sure why it took so long for this to hit me, but I have thought a lot about it since.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to meet with some of the children that are with us. I am always amazed at their intelligence and resilience. So many of them are miracles that stand up in the face of many challenges. And a caring adult who is simply willing to look at them with respect and see them as an asset can be a life changing opportunity for the child as well as the adult. In my opinion, that’s the real magic of the work done by hundreds of the optimistic and welcoming staff that work with the population of homeless youth in our local YMCA shelter, and places across the country that provide the security, safety, and HOPE for these young people.

Of course, this goes far beyond the Christmas holiday. But the question remains, where would these children be without the network of shelters that serve this population? I wonder also, the extent to which the broader community recognizes (and appreciates) this network. Like the children that find themselves on the street, neglected, or abused, many of those that serve them operate “in the shadows.” Shifting the outlook around youth development from a deficit model to an asset model is a huge story that needs to be told. Can we get this work out of the shadows? Can we shift from the generations-deep paradigm that youth are problems that need to be fixed? Can we create a new custom that would start from a point of seeing the potential of youth without being fearful of high expectations? In my experience, only rarely have high expectations not resulted in high responses. These young people have the capability. I’ve seen it.

Hopefully, there will be more dialogue promoting the asset approach to youth development to more audiences. National Safe Place Network offers a platform: www.nspnetwork.org.

Resources:

The Youth Thrive framework is a strengths-based initiative to examine how all youth can be supported in ways that advance healthy development and well-being and reduce the likelihood or impact of negative life experiences. Click https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/youth-thrive_advancing-healthy-adolescent-development-and-well-being%20report.pdf to review the Youth Thrive Advancing Healthy Adolescent Development and Well-Being report. If you’re interested in receiving the Youth Thrive training, please contact National Safe Place Network at info@nspnetwork.org.

Literature Review of Youth Development / Asset Tools: https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/lit%20review%20of%20youth%20development%20asset%20tools%202002.pdf

Youth Resilience: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youth-thrive/2013/YT_Youth-Resilience.pdf

Protective & Promotive Factors for Healthy Development and Well-Being: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youththrive/body/youth-thrive-protective-promotive-factors.pdf

Developmental Assets: Preparing Young People for Success: http://www.search-institute.org/what-we-study/developmental-assets

Increase Kids’ Strengths by Building Development Assets: http://www.search-institute.org/publications/developmental-assets

To learn how to get involved, please visit www.nspnetwork.org or email National Safe Place Network at info@nspnetwork.org.

The Gift of Giving

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Observed annually on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the U.S. and shopping events on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus their holiday and end-of-year giving. 

As an organization serving youth in crisis and those who provide vital services to this population, NSPN relies on gifts from individuals and corporate partners to ensure an effective system of response for youth across the United States. NSPN utilizes your donated goods, time, and funds to reach youth in need of help and safety. Many youth who seek our services are scared and alone, with no place to go. Others just need someone to listen. If your family is in-tact and the children in your lives have not experienced the fear of being bullied, the scarring that comes with abuse, or the hunger that comes with neglect, you and those children are incredibly fortunate. NSPN is there for each youth and family that experience these and many other issues that make life challenging. Without your contributions, NSPN simply would not have the opportunity to continue this necessary work.

Your dollars make a difference. Here are lives that have been impacted because someone like you cared and made a contribution.

Jayden - Being bullied.jpgJayden, 14, was being bullied by some of his peers at school. Every day as he walked home from school, the bullies would approach him and verbally abuse him and make threats against his life. Not sure where to turn or what to do, Jayden decided to ask for help at the local convenience store which displayed a Safe Place sign. Jayden spoke with counselors at the licensed Safe Place agency and they connected with his school counselor. The situation was handled appropriately and now Jayden feels safer walking home and has since felt comfortable making new friends.

Sarah - girl texting.jpgSarah, 17, utilized TXT 4 HELP (69866) when she realized she was thinking more about how to die than how to live. The professional counselors at the help line made a meaningful connection with Sarah and stayed with her via a call until the authorities reached her for support. Sarah told the counselors, “I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted help living.” Sarah continues to receive the counseling she needs to live a happier and healthier life.

Portrait Of Smiling Teenage Boy

Robert, 13, learned about Safe Place during a school presentation and decided to ask for help. He was suffering physical abuse at the hands of his step father and was living with his older cousins. After school one day, Robert went to the nearest Safe Place, a fire station, and asked for help. After speaking with agency staff, he decided to stay at the youth shelter. His mother left her husband after learning about the abuse. While at the shelter, Robert and his mother established goals and made a commitment to work on their communication with one another. Robert was reunified with his mother and now feels safe in his home.

Young black guy in red cap

Terrance, 16, had never felt accepted at home. Once he “came out” to his family as being gay, his father kicked him out and told him he was “dead” to them. Terrance attempted to find a place to live with friends but no one had the resources to support him while he worked to finish school. He was able to connect to a program of an NSPN member agency that offered independent living resources and support. Terrance now serves on a youth advisory board for that agency and is helping other youth learn how to give back to their community.

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NSPN shared resources on how to train staff and volunteers from a trauma-informed perspective. Staff were appreciative of the training when faced with a particularly challenging youth who was the survivor of years of abuse and neglect. The staff had learned how to support while maintaining safety. They also learned how to listen without feeling the need to have all of the answers. The youth maintained in the program and successfully completed her GED.

Help us continue to make difference in the lives of youth and families. Donate today at: www.tinyurl.com/nspndonation

Ways you can help:

  • Search the web and make purchases using Goodsearch / Goodshop: goodsearch.com/goodshop-invite/nspn-2219407. Each time you search the web using Goodsearch, you raise one cent per search for NSPN. Goodshop will also donate $5 to NSPN after your first purchase of $25 or more. Goodshop continues to make donations for following purchases.
  • Raise awareness! Here are some sample social media posts you can share on your page.

Twitter:

  • [Click here and save the Safe Place logo to your computer: http://bit.ly/1IwCEpD. Then, share it on your social media page with the following message!] Have you seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. Learn more at nationalsafeplace.org
  • I donated to @NSPNtweets! I’m helping to expand the safety net for youth. You can help at tinyurl.com/nspndonation #GivingTuesday

Facebook:

  • [Click here and save the Safe Place logo to your computer: http://bit.ly/1IwCEpD. Then, share it on your social media page with the following message!] Have you seen this sign? It’s the universal symbol for youth safety. @Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. Any youth can go to any location that hangs this sign and seek help. Learn more and get involved: nationalsafeplace.org
  • Need to talk? @Safe Place is there to listen. Safe Place provides TXT 4 HELP, a texting service which gives youth the opportunity to connect with a mental health professional. If you’re a teen in trouble, need help, or just need someone to listen, text SAFE and your current location (address, city, state) to 69866. Within seconds, you will receive a message with the closest Safe Place location and contact number for the local youth shelter. After receiving this message, reply with 2CHAT to connect immediately with a professional. It’s quick, easy, safe and confidential. Learn more at: http://nationalsafeplace.org/text-4-help/
  • I donated to @National Safe Place Network! I’m helping to expand the national safety net for youth. You can help at tinyurl.com/nspndonation.

Part Three of our “Brain Development” Series: Creating a Brain-Based Environment for Youth

By: Robin Donaldson, Chief Operating Officer, Indiana Youth Services Association & NSPN Advisory Board member

Adolescence is defined as the transition from childhood to adulthood and encompasses the broad developmental tasks of establishing a unique identity and developing one’s own autonomy and independence. Brain development also undergoes unique changes during adolescence that can explain many behaviors specific to this developmental period.

Brain development continues well into the 20’s and the last area to develop is the prefrontal cortex, responsible for higher cognitive and emotional functioning. Prefrontal cortex development is largely influenced by experience and this allows us to directly impact adolescent brain development.

After a preadolescent cellular growth spurt in the brain, a pruning process begins in adolescence. The adolescent loses approximately three percent of gray matter in the prefrontal lobes. This pruning works on a “use it or lose it” principle so it is important to repeatedly expose young people to the skills and knowledge needed to become successful adults. Repeated use and exposure will strengthen the neural connections that support these skills so they are not lost during the pruning process.

The speed and efficiency of neural communication is determined by neural sensitivity known as long-term potentiation. Under normal situations, long-term potentiation is highest during adolescence. However, adolescents face many factors that can inhibit long-term potentiation.  Things like alcohol and substance use, chronic stress, sleep deprivation, and stimulants interfere with long-term potentiation and slow neural communication. We can help teens minimize exposure to these risk factors through education.

Due to the pattern of brain development, teenagers have greater difficulty reading the emotions of others, a function of the prefrontal lobes, and experience emotions at greater intensity than adults due to a reactive limbic system. We can help develop the neural pathways between the limbic center and prefrontal lobes by helping teens examine and identify emotions (their own and of others) and helping them learn to “put a brake” on their emotions and stop and think before reacting. Activities such as “emotion charades” allows teens the opportunity to both recognize and express emotions.

Research now demonstrates a significant link between exercise and brain functioning and development. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen level in the brain and this is necessary for optimal cellular growth and function. Exercise also impacts neurotransmitter levels in the brain that can serve to help teens better regulate emotional control.

Knowledge is power and teens should be educated about how the choices that they make during adolescence can have lifelong impacts.

This blog is the final post in a three-part series on adolescent brain development. Click on the links below to read parts one and two:

Part One of our “Brain Development” Series: General Brain Development

Part Two of our “Brain Development” Series: The Brain and Crisis Situations

Back to School

Written by: Shauna Stubbs, RHYTTAC Principal Investigator, National Safe Place Network

Some young people approach the beginning of a new school year with excitement and anticipation.  Perhaps they see this as a fresh start – an opportunity to experiment with identity development.  Maybe they have a sense of confidence from previous experience that their desirable position in the social hierarchy of school is secure.  Some could be finely tuned toward academic pursuits, eager to continue learning with the intention to avoid all the drama.

Others experience this ritual differently.  School can be merciless.  Many of our youth find themselves at higher risk than their peers for being bullied; having learning difficulties, substance abuse and mental health issues; and insecurity of resources to meet their basic needs.

On the other hand, school can be a strong protective factor for the young people whom we serve.  Every year a student continues to attend school after 7th grade decreases risk of teen pregnancy, incarceration, and other significant stumbling blocks.  And youth who are engaged in extra-curricular activities tend to improve their self esteem and develop positive social relationships.

So how can we help young people get the most benefit from school with the least risk of social trauma?

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).  While SEL curricula are often designed for school implementation, there are opportunities to adapt these life skills training modules for use in RHY groups.  One example of an SEL life skill is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of being present and observing our experience while being aware that human beings are greater than our feelings, thoughts, and impulses.  Developing mindfulness is also a strategy in trauma-informed care.

Positive Youth Development (PYD).  The educational equivalent of what we know as PYD is Student-Centered Learning or Learner-Centered Education.  This approach challenges young people to learn more than content.  Students are encouraged to develop learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills by practicing them.  Youth make choices about focus areas that align with their interests.  There are a number of ways this model can be implemented in schools to transform the educational environment, but individual youth in our care can benefit from opportunities to participate in decision making.  If we remember that every question is an opportunity to practice development, RHY staff can offer support to youth in seeking their own answers.

Reviewing Lessons Learned.  As young people in RHY programs are preparing to start a new school year, a life skills group could include discussions about previous successes, challenges or disappointments at school.  With supportive guidance, youth can consider possible alternatives and outcomes and determine how they might handle that situation differently if it happened again.  Young people in such a discussion can reality test their options with peers and learn from each other’s experience.

Providing Feedback.  According to Frank Kros, President of the Upside Down Organization (UDO) and evidence-informed child advocate, feedback for youth that is most likely to build self-efficacy and self-esteem focuses on three domains: effort, strategy, and perseverance.  Rather than telling young people they are smart, help them evaluate how pleasing or disappointing results were related to how hard they worked; what approach they used to read, study, take notes, etc.; and/or how persistent they were in overcoming obstacles and challenges.

Collaboration.  Develop partnerships with schools and other service providers in your communities.  Find ways to cooperate in building a local environment that fosters opportunity and supports learning.  Work together to advocate for effective education policy at the city, county, school board, state and federal levels.

Follow these links to school-related resources available from National Safe Place Network:

RHYTTAC McKinney-Vento and RHYA Programs: Partners for Student Success

NSPN The ABCs of Bullying (available through DOT for members with Training Center access)

Follow the links below for additional resources:

http://youthvoiceproject.com/yvpbriefsummaryDec2013.pdf

http://www.urbantech.org/

http://rippleeffects.com/ripple-effects-whole-spectrum-intervention-system/

http://www.upsidedownorganization.org/

Recommended Reading for Youth:

http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/school/middleschool/print_books.html

http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/school/highschool/print_books.html