ABA Therapy Is the Gold Standard for Tennessee Children With Autism

Raising a child with autism takes extra skill and educational support. Many parents have reached out to ABA therapy centers like JoyBridge to get that extra support. Centers like this one offer evaluation and treatment using only clinically-proven tools and applied behavioral analysis.

ABA Therapy Center Programs

JoyBridge Kids serves over 40 children from their Mount Juliet location. Children aged 2 through 7 can attend their Early Excellence program, which requires 25 to 35 hours per week. Children 5 to 8 may enroll in the After School Excellence Program, which includes 12 to 15 hours a week of therapy after school. Both programs include an array of services.

Standard Autism Therapy Services

JoyBridge uses a multidisciplinary approach to serving learners, where evaluating verbal ability is one part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Speech-language pathologists work with each child one-on-one and with their registered behavior technicians. Their speech-language therapists can also make recommendations for children with limited verbal ability.

Children with autism can benefit from the practical skills training that occupational therapists can provide. Occupational therapy techniques can help your child handle sensitivity to light, touch, or sound as well as help them overcome problems with balance or spatial awareness.

JoyBridge programs incorporate a range of play activities and social activities so that children can learn and practice important skills. In the Early Excellence program, children get to take part in gym, art class, circles, and lunch/snack time.

How the Programs Work

Like many autism therapy centers, JoyBridge uses direct assessments (one-on-one time with the child) and indirect assessments. Behavioral specialists turn that information into a comprehensive therapy plan that includes a range of activities and performance measurements. JoyBridge also involves parents in the process of providing needed services.

ABA Therapy in Mt. Juliet

If you are looking for autism services in Nashville or want to find ABA therapy in Tennessee, look for a program that offers therapy based on applied behavioral analysis and other clinically-proven interventions, like JoyBridge. Contact them via their website to learn more about their services.

Five Tips to Ease Kids’ Social Reentry

Tavyev’s strategies include:

Staying engaged at home. Tavyev, also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai, pointed out that kids who turned 2 or 3 during the pandemic might have little experience interacting with people who don’t have masks on. “We can’t just give up masks,” Tavyev said, “so that places more impetus on the family to disconnect from their screens and interact with children face to face.”

Trying to curb screen time. Children’s own screen time can also present a challenge. “If kids’ social interaction is being replaced with screen time, you could have exponentially more work in front of you,” said Tavyev. “You’re going to have to break that addiction before they will want to go out to do social things.”

Encouraging sports and games. Organized sports and other types of play—most of which happen outdoors—can help replace screen time and ease children back into social situations. “It’s something social, but lightly social,” said Tavyev. “It isn’t two hours of intense personal interaction, like a birthday party might be.” For children who aren’t attracted to team sports, Tavyev suggested activities such as martial arts classes or swimming, which are individual pursuits but still happen in a group. Younger children might enjoy group play with balls or parachutes, she said.

Letting younger children learn from conflict. When younger kids do come together, the occasional tussle if two reach for the same toy is a learning opportunity. “If they’ve only been interacting with friends on screens, you’re at home with your Legos and they’re at home with their Legos, so no negotiation has to take place,” Tavyev said. She recommended that parents let children older than 2 or 3 work out in-person conflicts for themselves. “Tell them you believe they can figure this out, whisper ideas and encouragement, but don’t come in and be the mediator,” she said.

Putting fears into perspective for older children. “For children who are feeling awkward and afraid at school or with peers, talk through the worst-case scenario,” Tavyev said. “Encourage them to imagine what might happen. Maybe they’re going to say something foolish. Maybe people will laugh at them. Whatever it is, play it out. Then stop and ask, ‘Was that so bad? Is that something that you truly could not recover from?'”

While some conflict, awkwardness and uncertainty is to be expected, Tavyev advised parents and teachers to be on the lookout for children determined to avoid interaction with others.

“If younger children aren’t showing an interest in their peers, and that is accompanied by language delay and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors, it’s time to seek help because those are signs of autism,” she said. “Parents should also seek help for an older child who was previously interested in social activity and seems to have lost their interest, because this might be a sign of depression.”

Tavyev also encouraged parents to take heart, because everyone is in the same boat. And while the brain’s ability to grow and change is at its height during the first three years of life, neuroplasticity persists well into adulthood.

“Social interaction, comfortable distance while talking, and all kinds of subtle, nuanced things have probably changed for billions of people around the world,” said Tavyev. “So even if children have missed out on certain social things, it could be that some of those things are going to become obsolete anyway. How will that change this generation of children? I honestly have no idea, but they’re all in it together.”

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level: Part III

As discussed in parts one and two, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. By the time students reach middle school, the basic foundational skills for social-emotional intelligence are in place. Preteens and teenagers are now ready to face greater obstacles and challenges, especially with regard to peer relationships, stress, and self-motivation. To meet new benchmarks, students in middle and high school must learn to deal with more significant academic struggles, greater peer influences, ever-changing teenage social dynamics, and their own personal growth and development at the same time. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Middle School

Students should begin to recognize circumstances and situations that cause extra or unnecessary stress; they should begin to adopt strategies to help with motivation, stress management, and task completion. Middle schoolers should begin to recognize the benefits of strong self-advocacy skills and how to best utilize the resources and supports that are at their disposal. For instance, if schools offer after–school homework help, students who know that they struggle to complete assignments on their own should take initiative by signing up for the club/program and making a point to attend.

Since learning to set goals in elementary school, middle schoolers should now be equipped to assess the validity of their goals so that they may make more informed, realistic, and specific goals moving forward. They should also be able to determine why they were able to reach success or not, i.e., What helped them to reach their goal? If they didn’t reach it, then why not? What prohibited them from finding success? By middle school, students should not only be able to recognize other people’s emotions, feelings, or perspectives, but they should be able to surmise why they feel or think that way. In this sense, they’re activating the ability to take another’s perspective that they learned in elementary school, then further expanding on that by making inferences.

Preteens not only recognize cultural differences, but they should begin to acknowledge how certain cultural differences can result in some peers being ostracized or bullied. They should then be able to begin to find ways to combat or address the bullying and/or to make others feel included and recognized. Middle schoolers should be well-aware of group dynamics and what it takes to ensure the success of the group. This includes assigning roles, taking responsibility, sharing the workload, cooperating with others, etc.

Students in the middle school grades should be aware of negative peer pressure, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They should also be able to come up with ways to combat negative peer pressure in non– confrontational ways and under various circumstances. Preteens should be considering their decision-making in terms of others. Before making an important decision, they should consider not only how they will benefit from their choice, but how it could impact others as well.

High School

High schoolers should begin to understand how expressing one’s own emotions/feelings can have both positive and negative impacts on others. For example, as young adults, they need to know that positivity begets positivity, especially when emotions are running high. High schoolers will also have developed the ability to multitask by this point. However, more than multitasking, HS students should be able to shift back and forth between various tasks and under wavering conditions or circumstances. For instance, if completing a chapter review for English, a high schooler may need to answer a phone call or walk the dog to then return to the chapter questions later. Perhaps they need to maintain focus on several different homework assignments while working from a bustling coffee shop.

Students in high school should be able to capitalize on their strengths and think creatively when facing a challenge. This ability connects with problem-solving skills and ingenuity. We can’t all be great at everything, but in what way can we use our personal/individual strengths to make challenging tasks easier? This is key for college and career readiness. High schoolers should also be thinking about setting goals for the future after graduation. College is not the “end all be all.” But if college isn’t their plan, then what is? Young adults need to recognize how important it is to find a path, take steps to follow that path, and evaluate their progress, preferences, and goals as they go. If they want to take a gap year, what do they hope to accomplish during that year? If they are going to study abroad, how will they decide on a program and pay for it? What skill set do they plan to use for supplementary income while in or out of college?

High schoolers should be capable of showing respect for those with opposing or differing viewpoints, even if the opposing side is argumentative, dismissive, rude, etc. It is important to maintain a level of self-control even when others are not. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are wrong or right in their convictions. As young adults soon to be out on their own in the adult world, it is critical that high schoolers recognize how we must all be concerned about the well-being of all people; we may all be different races, but we’re all part of the human race. Therefore, we can positively contribute to our communities by advocating for human rights.

High schoolers should be able to assess their ability to actively listen and explain how active listening helps with conflict resolution. They should also be able to demonstrate leadership abilities within group contexts without dominating or overtaking the goal of the group. Young adults should also be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of social norms and appropriate behaviors between and among various cultural groups. They should recognize certain expectations and norms when interacting with authority figures, children, elders, etc.

Thus, we have completed our three-part series on SEL skills by grade level. The following series will serve best as a helpful resource rather than a scare-tactic of sorts. We all develop in our own ways, but it’s important we be mindful of these skills by grade level. If your child or student seems behind on any of these, consider the ways in which you can empower them.

Social Emotional Skills by Grade Level, Part II

As discussed in part one, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. We all know that academics are just one facet of education; the SEL skills that students learn and develop when in school are just as critical. Some might even argue that these “street smarts” are more important or beneficial than the “book smarts” we acquire in school. That said, distance learning and virtual schooling have certainly created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards.

Later Elementary Grades (4-5)

Students in 4th and 5th grade should be able to assess a range of feelings and emotions connected to specific scenarios, circumstances, and situations. In other words, they should be able to thoroughly describe how they feel and precisely what made them feel this way. Students should also be able to maintain control of certain behaviors and/or emotions that might interfere with their focus. For example, if they are feeling stressed about their homework, they should choose to turn off the television and put the phone away until they finish their assignments. Students should be able to articulate interests, goals, and the ways in which to develop the necessary skills to achieve those goals.

Students in the later elementary grades should be able to list the necessary steps for goal setting and future achievement while monitoring personal progress throughout the process. In other words, they should be able to take an active role by tracking growth and taking steps to improve along the way. Students should also begin to understand social cues that demonstrate how others are feeling during certain situations. Students should be able to not only recognize others’ perspectives, but specifically describe another’s perspective or stance as well. They should be using phrases like, I understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. I might disagree with you, but I appreciate your point of view. That’s not how I interpreted it, but I can see how you may have experienced it differently.

Students should be able to engage in positive interactions with people from different backgrounds and those with different opinions and beliefs. In the late elementary grades, students should begin to understand various cultural differences between groups, i.e., they should acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas. 4th and 5th graders should be able to describe various approaches to meeting new people and maintaining friendships while forging new friendships with peers in different social circles.

Students should begin to demonstrate self-respect and how to show respect to others, even during conflicts or disagreements; they choose their words wisely as to not offend others in the heat of the moment. Elementary schoolers should begin to understand different social cues and behaviors of others and how they might impact one’s decision making. Once reaching the late elementary grades, children should be able to brainstorm various options for solving a problem and anticipating the different outcomes depending on the situation. Finally, 4th and 5th grade students should be able to identify needs in their school/local environment and perform duties to contribute to these communities. For example, if the cafeteria floor is covered in trash, they will take it upon themselves to help clean up after others.

As said in the last piece, if your child or student falls short in any area mentioned above, don’t panic. Consider how you can help and empower them. In our final part of this series, we’ll cover middle school and high school benchmarks.

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level, Part I

Social and emotional (SEL) skills involve more than just the concepts surrounding educational buzzwords like growth mindset, grit, and self-advocacy. SEL skills are being emphasized at an even greater extent now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person. Distance learning and virtual schooling created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. For this reason, SEL has become an even greater focus for school districts, parents, and educators. Besides providing resources for building SEL skills at home, it is equally important for families to be able to determine if children are reaching specific grade-level SEL standards. In the following series, we’ll discuss each of the SEL skills students should have by grade level to provide a helpful resource for parents and educators alike.

Early Elementary Grades (K-3)

As expected, the SEL skills required for student success change or evolve as students progress through the grade levels. In elementary school, much of the SEL emphasis is on positive interactions with the world. Children are obviously highly dependent on adults during these years, yet they are beginning to enter their own social spheres with their peers as well. Here are some of the notable SEL skills children should have developed or are developing during this time:

Students should be able to recognize and articulate their feelings/emotions; they should be beginning to understand how feelings and reactions are connected to behaviors. Students should also be beginning to exhibit impulse control and regulating their emotions. Early learners should be able to describe their preferences: What do they like/dislike? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Students will also begin to articulate personal opinions and needs during this time.

Elementary schoolers should be able to identify when they need help and who is in a position to help them in certain situations, i.e., peers, family members, educators, etc. Children should be able to roughly explain how learning is connected to personal growth and success. Elementary–aged students should also be able to set personal goals regarding behavior and academics. Students will be beginning to understand that other people have different perspectives or ways of looking at a situation; they’ll recognize that others may share the same experience, but have varying opinions and viewpoints at the same time. Students will also be able to describe peoples’ similarities and differences.

Early learners should be able to actively listen to others’ viewpoints and recognize their feelings while listening. Elementary–aged students should be able to recognize and describe positive traits in others; they’ll be able to give genuine compliments. Students will also begin to develop collaborative skills such as how to work/play with peers in constructive ways, how to solve and resolve problems and/or conflicts, and how to receive constructive criticism from others. Young children should be able exhibit the ability to adapt to new or changing situations or environments.

By the time children reach elementary school, they should be able to understand why hurting others is wrong, whether that be physical or emotional hurt. Students should be starting to read social cues and adjust behavior accordingly. Students should also be exhibiting sound decision making and weighing right vs. wrong. Elementary schoolers should be able to positively contribute to their classroom environment, including cleaning up after themselves and others, sharing, demonstrating kindness/understanding, and taking responsibility for themselves.

If your child or student perhaps falls short with some of these skills, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. However, it’s certainly worth being mindful of and considering ways you may be able to help them out. In the next piece, we’ll cover the later elementary grades (4-5).

Executive Functioning and Distance Learning: Part II

Distance learning has been hard on everyone, but even more so for families dealing with the challenges associated with executive dysfunction. In part one, we discussed the basic background of executive functioning skills, the effects of having executive dysfunction, and the way in which educators can implement strategies even during hybrid or distance learning. Now it is time to look at executive dysfunction from the parent perspective. What does it look like at home, outside of the classroom or separate from academic tasks? What are some strategies and methods parents can implement at home to help children who struggle with executive functioning?

Executive Dysfunction in the Everyday

Deficits in executive functioning are sometimes more subtle when children are at home or not engaged in a learning task. This is why executive dysfunction is easier to spot from an educational or clinical perspective. For parents, it may seem like your child is constantly interrupting you or trying to talk over others. This might not indicate a lack of manners. It could, in fact, be associated with a lack of executive functioning skills. Impulse control, thinking before acting, and processing someone else’s words before responding are all skills attributed to executive functioning.

Similarly, if you notice that your child has difficulty retaining one or two instructions at a time, or if she cannot follow directions that she has just heard or read, then she may be experiencing some form of executive dysfunction. What seems like a disregard for rules or instructions could actually be an attentive issue and/or an issue involving working memory, both of which are associated with executive functioning.

A child may also struggle with following processes, even after repetition or reminders. Furthermore, metacognitive skills, such as learning how to study, learning how to take notes, and knowing how to synthesize new information with prior knowledge, can also be a struggle for children with executive dysfunction. However, there are methods that parents can use at home to help strengthen these necessary skills.

Strategies to Use at Home

Model certain processes for your child and provide him with visual reminders. For example, if you are encouraging your middle schooler to start doing his/her own laundry, help him/her through the process by doing it together the first few times. Talk and walk them through the steps very specifically and consider using labeled and categorized sorting bins to remind them to separate whites from darks. Put a sticker or little post-in note in the laundry room as a reference for how to set the machine for certain loads. Use specific, ordered language when walking them through the process, such as “first, next, finally or last.” Any process, whether it’s laundry, getting ready for bed, or getting dressed in the morning should be modeled, specific, and consistent.

The level of support that you need to provide to your child with the above-mentioned processes should be tapered over time. You may need to actually do the laundry while they watch, initially. Then, slowly withdraw your level of support as they get comfortable completing the task independently. 

When your child makes a mistake, use it as a teachable moment. Without scolding, talk through their thought process—or lack thereof—and ask them specifically how they could have gone about things differently. Consider providing your own example of a time you did something similar and how you fixed the problem. Children with executive dysfunction should see that everyone struggles and faces challenges, but that growth involves using those errors as learning experiences. Ask metacognitive questions like: What made you do that? What did you think was going to happen? Why did you react that way? How could you have done it or reacted differently? What did you learn or realize from this? Give him time to process and ponder these questions.

Inject some fun into the challenge of developing or strengthening executive functioning by incorporating age-appropriate games, activities, or challenges. Matching games are great for developing working memory. Other card games help children practice impulse control, rule following, strategizing, organizing, and quick-response. Parents can also use music to help foster executive functioning skills. Use songs that have repetitive sections or songs that can be sung in rounds to practice coordination on a more complex level. Singing in rounds also prompts children to practice listening and using working memory. I Spy and word searches help children work on selective attention and practice reducing visual distractions.

Essential Building Blocks for Reading Comprehension

Many of us don’t actually remember learning how to read. We may remember sitting on our kindergarten carpet squares, picking out new picture books at the school book fair, or feeling the excitement of turning the final page of a book read independently for the first time. Those fond memories are certainly associated with the skills one must acquire in order to first learn to read; however, we cannot necessarily remember the actual process of learning how to comprehend the words on the page. Thinking about it now, reading almost seems like an innate skill, as though reading just happens. If only that were the case…

Struggles of Reading Comprehension

Sadly, reading comprehension can be a labor intensive task for many young learners. Some children can fool us on the surface; they may learn to read fluently, briskly, and accurately, as though they are natural-born readers. However, reading fluency and comprehension do not always go hand in hand. Children may acquire the necessary skills to read clearly and accurately, but, try as they might, these same kids may simultaneously struggle with the ability to digest or comprehend a text. So, if it is not a natural or innate skill, what goes into reading comprehension anyway?

Part of the reason why reading comprehension can be a struggle for many learners is the fact that the process involves a compilation of other complex skills. Such foundational skills necessary for children to begin to master reading comprehension include: fluency, phonemic awareness, accessing prior knowledge/making connections, vocabulary, syntactical rules/conventions, working memory, and attentiveness. With that being said, let’s look at strategies for how to build each of these foundational skills.

Fluency Strategies

Review sight words and high frequency words regularly. Turn fluency practice into a game by setting timed records, racing against the clock, and matching spoken sight words with word cards. Practice pronunciation by modeling and rehearsing. Use clap period stops and snap comma pauses to improve punctuation recognition.

You can also repeat readings to help with word recognition. Be sure to always read aloud to and with your child. Model and practice reading with expression. Give your different characters a “voice” while reading aloud to your child. Preview or expose children to the new or unfamiliar words before giving them the reading passage. And finally, utilize poetry, nursery rhymes, and songs to practice fluency

Phonics Strategies

Use photos/images to match objects with corresponding beginning sounds. Practice sorting words into “like” sound piles using word cards. Create a word wall in your child’s bedroom or playroom. Play “blend bingo” using bingo cards and corresponding images of words that include each consonant blend.

You can also use Scrabble tiles to “build” sounds. Or even use rhyming strategies to group/categorize words. Try playing “which one of these is not like the others?” using word cards. And finally, use tapping, clapping, or any other kinesthetic method for sounding out words.

Background Knowledge Strategies

Expose your child to a variety of text types and different genres to create a repertoire of background information. Incorporate alternate media, such as movies, art, news, television, etc. Teach new words in categories to help solidify new terms with prior knowledge. Practice word mapping to build connections.

Also consider comparing and contrasting words and concepts while reading. Preview new texts or frontload unfamiliar information using references or just casually discussing the topic. Use KWL charts to track knowledge of new concepts/topics. Utilize picture books, regardless of age, to pair images with new words. And finally, take virtual field trips.

Vocabulary Strategies

Instruct children about specific vocabulary terms, but make sure that the new words are connected to something they are currently reading, seeing, hearing, or learning about. It is important to avoid teaching vocabulary “in a vacuum.” Vocabulary words taught at random or with little context or connectivity to prior knowledge is not likely to make it into a child’s lexicon.

Pre–teach new vocabulary terms by relating them to concepts and terms that your child already knows. Then, when she encounters the word in a text, she will have prior exposure to the word and some sense of understanding.

Utilize root word instruction and practices. This might include creating root word charts with examples, opposite T-charts, visual word tree trunks with various prefixes and suffixes. Practice making new or nonexistent words using roots as a silly way to grasp root word meanings. Also consider using synonyms casually when speaking to your child.

Create a word web wall and add to the web as you make connections between new words. And finally, emphasize context clues while reading aloud; model how to actively engage with new words by making comments like, “I wonder what this might mean in the sentence given the surrounding information…”

Syntax Rules and Conventions

Ask your child to rearrange the words in the sentence, but maintain the same meaning. For example, given the sentence “You can watch a show after you have finished your homework.” Your child should rephrase by saying something like, “You must finish your homework before you can watch a show.”

Demonstrate different ways in which sentences can be combined, separated, or punctuated. The key is to show them that, even with variations in sentence structure, the phrases mean the same thing. Try modeling the process of summarizing a short excerpt or sentence. Then explain how paraphrasing is slightly different. Practice this process aloud together.

Exaggerate the purpose of punctuation while reading aloud to emphasize each punctuation mark’s function. Provide examples of how punctuation can drastically change the underlying meaning of a sentence. One favorite example is, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!” And finally, find fill-in-the-blank reading options, where children are provided with word banks or suggestions on each page, but must use the context of the story to correctly complete each missing word.

Working Memory and Attention Strategies

Purposefully chunk down larger sections of text while reading aloud. Then ask clarifying questions or practice summarizing the section before moving to the next passage or chunk. Ask your child to make predictions while reading to practice recalling and utilizing details that have already been mentioned in the text.

Plan for engaging questions while reading. Parents should preview the text and think about ways in which to connect the details to other aspects of a child’s life. Ask critical thinking questions as well, such as, “Why do you think the character did that?” “What do you think she meant when she said…?” “How would you have reacted differently if you were in the story?”

Sketch a visual timeline of events while reading. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, moment-by-moment recollection; you can use bullet points on sticky notes, a small white board, or index cards with events 1-3 on them. Be sure to deliberately emphasize the use of transition words, especially when focusing on chronological summaries.

Listen to an audio version of the text while following along with the physical book. When reading together, once you reach the bottom of a page, ask your child which detail stands out to her the most. If she’s unable to recall a significant detail, encourage rereading. And finally, remove all distractions while reading, including background noise, cell phones/screens, etc. You can also find texts with larger print, reduced text per page, and print with extra space between paragraphs to help children visually focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

Virtual Writing Instruction

Across school districts, students’ grades, scores, and standardized test results indicate a widespread drop in foundational skills, some of the more critical skills affiliated with academic writing. Writing is not just an English-specific necessity. The ability to construct cohesive, clear, organized thoughts in written form is essential for all aspects of college and career readiness. As educators, we must prioritize these foundational writing skills to ensure that, even in the midst of virtual or hybrid learning, students are still being set up for success.

Daily cross-curricular opportunities

Writing is one of those skills that is strengthened by repetition and practice. Exposure to different styles of writing and opportunities to compose different written forms helps students to recognize the importance of writing in all subject areas. Therefore, teachers should provide opportunities for students to practice composing various genres and for different purposes. These do not necessarily have to be long, involved essay prompts; teachers can use these ideas as warm-ups, exit tickets, lesson activators, etc.

For example, science teachers might ask students to write and submit lab reports, compose directions for science experiments, or draft project proposals for a final project. History, civics, or social studies teachers should consider prompts that require students to compare and contrast two or more cultures, time periods, land forms, or branches of government. Math teachers can help students with procedural or sequential writing skills by asking them to compose an error analysis for any questions that they missed on a quiz or assessment. For a task such as this, students are subconsciously learning the skills necessary to craft written work that follows a problem-solution or cause-effect format. The key here is to demonstrate that writing skills, even short practices, lend themselves to all content areas, not just English.

Peer review

Peer review sessions are extremely beneficial, especially during virtual learning where students do not have day-to-day interactions with their peers. Dissecting someone else’s work can be a very enlightening practice for young writers. It allows them to see how another student interpreted and approached the same task in relation to their own response. Viewing another’s writing also sheds light on different writing styles, provides ideas for varying sentence structure, and demonstrates how others interpreted a text or quote. In evaluating another’s writing, students begin to grasp, not only how their own writing measures up, but how an instructor might evaluate a written response. It forces students to consider the prompt, the rubric, and the overall objectives with regard to their final composition. Peer review sessions also prompt student discourse, which, during these trying times, can help stimulate social skills, collaboration, and motivation.

Formative feedback

By embedding formative feedback into weekly writing instruction, educators send the important message to students that writing is a fluid process—students are not expected to craft perfect writing on their first, or even second attempt. One of my most beneficial practices to help students with essay writing is to formatively assess the introductory paragraph first, before students continue on with their entire essay. By pumping the breaks and providing specific feedback on each student’s intro paragraph, I am able to accomplish several things at once.

First, looking at the intro paragraph gives me an inside view of the foundation of their essay; I’m able to see students’ interpretation of hook statement, bridge statement leading into their thesis, and the final thesis statement, around which the entire essay will be framed. If students’ introductory paragraphs are a mess in any one of these categories, I can quickly provide necessary feedback and scaffolds for them to revise and reset before they have gone too far down the wrong path. Looking at the intro paragraph also shows me whether students actually understand the writing prompt or not. If multiple students seem to be off track or missing the mark, I can easily intervene and provide supports, interventions, and reteaching to ensure that everyone understands the prompt and how to approach it.

Student choice

Educators can also capitalize on one highly underrated teaching strategy: student choice. When at all possible, I try to provide my students with latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a curriculum to follow, grade books to align, and cohorts that prefer to plan in “lock-step,” this is much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan for student choice when designing the writing tasks, as well as the instructional lessons leading up to those tasks.

Below are several methods for implementing student choice while providing writing instruction:

Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-driven, asynchronous work. Therefore, the activity options in NoRedInk can provide students with interventions, scaffolds, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working ahead of the group. NoRedInk allows students to choose from grammatical, sentence-level practices, standardized English prompts, and guided essay support. They can also participate in peer or self-review, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.

One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, such as The Weekend’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They get to choose the gif they’d like to caption. Then they must incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we’ve recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only do students get to pick the gif they want to caption, but they also get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Teachers can quickly sift through the gif response to make sure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students are understanding the purpose of the dependent clause in relation to the independent clause.

For writing instruction involving essay revision, teacher feedback, or peer edits, ask students to consider which section or paragraph of their essay they’d like to really rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers who are looking to revise the same portion of their essays. I might organize small groups as follows:

    • Group 1 should be students who would like support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate quotes from the text or texts.
    • Group 3 should consist of students who need support with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be for students who need help with elaborating on their analysis or further developing their own explanations.

Student choice with writing samples/models:

Providing teacher models at the beginning of a new writing task is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few various examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review.

These samples can also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and require them to read, review, and assess at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposes—it allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, either successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers if students truly understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or student sample.

If students review a mediocre or poor essay model as “great” or “topnotch work,” then teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark on fully explaining the task and the learning goals attached. Conversely, if students are unable to articulate why the model essay was unsuccessful or sound, then they truly do not know how to approach the task successfully either.

These are just s0me of many strategies teachers can use to optimize their teaching approach when it comes to virtual writing lessons, in particular.

Executive Functioning and Distance Learning: Part l

As educators and mental health professionals, helping students manage their executive functioning is a critical aspect of building the foundation for academic, social, and emotional success. For neuroatypical students, particularly those with ASD and ADHD, addressing executive functioning skills within the classroom setting is already challenging enough. However, with current hybrid models and distance learning, these students are struggling even more to adapt. Let’s see how we can change that.

Background Info for Educators

Executive functioning is often thought of as the “management center of the brain” or the control center of thinking. Our executive functioning assists with many different cognitive skills, which is why it not only impacts students academically, but also socially, emotionally, and physically. Some skills associated with executive functioning include: attentiveness, self-monitoring and regulating, emotional/impulse control, organizational skills, ability to prioritize, perspective taking, and planning/chunking larger tasks into smaller pieces. Many of these skills help us to perform tasks throughout our entire lives. Therefore, executive dysfunction can have a lifelong impact on students beyond their capabilities in the classroom.

What Does Executive Dysfunction Look Like?

Difficulties concerning executive functioning vary from person to person and also differ in severity. Common examples of ways in which students exhibit executive dysfunction include:

  • Avoiding tasks or struggling to initiate an assignment
  • Procrastinating; trouble with managing time
  • Difficulty prioritizing tasks or steps in a process
  • Misplacing things
  • Struggling to put thoughts on paper; difficulty explaining oneself
  • Difficulty transitioning between tasks or moving from one activity to another
  • May struggle to follow directions or to complete steps in chronological order
  • May exhibit a preoccupation with a small detail of the task; i.e. missing the big picture
  • Difficulty with working memory; they may forget what they heard or read
  • May struggle when schedules, rules, procedures, or expectations change; i.e. exhibit a level of inflexibility when they’ve become used to a certain routine

Providing assistance with these struggles in the classroom is much easier; educators are physically there in-person to alleviate issues and help students to troubleshoot their individual challenges. In the classroom, we have the ability to personally connect with students and provide them with necessary supports and accommodations, like check-ins, checklists, organizers, etc. Now, with distance learning, students with executive dysfunctions are not necessarily getting the same level of support and attention. We can fix this, however, with a little creativity—and a lot of patience!

Strategies for Teachers During Distance Learning

Here are a few tips for supporting students with executive functioning issues:

  • Assess: Take inventory of your students’ needs and tendencies. I began the school year by asking every student which part of the writing process he/she hates the most. Do they struggle to begin writing? Drafting? Organizing a cohesive argument/essay? Revising? Getting thoughts down on paper? For students who said that they find it difficult to get started, I provided several supports.

 

  • Model: Firstly, every writing task that I ask students to do, I also complete and spend one class period reading my draft and discussing my writing process. Seeing an example of what the final task should look like is beneficial for all students, but especially those who struggle to initiate writing and to see the big picture. During this “modeled writing session,” I ask students to tell me what they notice about the sample. Their answers provide me with insight into how they interpret the assignment, which allows me to see who really needs greater scaffolds and who does not.

 

  • Specify: Secondly, when students disclose that getting ideas onto paper is their greatest challenge, I provide them with very specific, thoroughly broken down organizers with sentence starters. This removes the “getting started” barrier and gives them a jumpstart to initiate the task with some momentum.

 

  • Organize: Finally, for my students who struggle to piece together their writing (organize and revise), I find it helpful to color-coordinate the different aspects of the essay or paragraph. For example, I may highlight students’ thesis statements in red, transition words in blue, evidence/quotes in green, and analysis in orange. When reading through a student’s draft, I can easily direct them to certain sections with specific instructions to add more orange, for instance. This tells them immediately that their paper is lacking sufficient analysis. It also tells them where that analysis or orange should be placed so that the guesswork is gone.

 

  • Check-in: Another best practice that we regularly use in the classroom is to chunk larger assignments and include check-ins throughout the project or essay. With distance learning, I’ve found that breakout rooms in Zoom allow for me to specifically check in with each student during a writing work session. The platform allows students to share their screen with me 1:1 so that I can check their progress individually. This practice also allows me to see who is far behind in terms of completion. The check-ins prompt students to set small goals while working, but they also allow enough time for me to intervene if a task looks like it’s falling to the wayside.

Gaming in the Classroom to Boost Engagement

Creating engaging lessons and activities for learning is no easy task. With today’s technology, the Gen Z group has access to the most realistic and stimulating gaming graphics, digital art programs, and communication platforms. Their familiarity and use of technology is practically innate. Therefore, it is no wonder that holding students’ attention in the classroom has become more and more of a challenge—compared to the allure of the glowing screens, our books and assignments do not hold a candle to their preferred methods of entertainment. So, one way for educators to look at it is: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Ideas for the English, History, & World Languages Classrooms

Create an Engaging Bracket

Consider taking a page from the NCAA and create a March Madness-inspired bracket to lure your students into the current novel, play, or works of poetry. This can work in several different ways. Teachers can have students rank their favorite texts, readings, or chapters from the unit. Then use Google forms to see which work progresses to the next round based on class votes. Students can also make predictions about which characters will come out on top at the end of a tragedy, conflict, or quest. This type of bracket works especially well during a Shakespeare unit and/or when teaching students about various battles during The Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc. The key for engagement is to hype up the bracket to get students invested—consider an Elite Eight winner, Final Four winner, Championship winner with school-related prizes. Teachers should also think about either creating a giant visual bracket on the classroom wall or a website for digital class brackets.

Utilize Simulations or Digital Recreation Technology

For tech-savvy social studies students, challenge them to create a digital recreation or simulation of specific historical events. For example, instead of making a typical timeline, students might choose to show Germany’s progression across Europe with a visual map simulating territory takeover. Similarly, using video programming, students can act out various historical events and arrange or splice the clips with background music, captions, historical photographs, or Google Slides. With these projects, they’re putting their technology expertise to great use while demonstrating their knowledge of the event and/or time period.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Students are all about their social media presence right now, so how about utilizing those platforms to demonstrate their knowledge of a major historical figure, author, or literary character. There are hundreds of websites available for classroom use involving fake Instagram templates, Tiktok videos, and pretend Linkedin pages. While these aren’t exactly games, the use of such platforms can be equally engaging for students.

Some ideas include creating a Spotify playlist for a specific character or historical figure. Songs should represent key quotes or important aspects of the person’s life. Recently, a student of mine did a fabulous “Desdemona’s Breakup” playlist using Spotify to write an alternate ending for Shakespeare’s Othello. I’ve also found that mock-dating profile templates can be a great, creative option for students to demonstrate their understanding of a character. Teacherspayteachers.com offers a free “Fiction Mingle” template for this exact purpose!

What About Escape Rooms?

Another engaging activity stems from the ever-popular escape rooms. Students with experience using gaming simulation and other digital animation programs can create and share virtual escape rooms with other students as a way to review foreign language terms and vocabulary. There are numerous websites, apps, and even options for using Google Forms to create digital escape rooms for the classroom. Teachers can create various levels of escape rooms to challenge students based on skill set, level of difficulty, and individual or collaborative groups.

Ideas for Math and Sciences Classrooms

Matific

For many students, learning new math concepts can be especially difficult over Zoom in today’s virtual learning setup. In the classroom, children have manipulatives, hands-on exemplars, one-to-one, and in–person responses from their teachers. However, in the online environment with just the screen and 30 other students, it is often daunting to engage and grasp mathematical concepts. Teachers can use technology to their advantage, however, by prompting children to practice new skills using interactive games offered on various different platforms.

Matific is one exceptional option for students in grades K-6. The website offers tutorials, called episodes, where students can interactively learn about and work through new math concepts and skills. There are also worksheets (which look more like video games than actual worksheets) where students can practice skills using visuals, animations, and feedback/support in real-time. In addition to the various lessons, students can try their hands at multi-step word problems and workshops that are self-paced.

Investment/ Money Management Platforms

For older, more advanced math courses, teachers can utilize principles of investing, money management, and the stock market to get kids engaged. Online resources and platforms such as The Stock Market Game, Student Stock Trader, and How The Market Works allow for safe exploration of the world of global finance using apps, animations, and simulations.

ST Math

Another resource called ST Math, short for the spatial-temporal approach, is based entirely on the idea that visual learning, whether on a screen or in person, is the critical foundation for developing mathematical skills. This program can be used as a supplement to on-level learning, or it can act as an intervention program to provide students with the extra support that they need. Students view and review materials at their own pace through interactive resources, such as videos, demonstrations, animations, and real-world applicable practices.

National Geographic

National Geographic is another great way to introduce students to engaging, educational, online content. While it’s not exactly a gaming platform, Nat Geo Education can provide teachers with a multitude of classroom resources, student learning experiences, photos, videos, interviews, and more. National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom also streams live, student-centered workshops every week for children and teens. The live events involve interviews with animal specialists and scientists, tours of various habitats, overviews of conservation efforts, information about wildlife photography, real–life treasure hunts, and demonstrations of wilderness skills, etc—the list truly goes on and on. The other great thing about Nat Geo’s Explorer Classroom live events is that they can offer streaming in Spanish and American Sign Language as well.

In a time dominated by the digital world and technology, it only seems right that teachers begin to use it to their advantage. With each new generation, we can expect technology to be a bigger part of life, learning, and overall functioning. And like I said at the beginning, If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Remedies for Reluctant Readers

As students progress through their education, reading assignments and materials naturally become more intense and time consuming. The literature itself becomes more complex and the workload or required reading outside of class lengthens. This is all to be expected, especially as students enter honors–level classes, take AP courses, and look ahead towards higher education. For struggling or reluctant readers, the increase in required reading can be daunting—sometimes students are moved to tears due to the frustration of struggling through a challenging passage or laborious chapter. To remedy these reading woes, we have compiled a list of helpful tips to assist students with managing their growing reading tasks.

Craft a schedule

When teachers assign a new text or novel, they typically share with students a reading schedule or rough outline of chapters to conquer each week. If this is not provided, students should ask their teacher to recommend a specific amount of pages or chapters to read each night/week to be on pace with finishing the text by the deadline. Nothing is worse than procrastinating on a novel unit and then trying to blow through the entire book in less than two sittings.

Set reading goals

Similarly to the reading schedule, students should set small reading goals when beginning a new text or lengthier required reading. Start small, as to not bite off more than one can chew. Perhaps a reluctant reader’s first goal is to actually read the entire novel for once. Or maybe a goal should be to pick up the book at least once per day. The point of the goal is to encourage forward movement and to make sure that progress is made. These do not need to be overwhelmingly ambitious goals, just a few motivating mile markers throughout the text.

Reward oneself

After setting and (hopefully) reaching small reading goals, students can increase intrinsic motivation and boost productivity by looking for some form of light at the end of the tunnel. This means establishing small, incremental rewards to correspond to the goals that students reach in their reading tasks. Perhaps after 25 minutes of uninterrupted reading, a student rewards herself by watching an episode of her favorite show. Maybe parents revive the “book-it” challenge from back in the day and splurge on a pizza or junk food night when kids finish 3 chapter books. The rewards aren’t really about the “treat” at all—they are more about celebrating the accomplishment, grit, and patience that students demonstrate by getting through a challenging task, such as reading.

Stage a comfy reading spot

There is something inherently comforting about a cozy, well-lit nook or hideaway when one is looking for quiet time. Avid readers take pride in their cozy reading spots and routines, but reluctant readers can capitalize on this idea as well. Parents can help spur motivation to read by helping to set up a relaxing cubby removed from the hustle and commotion of the rest of the house where children can snuggle and enjoy a book. Consider adding pillows, blankets, soft white lighting that is not harsh on eyes, perhaps near a window for natural light. Creative touches, like soft, instrumental background music for students to listen to while reading is another great addition. Make reading an experience—pop some popcorn, brew some tea or hot chocolate, and read together to show your kids that this relaxing activity can be enjoyable.

Movement breaks

Reading can seem like a rather dull activity, especially for little ones. This is understandable—as reading is a quiet, still, and often solitary task. But it doesn’t have to be. One regular strategy that elementary teachers utilize as a best practice is to incorporate movement breaks when students are expected to read for a length of time. Depending on the reader, a movement break might involve a trip to the water fountain or kitchen to get a drink of water after reading a chapter or section. For others it may involve jumping jacks, a quick dancing brain break, or squeezing a stress ball while reading. Some students also find it helpful to read at a standing desk, on a yoga or balance ball, or on a wobble stool to help engage the body and allow for some rhythmic movement while reading. The key is to allow and encourage reluctant readers to expel energy to keep their minds engaged and focused.

Preview for background info

For many students, the dislike of reading comes from the fact that it can be tedious and strenuous, especially for struggling readers. Therefore, offering various reading strategies to students can help ease the difficulty and, in effect, increase engagement. One of these strategies, especially for nonfiction or textbook reading assignments, is to preview the reading and search for background on the topic.

Depending on the reading and the student, this practice will look different each time, but here are the basics: Pay attention to the titles, subtitles, headings, captions, photos, bolded vocabulary terms, etc. Students can garner a great deal of what the text will involve by looking at the text features beforehand. Skim sections of the text to ground their reading; this will help orient readers and allow them to plan ahead in terms of seeing how long the reading will be. For terms or concepts that are totally unfamiliar, students should be encouraged to do a quick Google search to help ground their understanding of the term, concept, or event. Jot down questions while previewing; this helps students begin to engage with the text and practice close reading and critical thinking. The goal is to then revisit and answer or follow up on those questions after reading.

Highlight as you go

Highlighting is a common tool for successful readers as well. This practice builds strong, active reading skills and helps visual learners at the same time. Students should be encouraged to mark areas of the text for any of the following purposes: Highlight words or phrases that connect to vocabulary terms or important concepts from class; this visual helps to engrain definitions and understanding into working memory. Highlight main points of a section, chapter, or column of text. This way, when students revisit the text, they are able to identify the key points immediately. Highlight areas of the text that they find confusing or have questions about. This will act as a visual cue to remind students to follow up with the teacher, do a little more research about the specific topic, ask follow-up questions, etc.

These are just a few easy strategies to implement that can help all ages find more enjoyment in reading.

The Causes, Risks, and Solutions for LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness

In 2020, the population of homeless people grew for the fourth year in a row, and a single night count in January of that year revealed 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness. But while the homelessness crisis is widely acknowledged, a problem that is less recognized is how (and why) LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless. Moreover, the problem is not only the overly high representation of LGBTQ+ youth without homes but the increased risks and challenges they face while they are living homeless. And if they are also Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), then there are even further risks yet. Mitigating the problem will therefore require a broad, multifaceted, and holistic approach that addresses the multiplicity and intersectionality of these challenges, some of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Causes, Risks, and Minority Stress

At the deepest level, generalized homophobia and transphobia are foundational causes of the high percentage of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Both homophobia and transphobia underlie family rejection, which is a primary cause of the higher rates of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Among LGBTQ+ youth without housing, around 46 percent run away due to family rejection and 43 percent are forced to leave home by their parents.

Once homeless, LGBTQ+ youth also face higher risks of mental health challenges, substance use, sex trafficking, sexual assault, and becoming victims of hate crimes compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. And when we probe deeper into any one of these risks, we find them inevitably linked with numerous forms of discrimination. For example, one of the reasons unstably housed LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of sex trafficking is that many of them are pressured into alternative forms of making money to survive due to discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in the job market.

In addition to the job market, there is discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to housing and accessing homeless services as well. Minority stress theory is used to describe this kind of intertwining of discrimination in multiple, overlapping dimensions in a way that compounds stress and increases risk factors for minority groups.

Racism is also a major factor. While LGBTQ+ youth in general are disproportionately represented among the homeless, so too are Black people. Because of this, there are even more risks for Black LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness since they lie at the intersections of sexual, gender, and racial identities and are thus exposed to all of the discriminations these minority groups face.

Tragically, many of these preexisting disadvantages faced by homeless LGBTQ+ and Black LGBTQ+ youth were exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused numerous programs and services designed specifically for these communities to reduce hours or shut down entirely.

Minority Strengths, Resilience, and Action

A newer framework that can be seen as complementary to minority stress is minority strengths.  That is, even as racial and sexual minority statuses come with increased stresses and risks, they can also be sources of strength when members of these minority groups can identify with, and experience camaraderie with, other members of their respective minority group(s). Here as well, however, there are complexities since not every minority may have equal access to social support. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, for example, there can be transphobia and/or racism. A Black trans youth may therefore experience multiple forms of discrimination from within the very community they look to for strength. Still, it is useful to consider the minority strengths model alongside minority stress so that neither the positive nor negative aspects are overemphasized.

Speaking of overemphasizing, the tendency to focus on resilience in the context of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness has become a double-edged sword. While, on one hand, resilience should certainly be acknowledged, its role as a solution should not be exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that there are many ways to reduce LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and the risks associated with it.

We can work to address homophobia, transphobia, and racism in the culture at large, for instance, and to reduce discrimination in the job and housing markets which would help reduce the rate of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth in the first place. We can also work to implement protections for the LGBTQ+ community more widely within homeless services so that those who do end up homeless can safely access these services. Social workers and providers of social services can also be trained to better recognize and address the unique challenges that unstably housed LGBTQ+ youth face. Relying too much on resilience creates a danger of neglecting concrete actions such as these which can and should be taken as preventative measures.

Finally, a word needs to be said about research which, like resilience, is sometimes overemphasized. As a researcher myself, I know that research can certainly help play a mitigating role, but we need to be mindful of the tendency to put the onus on more research when we already know enough to get to work and make a sizable difference. Research and advocacy can complement each other. There will always be more to learn, but if we wait until we know everything we will never act. With rates of homelessness increasing, and the pandemic having amplified the causes and risks of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, the time to act is now.

NASW to Educate Social Workers, Others About Adolescent Brain Development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has developed training resources that will give child welfare workers, social workers, foster parents, and others who work with older youth critical information about how the adolescent brain develops.

The knowledge professionals acquire through NASW’s Integrating Adolescent Brain Development into Child Welfare Practice with Older Youth curriculum will help older youth – especially those in foster care or involved in the child welfare system – obtain the skills they need to overcome past trauma and become successful adults.

“Many people do not realize that the brains of youth continue to develop until they are in their mid-twenties. Using this knowledge can create opportunities for positive youth development and acquisition of new skills, decreasing impulsive behavior or poor life decisions,” said Joan Levy Zlotnik, PhD, ACSW, Director Emerita NASW Social Work Policy Institute.

Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system in the United States. Many have missed the opportunity to have stable schooling, friendships, and/or lack family support. Odds are higher, they will become incarcerated, single parents, drop out of college or have trouble finding stable jobs and housing.

The curriculum was created in keeping with the Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative’s commitment to “Train and equip practitioners to understand the role of trauma and racism, and employ effective practices to help young people understand their experiences and develop effective strategies for healing and growth.”

However, the training will have a much wider impact. It can be a resource for professionals who provide mental health and health care services to adolescents; those who work in schools or juvenile justice facilities; and social work faculty who are training new generations of social workers to work with older youth.

“The period of brain development in adolescents provides a critical opportunity to help young people grow through learning experiences and heal from trauma they may have experienced,” Zlotnik said. “That is why this curriculum and the accompanying resources are so important and we hope is shared as widely as possible.”

To learn more about adolescent brain development, join the NASW Integrating Adolescent Brain Development webinar on August 25 at 2 p.m. ET or on demand or visit the curriculum website for more information.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Treating Teen Addiction With Compassion and Empathy

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Teen substance abuse and addiction to drugs are all too dangerous epidemics occurring across the United States. The most recent national data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 3.7 adolescents (ages 15 to 19) per 100,000 died from a drug overdose in 2015. To put that statistic in perspective, that’s a 130 percent increase in teenage drug overdoses compared with 1999. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, opioid misuse is one of the most accelerated drug problems, as 3.6 percent of adolescents between 12 and 17 reported misusing opioids in 2016, and that percentage doubled for adults ages 18 to 25.

Unfortunately, in addition to drug abuse, teenage addiction to other substances is also ruining lives. Cigarette smoking, tobacco use and alcohol consumption have deleterious effects on adolescents nationally. The HHS reports the following 2017 statistics regarding teen substance abuse:

  • 9 percent of high school students smoked at least once a month.
  • 5 percent of high school students used tobacco, snuff or dip monthly.
  • 30 percent of high school students drank alcohol monthly.
  • 13 percent of high school students drank at least five alcoholic drinks in one day monthly.

Teen drug addiction and substance abuse can cause anything from mild impairment to serious health problems or even death. Too many teens do not receive the help they need to break their addictions and avoid relapse. Some may be too embarrassed or scared to ask for help, while others can’t pay for it. Some simply don’t believe they have a problem.

Profitability vs. Patient Health

There is no single solution when it comes to treating a teenager who is battling an addiction to an illicit drug or substance. Teen drug abuse is a complex problem that requires the expertise and guidance of different types of health and wellness professionals. All too often, however, the focus is on how the healthcare system can benefit in terms of market share, revenue and profitability. Many healthcare professionals are now looking for other ways to provide care to people in need.

Instead of focusing on costs, many medical professionals are championing value-based care, which prioritizes patient health. Value-based care could have widespread positive effects on teenage addiction success rates and continued abstinence by providing a more compassionate and empathetic road to recovery. Below is an examination of the value-based care model, followed by a look at how taking this approach could potentially improve the way healthcare professionals treat addicted adolescents.

Value-Based Care Basics

Put simply, value-based care is accomplished when providers, such as doctors and healthcare facilities, are paid “based on patient health outcomes,” according to the online publication NEJM Catalyst. Providers are paid for improving patient health in any measurable way.
The value-based care methodology is in direct opposition to the commonly used fee-for-service methods, which are based on paying per number of services rendered, not outcome. NEJM Catalyst notes five major benefits that value-based care could entail:

  • Minimized costs and improved results for patients.
  • Boosted patient satisfaction and elevated care efficiencies for providers.
  • Tighter cost control and minimized risks for payers.
  • Balance between treatment costs and patient results for suppliers.
  • Reduced healthcare expenditures and improved national health for society in general.

While it may sound amazing, the entire value-based care methodology boils down to application. Does the value-based care approach improve healthcare in practice? Specifically, does value-based healthcare improve the treatment of teenage addiction?

Treating Teen Addiction With Value-Based Care

Throughout a teen’s journey from addiction to recovery, he or she will meet many healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, therapists and social workers. Practicing value-based care, these professionals would focus on providing the best care for positive health results, rather than on monetary concerns.

Diagnosis: Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Nurses

When a teen battling drug addiction seeks treatment, a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician will ask questions about the level of use and any dangerous behaviors while under the influence of an illicit substance, such as driving while intoxicated. The nurse, nurse practitioner or physician may also order urine and blood tests for the patient, provide treatment directions, and recommend counseling or therapy from another accredited professional, such as a therapist or social worker.

Through UCF Online’s Master of Science in nursing and healthcare simulation graduate certificate, students learn the importance of working with their medical peers in delivering supportive care.
A nurse can often spend more time with a patient than the physician and strongly influence how well that patient responds to treatment. Fostering this relationship is crucial, considering many teens battling drug addiction may not continue treatment due to the fear of fighting the battle alone. Doctors will be the ones, though, who suggest a specific form of treatment regarding teen substance abuse or provide a reference to another health professional. “Interprofessional education is the key to the future of health care,” says UCF Professor Desiree Diaz and nursing simulation expert. Her research focuses on improving care for vulnerable patient populations by incorporating simulation technology with real human emotions to educate health care professionals.

At this diagnosis stage, the teen may be worried about costs, results and the length of time any treatments or referrals may take. Teens may not have the money or time to deal with extraneous steps. With value-based care, their necessary tests, such as urine and blood tests, would be included, while extra tests that may not be relevant to directly improving health may not, saving them time and money. Additionally, because of the faster diagnosis and more efficient treatment timeline, teen patients may experience less frustration with the healthcare system — and may even be more satisfied with the care they receive.

Treatment: Mental Health Workers

During the teen drug abuse treatment process, a patient will meet with a psychiatrist when there is a suggestion or referral from a doctor. A psychiatrist or therapist can work with the teen to discover mental and emotional motivators behind the drug or substance use. Psychiatrists can diagnose specific mental health disorders as well as prescribe medication. Helping patients to understand their physical and mental ailments and that addiction is an illness, without passing judgment, can help teens successfully treat their conditions.

At this stage, basing the pay system on patient health may significantly improve the care that teen addicts receive from mental health workers. For instance, additional medications that don’t work would be ceased, and therapies without benefit would be cut. As a result, patients wouldn’t pay for further treatment that doesn’t work for them. It’s that sense of empathy for the specific situation that might make possible a teen’s long-lasting recovery.

Rehabilitation: Social Workers

Social workers can engage in therapy with patients as psychiatrists and therapists do and provide resources for self-help and teen substance-abuse programs like nurses do. Social workers are also fundamental in the discharge-planning process, helping to ensure teens battling drug abuse have additional health resources that complement scheduled treatments or prescribed medications. Social workers can also help identify harmful social or environmental situations that may be contributing to a teen’s drug abuse and can develop solutions to remove the teen from those negative influences.

In the rehabilitation stage, social workers can play a key role in lending a compassionate ear and providing relevant resources for their clients. Social workers may work with healthcare providers to minimize medication or therapy costs, streamline processes, run cost control, and also analyze risks that teens or their benefactors would be taking on. Value-based care would allow healthcare professionals to work fully with social workers — to the ultimate benefit of addicted teens.

Treating Addicted Teens With Care

Drug and substance addictions are impacting thousands of teens across the United States each year. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, a total of 5,455 overdose deaths occurred in people ages 15 to 24 in 2017 alone — 99 alcohol overdoses and 5,356 drug overdoses. Teenage addiction is a complicated matter, and teens need all the compassion and empathy that healthcare professionals can provide.

Alternative-care methods, such as value-based care systems, may help improve patient outcomes, minimize prices, and improve efficiencies for both patients and healthcare systems. According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, value-based care is one of the “tools that policymakers and payers can use to encourage greater access to [substance-use disorder] treatment in primary care.” Healthcare may be taking a step in a more client-compassionate direction.

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures

State-wide school closures for an extended amount of time due to a worldwide pandemic is truly unprecedented. Families, school systems, and entire communities are now in a position like we have never known before. Aside from the logistics involving everything from last-minute childcare to methods for providing meals to local FARMS (free and reduced-price meals system) populations, many folks are left wondering about the academic ramifications of these indefinite school closures.

Similar to “summer slide,” when students are known to experience academic regression while out of school for the summer months, these sudden weeks without instruction could undoubtedly pose academic issues for students. Some districts are utilizing online platforms to deliver content digitally to students at home, while others are rushing to provide supplemental course packets that students can complete at their own pace during the extended closure. Whatever the case, families will want to ensure that certain steps are taken so that learning continues, even when school is not in session.

Set up a routine

Many students (and teachers) view this sudden shutdown as an excuse to go into vacation mode. Tempting as that is, stopping everything to “hibernate” at home is ill-advised, even during this time when we have been instructed to practice “social distancing.” Being stuck at home should not necessarily mean that children and teens grow accustomed to day-long Netflix binging in pajamas on the couch. Parents should set the expectation early on that some of this time out of school is still going to be used for learning. Some suggestions include the following:

  • Maintain the expectation that certain times of the day should be “screen-free,” meaning no smartphones, video games, television, iPads, or computer use.
  • As an alternative to technology, encourage kids to try a different hobby, like reading, journaling, coloring, yoga, knitting, baking, gardening, etc. Teen and adult coloring books, Legos, paint-by-number and toy model kits are all solid options for quiet, screen-free entertainment. In addition to revving one’s creativity, these activities help to develop fine motor skills, dexterity, patience, focus, and attention to detail.
  • Suggest that children help out with meal time and/or the cleanup after dinner. Seeing as everyone’s schedule has likely opened up, with regard to school, sports, and extracurricular activities, now is a great time to set up a routine for family meal times.
  • Imbed some physical activity into everyone’s daily routines as well. Obviously, the gym and fitness classes are ill-advised due to suggestions to practice “social distancing.” However, families can take evening strolls around the neighborhood, walk the dog each morning, jump on the trampoline, mow the lawn, etc.
  • To stave off the eventual boredom, families will want to think about organizing evening routines and activities as well. Maybe try Monday movie nights, take-out Tuesday, speed walking Wednesday, etc. The key is to have something to look forward to each day, especially since many fun events for kids, like field trips, weekend excursions, birthday gatherings, sleepovers, and team sports have been cancelled.

Foreign language study

Just because schools are closed, that doesn’t mean that students’ language acquisition should hault indefinitely. Apps like Duolingo allow students to brush up on their foreign language skills, or begin to learn a new language altogether. The app is free and easy to use due to intuitive, game-like format.

Parents can also help bolster foreign language acquisition by selecting age-appropriate foreign films or movies with subtitles for the family to watch together.

Want to ditch the screens? Plan a bilingual scavenger hunt around the house using post-it notes. Label household items incorrectly and challenge your kids to correctly place the post-its using their language skills. For instance, if el baño is posted on the basement door, kids would need to move it to the bathroom door before moving onto the next sticky note.

Social studies 

For obvious reasons, many spring field trips have had to be cancelled, leaving students disappointed. One possible solution to these cancellations is to try virtual tours of the museums, galleries, landmarks, etc. Of course, the experience will not be entirely the same, but the sense of learning through exploration is still there. In addition, many locations utilize interactive platforms for students to truly immerse themselves in the information. Engaging options include Guggenheim Museum, The MoMA, The Louvre, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, The NASA Space Center in Houston, a moon tour via Google Earth, and any number of zoo cams around the world.

Now is also a great time for indulging in some documentaries for additional explorative learning. Beyond the content itself, which will undoubtedly provide information, older children and teens can identify and discuss persuasive techniques and other specific documentary film tactics. It may be beneficial to discuss the subjectivity that often emerges within the genre and how that impacts us, the viewers.

Science at home

Simple science experiments help to pass the time while introducing kids to the many engaging aspects of science.

  • Add heavy cream to a jar, tightly seal, and shake vigorously (for a span of 10-30 minutes) until butter begins to form. Kids will be amazed to watch as the cream solidifies. They can also flavor their homemade butter with sea salt or a drizzle of honey!
  • Create your own invisible ink using lemon juice and a q-tip. Kids will be amazed to see their secret messages when they hold a paper up to a lightbulb or other heat source.
  • Take a blind taste test, but with a tricky twist! Ask your child to hold his or her nose while tasting the everyday items, such as peanut butter, honey, salsa, chocolate chips, yogurt, etc. They will be amazed at how difficult it is to identify some of their favorite foods when their sense of smell is impaired!

The COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing today’s younger generation has ever experienced. Mass school closures may initially seem like a cause for celebration for many students. Yet the fact is that this pandemic will have lasting effects which is especially true for school-aged children and teens. Please, share with us your tips for schooling your children during this crisis.

How To Win America’s Fight Against The Opioid Epidemi

Every day, an astonishing 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses, according to a 2017 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately half of these deaths are due to the misuse or abuse of prescription opioid painkillers (such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and morphine). Beyond that, increasingly, deaths come from overdoses of the illicit drugs heroin and fentanyl, which are often used after people become addicted to or misuse prescription opioids.

Each day, more than 1000 people are sent to the emergency room for prescription opioid misuse. In many of these cases, opioids were used along with alcohol or medications meant to treat anxiety or seizures (such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium). When people ingest such mixtures, they face a heightened risk of injury or death as their breathing slows or stops.

Effective treatments exist. But as treatment for over-dosing is increasingly available, treatment for addiction is still not accessible to many of those who need it. Access to effective treatments for opioid addiction is the missing piece in America’s unsteady fight against the opioid epidemic.

Success in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Gains in the fight against the opioid epidemic have been made on several fronts. The physicians and nurse practitioners who prescribe America’s medications are being trained to be more judicious in their use of opioids to treat pain. They are also learning to consider, whenever possible, non-opioid medications and other treatments that don’t come from a pharmacy at all. National guidelines have been established for methods of relieving surgical, cancer-related, and chronic pain without opioids. Taken together, all these efforts are saving lives and reducing the volume of prescription opioids that can be diverted to illicit uses.

Similarly, emergency first responders and trained laypeople now have tools to help prevent deaths from opioid overdoses. Lives have been saved in many communities by the administration of naloxone – a medication which blocks the effects of opioids on breathing centers and reverses overdoses.

But what happens after emergencies – or to prevent them? Treatments for addiction can reduce the likelihood that people addicted to opioids will overdose and die. And such treatments are vital because, like any other chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease, untreated addiction becomes more severe and resistant to treatment over time.

The Missing Piece – Access

What most of America is sorely missing, however, is sufficient access to the addiction treatments that are the most effective – and not enough efforts are currently underway to increase such access. Currently, the best estimates suggest that only one out of every ten patients seeking drug abuse treatment can actually get into a program. To sharply reduce U.S. opioid deaths, proven forms of treatment should be readily available, on demand, to all who need them. Policymakers, civic leaders, patient advocates, and journalists, should consider the following steps:

  • Treatment and reimbursements should be evidence-based. Research shows that the most effective approach is medication-assisted therapy (MAT), where patients are given methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, alongside therapy to combat addiction. Too many private payers pay for treatments based on mistaken ideas. For example, detoxification is known to be highly ineffective against opioid addiction, yet it is widely practiced and reimbursed.
  • Insurance and other reimbursement systems need to acknowledge that addiction is a chronic disease that almost never goes into remission after a one-time treatment. Treatment for addiction needs to be ongoing and long-term, just like treatments for diabetes or heart disease. But currently most health insurance companies will only cover one treatment episode or a fixed number of treatment days per year.
  • Early, intensive treatment is the most effective and less costly over time. Currently, most insurance companies will only cover outpatient treatment for opioid addiction, and will only reimburse intensive inpatient treatment if the first effort fails. Evidence shows that in many cases, the opposite approach would work better: start with intensive treatment rather than with minor steps that allow time for the disease to progress.
  • Many opioid addicts could be treated within America’s current primary care systems. Two effective medications, buprenorphine and naltrexone, can be prescribed by primary care providers. With appropriate waivers, for instance, a physician can treat up to 100 patients with buprenorphine.
  • Medications need to be supplemented with therapy. Because most primary care clinicians do not have the resources or practice partners to provide the therapies patients need in addition to medications, they often limit the number of addicts they treat or avoid treating them altogether. The answer lies in making behavioral health providers more readily available to work with primary care providers, who could then prescribe effective medications more readily.
  • Patients brought to hospitals for opioid addiction and overdose should be enrolled in therapy and other treatment on the spot. Many patients with opioid addiction end up in hospitals and emergency rooms. The current approach is to stabilize them medically and then tell them, as they are discharged, to seek further treatments. But many do not follow up or have adequate access to the help they need. A better approach would be to start treatment while addicts in crisis are at the hospital – and directly transfer them to an addiction treatment facility upon discharge.
  • Jails and prisons are other places where opioid addicts need treatment. Efforts to bring medication-assisted therapy to the incarcerated could mitigate the larger opioid crisis – and also reduce the rate at which ex-inmates commit new offenses and cycle back to prison.

The bottom line is clear: Increasing access to proven treatments for all addicts who need them would save and improve countless lives, and effectively counter America’s current opioid crisis.

Read more in Peggy Compton and Andrew B. Kanouse, “The Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Abuse, the Subsequent Rising Prevalence of Heroin Use, and the Federal Response” Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 29, no. 2 (2015): 102-114.

Rising Ground to Expand the Role of Foster Parents in Supporting Both the Child and Family to Speed Up Reconciliation

Parents and kids having fun in living room

Rising Ground, a leading human services provider in New York City, is piloting a new practice in which parents and foster parents will co-parent a child while the child is in foster care, announced Alan Mucatel, CEO of Rising Ground, today. He noted that similar programs in other states have shown that shared parenting reduces stress for children in foster care, speeds family reunification, and enhances the family’s ability to stay together after a child returns.

“Our goal is to make co-parenting the standard practice for every family supported by our Family Foster Care program,” he said. Incorporating co-parenting in our services will change how Rising Ground has traditionally worked with foster parents, who can now play an even greater role in helping a family. We are looking to transform the role of foster parent so that they contribute to more successful reunification with the child’s family.” Mucatel pointed out that foster parents will receive additional training and be treated as partners in supporting families. 

There are several reasons why providers should be encouraged to make greater use of foster parents in family foster care. First, parents can more easily relate to their child’s foster parent than to a child welfare worker. Second, as co-parents, the child’s family and foster parents interact with each other several times a week or even daily—far more frequently than parents meet with child welfare professionals.

“For children, a co-parenting approach means that their parents continue to be closely involved in their day-to-day world,” Mucatel explained. In conventional foster care, parental contact is all too often limited. In a co-parenting practice, parents are encouraged to communicate frequently by telephone and FaceTime®-like apps. Parents can read bedtime stories to their children; foster parents can call mom with questions about the child. Furthermore, the child is less likely to feel a divided loyalty between the child’s parents and foster parent.” 

Establishing a co-operative relationship 

At present, the co-parenting pilot is in a six-month planning phase, during which time Rising Ground will develop a detailed protocol and hire a co-parenting facilitator—a clinician with marriage and family counseling experience—to guide the parent and foster parent’s relationship. The idea is to bring the parent and foster parent together within days of a child’s placement in the foster home. At that point, parents may still be angry that their child was removed from the home. 

“Co-parenting may not come naturally, and it will take time to develop trust, but the investment in building a close relationship between parents and foster parents will pay dividends for years to come,” explains Amiee Abusch, Vice President of Family Foster Care and Adoption at Rising Ground. “The bond between child and parent will remain strong. The parent will develop parenting skills and confidence.” 

The two-year pilot program is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, whose mission is to improve the child welfare system in New York. Sarah Chiles, executive director, noted that: “We’re thrilled that Rising Ground is prioritizing a culture of shared parenting and collaboration between the family of origin and the foster parent. We are really hopeful that this will demonstrate a successful approach to expediting family reunification for the rest of the state.” 

Chiles continued “We have to change the system so that parents can remain highly engaged in the parenting of their children, and so that they can benefit from the relationship forged with the foster parent. All of us as parents can learn from other parents.” 

About Rising Ground

Rising Ground, which changed its name last year from Leake & Watts to more accurately reflect its full scope of services, is a leading nonprofit human services organization, currently operating more than 55 programs at more than 50 different sites across all New York City boroughs and Westchester County, and employing a workforce of 1,800 people. Daily, it provides children, adults, and families with the resources and skills needed to rise above adversity and positively direct their lives. It has won the prestigious New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award. 

Founded as an orphanage in 1831, Rising Ground has been at the forefront of supporting evolving community needs and has become a leader in utilizing result-driven, evidence-based practices. Today, the organization’s work is a positive force in the lives of more than 25,000 individuals. For more information, visit RisingGround.org. 

Study Shows Teens Feel Pressured to Get Pregnant

Woman Holding Negative Pregnancy Test Kit

Female adolescents are experiencing relationship abuse at alarming rates, according to a new Michigan State University study that specifically researched reproductive coercion – a form of abuse in which a woman is pressured to become pregnant against her wishes.

Heather McCauley, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and co-researchers found nearly one in eight females between ages 14 and 19 experienced reproductive coercion within the last three months. Forms of such abuse included tampering with condoms and a partner threatening to leave.

The study, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology this month, is the largest adolescent study on the issue. It uses data from a previously conducted randomized trial at eight school-based health centers in California during the 2012-13 school year and assessed 550 sexually active female teens.

To date, most research has focused on young adult women. But because adolescent relationships differ so much from adult relationships, clinicians need to know how to spot reproductive coercion in their younger patients and tailor clinical assessment and intervention for this population, McCauley said.

“We looked at whether adolescents who experience reproductive coercion displayed the ‘red flags’ we typically teach clinicians to look for – like coming into the clinic multiple times for emergency contraception or pregnancy testing,” McCauley said. “We found no difference in care-seeking behaviors between girls who experienced reproductive coercion and girls who didn’t, so those red flags may not be present. Therefore, clinicians should have conversations with all their adolescent patients about how relationships can impact their health.”

Previous research has also identified disparities in reproductive coercion by race/ethnicity, with black women more likely than white women to experience such abuse, she said. But, again, that wasn’t the case in this study, highlighting the need for researchers and clinicians to understand how to talk about relationship abuse with female teens.

Other takeaways from the study:

  • 17% of teens reported physical or sexual abuse.
  • Females who experienced reproductive coercion had four times the odds of also experiencing other forms of relationship abuse.
  • Females exposed to both relationship abuse and reproductive coercion were more likely to have a sexual partner who is five or more years older.

“These findings highlight how common reproductive coercion and other forms of abuse are in adolescent relationships, yet the signs of a teen’s unhealthy relationship may be tricky for clinicians, parents and other adults to spot,” McCauley said. “So, parents could open the door for their teen to disclose abuse by having a conversation with them about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, including those that interfere with their decision making about their own reproductive health.”

Additional researchers on the study are Amber Hill, Elizabeth Miller and Kelley Jones, from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; Daniel Tancredi, from University of California Davis School of Medicine; and Jay Silverman, from University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

How To Reduce Harmful Police Contacts With Youth

Imagine this scenario: A young black man is falsely suspected of illicit behavior, stopped, and questioned by police. Because of media depictions of police encounters with people of color, the youth perceives the stop as an injustice (whether it was or not). On edge, he signals his anxiety to the police, making it more likely that the interaction devolves into verbal abuse or physical aggression. The police officer detains the young man and brings him to the station where he may be abused. Even if this young man leaves the encounter without serious harm, the experience of arrest makes it likely that he will begin to label himself in a negative manner. He begins to think of himself as bad and acts accordingly – increasing the likelihood of future interactions with the police leading to arrest.

Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is all too common. Research shows that young people who experience arrest often begin to view themselves as “delinquents” or “criminals,” taking to heart social stigma and stereotypes. This process can perpetuate offensive behavior resulting in an increased risk of arrest and sanctions in the juvenile justice system. Such police-contact spirals impact not only young people’s immediate and long-term futures; they exacerbate dysfunctions and expenses in America’s justice system.

Understanding Increased Contacts

U.S. criminal justice policies have spurred increased contact between police and young people. In fact, studies suggest that police are more likely to come into contact with youth than adults. The War on Drugs and other measures designed to address serious offenses have prompted this increase – and too often the suspicion of drug possession serves as a pretext for searches that are racially skewed. Studies show that young Black people, compared to Whites, are disproportionately likely to encounter police and be arrested for similar offenses. From a societal perspective, this skew can be explained in part, by implicit and explicit racial biases held by police officers as well as by various economic circumstances, including profiteering by privatized prisons and detention centers that have incentives to push for “get tough” laws. Zero-tolerance disciplinary policies in schools have also increased the likelihood of police-youth contacts.

Health, Trauma, and Detention

Some of the most harmful and concerning initial encounters between police and adolescents involve physical abuse. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, police do damage to young people’s wellbeing by using aggressive holds, tasers, pepper spray, and other aggressive methods to subdue suspects. Even when physical contact is limited, placing adolescents in handcuffs in a police cruiser and transporting them to the station is often a humiliating and traumatic experience for the young arrestee. At times, research shows, detained young women have even had to ward off inappropriate sexual remarks or advances from police officers.

Arresting young people can lead to detrimental outcomes including harm to their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing at an especially impressionable phase of life. Like formal arrests, youth detentions often lead to worrisome outcomes. In general, youth detention centers are overcrowded and understaffed, and young people admitted to them often spend anywhere between a few hours to a number of months exposed to negative experiences like verbal or physical abuse in addition to isolation and loss of privacy. Correctional conditions can foster mental illness and unhealthy levels of fear, especially among those who are unfairly detained.

Besides the physical and emotional damage, arrests of young people can damage their future chances to be productive citizens. Arrests can lead to losses in academic standing and increase likelihood of dropping out of school. Such risks are especially acute for those detained for extended time periods. Furthermore, youth who have experienced arrest are likely to face barriers to employment and access to housing and higher education. And because income and educational losses are known to harm individual health, the long-term health of arrested young people also suffers. Moreover, the ill effects can cumulate, because negative encounters and experiences early in life often promote later use of drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviors, which in increase the likelihood of future run-ins with the law.

Finally, policies that lead to increased numbers of youth arrests also further misallocations of constrained public resources. Time spent processing youth arrests detracts from the investigation of serious crimes, which may undermine public safety. Frequent arrests of young people for minor infractions also reduce the efficiency of the legal system. For example, low-level misdemeanor cases drain a lot of time from public prosecutors and public defenders; and youth arrests are more expensive than other measures that could be taken short of arrest.

What Can Be Done to Improve Police-Youth Relations

Although the current picture is grim, research points to promising new approaches:

  • Instead of arresting problematic young people, authorities can make referrals to social services or to community programs or camps that provide training in behavior management. With such referrals, police in Florida reduced the time spent on youth cases from six hours to 45 minutes apiece. Similarly, officers in Georgia decreased their arrest time from two hours to 35 minutes. And by channeling contacts with youth through social services, police in Louisiana reported an arrest time of only 12 minutes.
  • Officers in training can be taught about alternatives to youth arrests and encouraged to give warnings or civil citations. These options are cost-efficient and cause less harm to young people and the community.
  • Once in place, non-arrest measures must be monitored to measure effectiveness and ensure accountability. Research shows that community members can play a key role – for example, through citizen review boards that offer input on new police practices and suggestions for further improvements in police-community relations.

Read more in Patrick Webb, Incapacitating the Innocent: An Investigation of Legal and Extralegal Factors Associated with the Pre-Adjudicatory Detention of Juveniles (Universal-Publishers, 2008).

The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act: One Small Step in the Right Direction Towards A More Just Child Welfare System

While most of the mainstream media has failed to report on this momentous piece of legislation created to address the inequities of systemic racism impacting child welfare reform and parental rights, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis quietly introduced the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act (HF 3973).

The bill was first introduced earlier this year with the explicit purpose of stopping the arbitrary removal of black children by the Minnesota Child Protection Division. The goal of the legislation is to address key racial biases and disparities while also seeking to extend better standards of care across the State’s child welfare system.

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website, “a group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota’s child-protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved”.

The Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act has the support of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, numerous leaders within the black community as well as African-American families directly impacted by the State’s arbitrary removal assessments. While there is no doubt there will be challenges for implementation or will right past injustices, this piece of legislation is one small step in the right direction. Minnesota has taken the first legislative step towards using policy to address structural racism within the child welfare system. Maybe, their courageous actions will inspire other lawmakers to follow and do the same in their states.

As a social justice and parental rights advocate, this story is a personal one and a triumph to see on many levels specifically because I was unjustly and unnecessarily removed from my mother in Saint Pauls when I was six years old. The removal was both retaliatory and racially (politically) motivated due to the fact my mother was a fearless and outspoken black woman trying desperately to address the blatant discrimination and racism blacks were experiencing in our neighborhood.

While in foster care, I experienced mental, physical, and emotional abuse, and very nearly died due to improper adult supervision or the lack therefore in my case. Although my mother did eventually get me and my younger sister back after two long and hard years of fighting in the Courts, she was never the same mentally or emotionally.

As a social work professional, I know now, my mother was very likely suffering from severe and untreated PTSD which is a very common diagnosis as a result of family disruption from a child removal. It wasn’t until many years later when I found myself in the very same position (having had to experience the same CPS induced hell), that I truly realized what my mother had to endure.

My experiences inspired my desire to become an advocate and prevent the above from needlessly happening to another family. Structural racism and discrimination are rampant and widespread within our nation, and our child welfare system is not exempt. Racism and discrimination within the child welfare system have directly lead to what some scholars and advocates have termed, the “cultural genocide” of the black family.

A Call to Action…

This bill is extremely important and needs all the help it can get in order to become law. Therefore, I’m calling upon advocates, families, and child welfare professionals everywhere to call and write the appropriate committees and/or legislators and tell them to support the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.

If you’re ready to make a positive difference and combat the cultural genocide of African-American families all across the country, please call or write your representatives and request the African-American Family Preservation Act be introduced in your state.

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