Age-Related Racial Disparities in Suicide Rates Among Youth Ages 5 to 17 Years

Suicide rates in the United States have traditionally been higher among whites than blacks across all age groups. However, a new study from researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and collaborators published today in JAMA Pediatrics shows that racial disparities in suicide rates are age-related. Specifically, suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly two times higher than those of similarly-aged white children.

“Our findings provide further evidence of a significant age-related racial disparity in childhood suicide rates and rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher in whites than blacks in the United States,” says Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and lead author of the publication. “The large age-related racial difference in suicide rates did not change during the study period, suggesting that this disparity is not explained by recent events such as the economic recession.”

For older children, the trend reverses back to the national average. For youth aged 13-17 years, suicide was roughly 50 percent lower in black children than in white children.

Researchers obtained data for cases in which suicide was listed as the underlying cause of death among persons aged 5-17 years from 2001-2015 from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARSTM) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2001-2015, for American youth aged 5-17 years, 1,661 suicide deaths in black youths and 13,341 suicide deaths in white youths occurred. During this period, the overall suicide rate was about 42 percent lower in black youth (1.26 per 100,000) than in white youth (2.16 per 100,000). However, age strongly influenced this racial difference, as seen when suicide rates among 5- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds were analyzed.

“The existing literature does not adequately describe the extent of age-related racial disparities in youth suicide, and understanding these differences is essential to creating targeted prevention efforts,” says Dr. Bridge, also a professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

While the findings highlight an important opportunity for more targeted intervention, these data are limited and cannot point to the potential reasons for the observed differences.

“We lacked information on key factors that may underlie racial differences in suicide, including access to culturally acceptable behavioral health care or the potential role of death due to homicide among older black youth as a competing risk for suicide in this subgroup,” Dr. Bridge elaborates. “Future studies should try to find out whether risk and protective factors identified in studies of primarily white adolescent suicides are associated with suicide in black youth and how these factors change throughout childhood and adolescence.”

“Parents and health providers should be aware of the importance of asking children directly about suicide if there is a concern about a child,” added Dr. Bridge. “Asking children directly about thoughts of suicide will not put the idea in a child’s head or trigger subsequent suicidal behavior.”

Responsible reporting on suicide and the inclusion of stories of hope and resilience can prevent more suicides. You can find more information on safe messaging about suicide here.  If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.

It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.

Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”

Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.

Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.

Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.

For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions, and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

Rep. Bass Introduces Legislation To Ensure Former Foster Youth Can Keep Health Insurance In Other States

Recently, Rep, Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act, a bill that addresses a misinterpretation of the health care law by providing foster youth with the same health insurance benefits as their peers.

The current health insurance system is one of the many disproportionate challenges that our nation’s foster youth face. With the Affordable Care Act, foster youth who are in care by their 18th birthday and previously enrolled in Medicaid are able to receive healthcare until the age of 26, much like their peers who can remain on their parents’ insurance plans until that age. However, after several years of requested clarification, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services misinterpreted the provision and restricted foster youth from receiving health insurance if they move out of their state.

Foster youth face incredible adversities throughout their lives, many of which begin after they turn 18 and grow out of the child welfare system,” Rep. Bass said. “I’m proud of this body’s resolve to address this issue and fix this incredibly harmful misinterpretation. Especially as we address the opioid epidemic, we must consider the importance of coverage for this vulnerable population.”

The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is particularly important to ensure that foster youth maintain uninterrupted access to health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 35 and 60 percent of youth who enter foster care have at least one chronic or acute health condition such as asthma, cognitive differences, visual and auditory challenges, dental decay, and malnutrition that require long-term treatment, and 50 to 75 percent of foster youth exhibit behavioral or social competency issues that may require mental health treatment. In 2013, nearly 50,000 youth between the ages of 16-20 exited the foster care system.

The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is a bicameral bill that will provide health insurance to foster youth in any state until age 26, as is the law for their peers that did not grow up in the child welfare system.

Civic Engagement Can Help Teens Thrive Later in Life

Want to help your teenagers become successful adults? Get them involved in civic activities – voting, volunteering and activism.

Although parents providing this bit of advice to teens will likely be met with groans and eye rolling, research does back it up.

In a study published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that teens who were engaged in civic activities were more likely than non-engaged peers to attain higher income and education levels as adults.

“We know from past research that taking part in civic activities can help people feel more connected to others and help build stronger communities, but we wanted to know if civic engagement in adolescence could enhance people’s health, education level and income as they become adults,” said Parissa J. Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study.

Ballard and her team used a nationally representative sample of 9,471 adolescents and young adults from an ongoing study called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants were between the ages of 18 to 27 when civic engagement was measured, and then six years later outcomes – health, education and income – were measured.

The research team used propensity score matching, a statistically rigorous methodology to examine how civic engagement related to later outcomes regardless of participants’ background characteristics, including levels of health and parental education. For example, adolescents who volunteered were matched to adolescents from similar backgrounds who did not volunteer to compare their health, education and income as adults.

“Relative to other common approaches used in this kind of research, this method lets us have greater confidence that civic engagement really is affecting later life health and education,” Ballard said.

The research team found that volunteering and voting also were favorably associated with subsequent mental health and health behaviors, such as a fewer symptoms of depression and lower risk for negative health behaviors including substance use.

For teens who were involved in activism the findings were more complex. Although they too had a much greater chance of obtaining a higher level of education and personal income, they also were involved in more risky behaviors six years later, Ballard said.

“In this study, we couldn’t determine why that was the case, but I think activism can be frustrating for teens and young adults because they are at a stage in life where they are more idealistic and impatient with the slow pace of social change,” Ballard said. “I would encourage parents to help their children remain passionate about their cause but also learn to manage expectations as to short- and long-term goals.”

This research was supported in part by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a cooperative agreement for the Adolescent and Young Adult Health Research Network.

Co-authors are: Lindsay Till Hoyt, Ph.D., of Fordham University and Mark C. Pachucki, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts.

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account.

One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.

One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this, we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction.

Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.

Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways.

This means that not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.

Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics.

The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so maybe their interests.

This is where building relationships with students become essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.

Assessments Often Miss Mental Health Issues for Youth on Probation

An assessment tool used by many jurisdictions within the juvenile justice system that is intended to help recognize the effects of adversity and trauma in children’s lives is not the best means of evaluating mental health problems faced by at-risk youth, according to new study by a University at Buffalo social work researcher.

The groundbreaking research, which lead author Patricia Logan-Greene believes is among the first studies to connect the adverse childhood experience (ACE) assessment for juveniles on probation to mental health problems, could help improve the justice system’s responses to court-involved youth, especially those who have experienced maltreatment and trauma.

“The United States continues to have a massive juvenile justice system that does not, generally speaking, serve youth well,” says Logan-Greene, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work. “We suspect that the way mental health is often assessed in the juvenile justice system is missing many mental health problems – in particular with disadvantaged youth.”

The number of youth on probation is a far larger group than those who are incarcerated or in treatment facilities. Yet most of the research literature is on that smaller population.

“We may have identified a gap,” says Logan-Greene. “The court assessment asks whether youth have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness.  That question makes a lot of big assumptions like equal access to health care and equal desire to access mental health care, which has a lot to do with stigma.

“A better assessment tool would address symptomology,” she says.

The problems faced by youth on probation are widespread, according to Logan-Greene. The vast majority have histories of child abuse, family dysfunction and social disadvantage.

“Only 25 percent have no history of abuse,” she says. “One of my elevator speeches argues against punitive responses for youth with histories of trauma.”

Although most jurisdictions do assess mental health, these are not necessarily good assessments – and some jurisdictions aren’t assessing for this at all. A single question to capture all aspects of mental health simply isn’t sufficient.

“While the adverse childhood experience tool has done wonderful things to help us recognize the importance of adversity and trauma in children’s lives, there is still room for improvement,” she says. “For instance, there is nothing in the ACE tool about childhood poverty, and we know from previous research that childhood poverty is deeply damaging.”

In the current study, Logan-Greene and her co-authors Robert L. Tennyson and Paula S. Nurius, both from the University of Washington, and Sharon Borja, University of Houston, divided their assessment of childhood adversity into childhood maltreatment, family dysfunction including substance abuse, family history of mental illness, physical health problems with the family, and social disadvantage, using a diverse sample of more than 5,300 youth on probation.

The findings suggest a clear connection between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems.  Although there did not appear to be a relationship between social disadvantage and mental health problems, there was a connection between mental health and the symptoms of social disadvantage such as coping problems, social isolation and what the authors call aspirations or the measure of hope for the future.

“Because social disadvantage did have a negative effect on those indicators we suspect the court assessments are not picking up what are probably undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems among disadvantaged youth,” Logan-Greene says.

The Long Pathway: Journey to Understanding Mental Health

Written by: Iman,  Introduction: Rosie, Billy, Anisah, and Fahim – Haverstock School Journalism Project

*Editor’s Note: UK Social Work Helper Staff Writer, Chey Heap, and myself worked with the Haverstock School Journalism Project to support budding young journalists in their pursuit to better understand mental health issues. The below work was written by an 11 year old student, and I am proud Social Work Helper was able to be apart of this effort. The article is a collection of interviews and collaboration with her classmates. They did an outstanding job of exploring and processing a complicated issue like mental health. – Deona Hooper MSW 

A recent survey stated that 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. In the Journalism project, we choose the subjects we want to write articles on and because I personally had an experience that traumatised me when my brothers had been separated from me. It really felt like I had been deprived of the things that gave me the most pleasure, and it put me into a deep depression. No one could understand the way I felt.

If we had physical problems, people would have noticed, but the inner ones are not noticed. If you break your arm everyone knows, but there is a stigma attached to mental health problems.

I wanted to know about how psychologists and other professionals work and understand how they can help us so that young people who are experiencing mental issues will know they are not alone and can get help.

The article is titled ‘The Long Pathway’ because it takes a long time to train to become a helping professional and to research and understand different conditions, but it is also a long pathway to healing.

So, I decided to ask my classmates who have experience with mental health issues including depression and bereavement to help me with this project.

One person, we shall call him Stephen told me: His Nan had a very rare disease that messed with her head. It made her see things. “When we went to visit her she saw everybody but me! It made me feel sad and left out but no one knew how I felt”.

Another a girl called Sarah told me: “My Mum and my Nan were fighting and they stopped talking to each other and when I wanted to go out with my Nan my Mum wouldn’t let me that made me very upset and angry”.

I then wanted to know what it was like to train, work and research in the field of mental health.

Journey Through a Psychologist and her Trainees Eyes

Dr Gursharam Lotey, a young person’s clinical psychologist and Jasmeet Thandi a trainee clinical psychologist agreed to an interview at Camden Open Mind – an organisation that reaches out to young people and helps them deal with life situations including bereavement, bullying or educational issues. It gave us a unique insight into their work.

Jasmeet: I am constantly thinking about feelings. You are talking to someone you have never met before and you are asking:

“How do you feel?”

And it is probably a bit much. So we get beautiful Russian dolls, name each doll that we have made: happy doll, sad doll Yesterday, one girl put a sad doll inside a happy doll. So, on the surface, she seemed happy but on the inside, she was feeling a bit sad.

Q: Do you use your own experiences to connect with patients?

Gursharan: It is really important to be aware of your past to be able to connect with a young person

Jasmeet: A patient will tell you something and I think:

 ‘Ah I have experienced that…’

Q: How do you deal with the unexpected?

Gursharan: The best thing to do is to not panic and to just think why that person might be sharing something with you that might be a bit out of the ordinary; and to be able to hold this inside, even if you are thinking: Wow! This is not what I expected!

Q: Do you ever get scared of your patients?

Gursharan: Not scared as such… I worry about them but our aim is for them to go home and be safe.

Jasmeet: Not scared I worked on a unit where adolescents had committed crimes. Once you get to know someone you can really understand the context and why things have happened. Understanding them is really important.

Q: What challenges do you face in your work?

Gurshuram: If something really complex and serious is happening within a young person’s family and you have several families like that all on the same day it can be quite challenging to not think about it when you go home.

Gursharam and Jasmeet explained training to be a clinical psychologist was like embarking on a long pathway and it felt like we were given a fascinating peek into what that entails.

Thank you, Gursharan and Jasmeet. We think Camden Open Mind gives an invaluable service.

Journey Through a Psychology Lecturer’s Eyes

Tony Cline is a now a psychology lecturer and trains child psychologists. When Tony was twenty-one, he found himself in a room with a new computer, but this computer was gigantic. It took up a WHOLE room!  He punched information into cards and it would take three weeks to process. Unfortunately, when Tony made a mistake, it would take another three weeks to process. Since then, technology is the biggest change he has seen.

Tony specialises in research as well as teaching and over the years has worked on subjects like dyslexia and has organised dyslexia conferences. Elective mutism was another subject in which he took an interest. This is where a young person can talk but only with some people. People thirty years ago often thought the child was just being naughty, but Tony’s analysis showed they weren’t, they genuinely had problems.

An example would be a pupil refusing to communicate with their teacher. The review of research highlighted a treatment called ‘Fading In’ where the child talks to the people they are comfortable with. For example, while the child is talking to their parents about something very interesting, the teacher appears at the door but does not enter. The second time, the teacher might come in but not stay, and on the third time the teacher stays and joins in the conversation. There is now a new name for the condition is called Selective Mutism.

I asked about the difficulties his students face to become trained professionals:

Tony: One of the things students do is they carefully train and prepare for an interview and then despite what they have been told about the child before they meet them, there is sometimes much more than is said.

I wondered whether there are difficult situations whilst he was teaching.

Tony: Yes. You can sometimes see that it is making someone in the group think about their own lives and they have had a bad time; for example noticing when a student is being hit by a subject like bereavement because they have experienced it.

Although Tony has years of experience, he still says to his new students: “I am going to learn something from you.”

I learnt lots from everyone I met on this fascinating journey and hope this article will be the first of many that shed light on an area that is difficult for people to understand.

Thank you. Gurasharam, Jasmeet, Tony, and classmates.

Brief description of the project:

The Haverstock School Journalism  Project exists to give underprivileged young people a very high standard of journalism training and proper assignments.

The students have interviewed all sorts of people from a lady firefighter to Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, recently they contribute to the University College London, Amnesty Journal, and provide regular articles for On the Hill Magazine. The project is funded by the John Lyon’s Charity.

The Project Co-ordinator

Danielle Corgan worked in broadcast documentaries for over a decade, mainly with the award-winning documentary company Goldhawk Media Ltd. She helps the students research their subjects, prepare interview questions, organises the interviews, and write and structure print quality articles. She strongly believes every child can write well and encourages them to develop their own voice. She has worked with youngsters with Special Education Needs and Looked After children on the project with very good results.

Absent Parent Returns, Active Parent in Turmoil

After parental separation, a consistent relationship between child and both parents is best. A parent entering and leaving a child’s life can be disruptive for the child and for the life of the other parent. Some folks may feel that upon being absent for some period of time, the absent parent should not be allowed back into the child’s life.

In some situations, the active parent has remarried and the new partner has formed a meaningful and significant attachment to the child. The re-introduction of the absent parent, therefore, threatens to not only cause emotional turmoil to the child, but maybe a perceived threat to the relationship between child and new partner. Needless-to-say, there can be a tangled web of intense feelings on all sides.

Generally speaking, the social science literature supports the notion that children fare better in the long run with secure attachments to both parents. This is true even in the face of many parental difficulties, but assuming that neither parent is outright abusive. In the case of an absent parent wanting to re-enter a child’s life, it may be difficult to determine what is best for the child.

Hence the decision may rest upon the clinical judgment of an assessor. The challenge in assessing these cases is separating parental issues of anger, jealousy and the like, from the needs and interests of the child. At times it is parental issues that require more management than the child’s renewed relationship with the absent parent.

In the event it appears that the relationship between child and absent parent will be re-established, certain precautions and structures can be put in place to allay concerns, facilitate the process and provide safeguards. Pre-meeting conditions can include:

  1. Abstinence from alcohol or drugs where a parent is known to abuse such substances.
  2. Drug testing for a parent known to abuse drugs.
  3. Counseling for the above, if at issue.
  4. Anger management if anger issues are identified.
  5. Attendance at a parenting course.

Then, with regard to a process for facilitating the relationship between absent parent and child:

  1. Consider a counseling process where the counselor meets the absent parent alone. This meeting or series of meetings is to establish motive and also to provide an opportunity for education as to the needs of the child in question.
  2. Concurrently there should be a meeting or series of meetings with the same counselor and the active parent and partner to discuss and prepare them, followed by a meeting with the child to discuss concerns and issues. The purpose of counseling is not to curtail the process, but to continue to discuss and develop strategies to manage change in view of concerns.
  3. Finally, the child meets with the absent parent under the auspices of the counselor. Several future meetings can occur with the counselor or under supervision through a designated supervision center if considered necessary.
  4. Then assuming all goes well, visits can progress to unsupervised.

Hence the issue may not be withholding the relationship rather than facilitating it through a safe and structured process. If the absent parent abides by the process, benefits to the child can significantly outweigh the loss of this parent-child relationship. If the absent parent proves incapable of meeting the requirements and abiding by the safeguards, then there are supports in place to help the child and family adjust.

If the absent parent refuses to follow the processor gets into trouble along the way, the process can be modified or even ended. These situations are balancing acts with no easy solution. The challenge is to manage the process as delicately as possible. The above process may help.

Child Marriage Needs to End

Child marriage remains shockingly prevalent in the United States and in many cases is forced by parents and other authority figures. Sadly, state laws regarding marriage involving a minor vary widely and are predicated on archaic and outdated thinking.

Tahirih Justice Center estimates that between 2000-2015 over 200,000 minors were legally married in the United States, and 25 states have no minimum age for marriage. While some states have set a minimum age, it can often be circumnavigated with the consent of the parents and a judge if the girl is pregnant.

Poor outcomes often result from child marriage for girls and young women. This includes a greater chance of interruption of education and lifelong poverty. Globally, complications resulting from childbirth are the most common cause of death for women between the ages of 15-19. In the United States, 70% to 80% of marriages involving minors end in divorce, and many of the women who were married as minors experience higher levels of mental health disorders.

Tahirih Justice Center has recorded 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the United States. Forced marriages involve threat, coercion, or lack of choice and are sometimes due to cultural or religious expectations of the families. This phenomenon is not isolated to one particular religious or cultural group but spans many.

According to the New York Times, a young woman recounts how her mother and church leaders for her to marry her 20 year old rapist at age 11, who was a leader in the church. This arranged marriage largely came as a result of an investigation by Child Protective Services. The girl’s family and church leaders wanted to avoid criminal culpability so instead of the situation being handled as one of child abuse, the marriage of the minor to the perpetrator provided a solution for those involved—an appalling and sad outcome.

Sadly, there are also many cases of Americans girls taken abroad by family members and forced into marriage. These scenarios present difficult challenges for the US embassies who are bound by local laws and agencies in the United States that may be attempting to help.

State laws help to reinforce the problem. In Florida, a girl can be married at any age with parental consent if she is pregnant. Many of these marriages involve underage girls with adult men. The Council on Foreign Relations has reported that 90% of marriages involving a minor that were married in Virginia involved a minor marrying an adult man.

Statutory rape laws are effectively mitigated if the minor is married to the perpetrator. Human Rights Watch has provided an interesting analysis of the antiquated child marriage law Florida, finding that Afghanistan’s laws surrounding child marriage are actually stricter than those in Florida.

Fortunately, several agencies are advocating to change these outdated laws and help the girls and women affected including Tahirih Justice Center and Unchained at Last. Human Rights Watch has also launched a campaign to bring awareness to this issue. Through the efforts of Tahirih Justice Center, Virginia recently enacted an age limit of 18 for legal marriage. There are several states working to address this issue, including Maryland and in Florida where child marriage is the second highest in the country. Surprisingly, these laws continue to meet resistance from some lawmakers.

Clearly, this is an issue that impacts the clients we serve as social workers and is an issue of social justice. By showing that we are aware of this issue and care, we can mobilize to tighten these legal loopholes. This is an issue of human rights and women’s rights, and we must demonstrate that these girls matter.

Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims

Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. – Founder of Children of the Night Photo Credit: CalState

Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3 a.m.; she even did so while pregnant with her son.

Dr. Lee was looking for victims of sex trafficking and those who exploited them.

Walking miles along Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards, the then-24-year-old would hand out business cards with her hotline number, encouraging victims to call and letting them know what kind of help they’d find.

“These are girls, boys and transgender children that would fall between the cracks of the system,” remembers Lee. “They had nowhere to go — no one was providing a bed or a school or offering to take care of these kids.”

So, she created that place.

From 1979 to 1981, Lee housed more than 250 sex trafficking victims in her own home, all while building the Children of the Night outreach program; the privately funded nonprofit organization would become unlike any other in existence at the time, or even today, rescuing children from child prostitution and providing housing, education and treatment.

But perhaps most important, Lee gave them hope.

An Unimaginable Life

Lee was raised in Los Angeles, the eldest child in a family of three girls. It was a childhood she describes as healthy, safe and sheltered.

So when, as a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, her faculty mentor Jeanne Curran, PhD., then a professor of sociology, introduced her to the underworld of sex trafficking, it was a wake-up call.

“I wanted to make everything better because I just couldn’t imagine someone living in these types of conditions,” explains Lee, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1973 and a master’s in sociology in 1977.

It was at CSUDH that she developed the skills she’d later use to address child sex trafficking. Lee also taught courses at the campus’s Social Systems Research Center, then led by Dr. Curran. The center has since been renamed the Urban Community Research Center.

“Jeanne became a mentor for me, both on- and off-campus. She influenced my life and academic choices so much,” says Lee, a first-generation college student.

“She and CSU Dominguez Hills empowered me.”

Victims, Not Criminals

Late one night in 1977, Lee received a call from a woman who operated an escort service. A 17-year-old she worked with had not returned and she was unable to contact her.

Afraid, she had called Lee for guidance. Lee went to the police, who dismissed the call and refused to help. The next morning, the girl’s body was found; she had become one of the Hillside Stranglers’victims.

Frustrated by the lack of resources that were available to these girls, Lee appeared on an L.A. news broadcast, giving out her personal phone number and encouraging prostitutes with knowledge of the case to reach out to her directly. She promised confidentiality.

“I coordinated everything just as I had learned from Jeanne at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee recalls. “And that was really the beginning of my work.”

Lee would go on to play a critical role in the Hillside Strangler trial, testifying in the case and coordinating witnesses for the prosecution.

At just 27, Lee garnered attention when she sued the Los Angeles Police Department for prosecuting underage prostitutes while letting their customers go free.

She won the case and has gone on to file a number of other lawsuits.

“I taught vice detectives nationwide that there were children prostituting and they needed to be treated differently,” says the President’s Volunteer Action Award recipient. She strongly advocated – and still does – to have the children referred to and treated as victims, not criminals.

Education: The Key to Success

To date, Children of the Night’s president and founder is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.

The organization’s shelter, located in Van Nuys, California, offers no-cost housing for as many as 12 children ages 11 to 17. They attend classes at the on-site school, receive individualized treatment, and participate in fun outings. A nationwide toll-free hotline is also staffed 24/7.

Lee sees education as the most fundamental of the services they offer, and attendance is mandatory for all residents.

“What’s really important about the development of any society is to educate the people,” she explains. “Through education, I was able to learn about the world. Education empowers.”

While children are offered treatment to manage trauma, their past experiences are not the focus, Lee stresses. “I don’t feel sorry for the children with whom I work,” she says. “[That] incapacitates their ability to become strong and independent. I want the world for my kids. I have very high expectations of them.”

Which is not to say she isn’t deeply empathetic to what they’ve faced.

“There is no way that I can make what happened to them go away, but I can … put distance between their old lifestyle and their life now.”

Still Fighting

Today, Lee is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in rescuing child sex trafficking victims, raising awareness on a topic that previously wasn’t talked about. In 1981, the General Accounting Office estimated there were 600,000 children under the age of 16 working as prostitutes in the United States. Today, that number is estimated to be 100,000.

In January 2017, Children of the Night announced a new global initiative to rescue 10,000 more children worldwide from sex trafficking.

Lee is also passionate about giving back to the campus that helped turn her dream into an advocacy mission that has no doubt saved thousands of lives.

“So much of what I have done and have been able to do in my life is because of my time at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee says. “The faculty raised me and nourished me. They liked to take risks and they challenged traditional thinking processes. “Dominguez Hills taught me how to break down barriers.”

APA Offers Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence

Constant news reports about the shooting in Las Vegas can cause stress and anxiety for people, leaving them with questions about the causes of and solutions to gun violence. Resources on the American Psychological Association’s website can help people with both issues.

One APA resource offers tips for managing feelings of distress in the aftermath of a shooting. “You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions,” it says. “Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead.”

Talking to children about the shooting isn’t easy but parents or teachers shouldn’t completely shield them from violence or tragedies. APA offers a series of tips to parents and other caregivers on how to guide the conversation in a proactive and supportive way. “The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure,” according to the resource available in the APA Help Center.

Parents should also watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.

For those who feel too overwhelmed to use the tips provided, APA suggests consulting a psychologist or other mental health professional.

“Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen your resilience and persevere through difficult times,” it says.

There is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act, according to a report issued by the APA in December 2013 entitled Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy. There is, however, psychological research that has helped develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through primary and secondary interventions.

Written by a task force composed of psychologists and other researchers, the report synthesized the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.

“The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics, and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness and violence, including gun violence,” according to the report.

Gun violence is estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical, legal and other expenses, not to mention the psychological toll. That is why the government needs to approach it as a public health problem, according to APA acting Executive Director for Public Interest Clinton Anderson, PhD, writing in a blog post entitled No Silver Bullet: Why We Need Research on Gun Violence Prevention.

“Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm,” wrote Anderson. “While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.”

No one policy will prevent gun violence, writes Anderson. “It will take a multi-faceted approach. Funding research that explores these horrific, impulsive acts can help us all inform and adapt our policy approach.”

In another blog post, clinical psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, warned against unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill by immediately jumping to the conclusion that most shooters have a mental illness.

“Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness,” he wrote. “What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis.”

Additional resources:

Talking to Kids When They Need Help

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando

Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting

How Much News Coverage is OK for Children?

Gun Violence Prevention

APA Initiatives to Prevent Gun Violence

How Disability Culture Can Inform Mentoring Girls with Disabilities

Photo Credit: Big Sister Association

I am a social work intern at the Big Sister Association of Boston. This is a unique organization, as it is the only gender-specific branch of Big Brother Big Sister in the United States. This is also an important fact as research suggests that girls experience mentoring relationships differently than boys do.

Additionally, research suggests that girls have gender-specific needs that can best be addressed by gender-sensitive support. One of the values of the Big Sister Association of Boston is cultural responsiveness, as the agency finds it important to learn about and embrace cultural differences – and this is where Disability culture comes in.

Disability social workers Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver discuss the emergence of Disability culture and assert that it is not only an identity but a ‘way of life,’ similar to race or ethnicity. I feel that it is critical that when conceptualizing how to be cultural responsive that Big Sister mentors keep Disability in mind as a type of culture. Recognizing Disability culture is important because we work with Little Sisters ages seven through twenty, as well as volunteer Big Sisters over the age of eighteen, and any of these girls and women may have a disability.

In addition to being aware of the language and history of Disability culture in order to show respect, we must also understand that there is a community aspect of Disability culture that can have great social benefits for the people we work with. The goal of our mentoring program is to strategically match girls with mentors who have similar interests and experiences as them. Therefore, making an effort to match girls and mentors with disabilities can have the added benefit of sharing an understanding of a common experience and culture, therefore making the match relationship even more impactful.

In their book, Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver share the story of Carolyn and Marnie, two women who met and “developed a sisterhood formed from shared circumstances….their self-concepts and meanings they ascribed to their disabilities were similar.” Further, the authors note that Carloyn and Marnie had “few or no role models with disabilities, their disabilities were defined as negative, shameful…were isolated from others like themselves.”

The concepts of sisterhood and community are two more of the Big Sister Association of Boston’s values, and increased confidence is an outcome goal held by the program. As the relationship between women can be so powerful, it is important that Big Sister staff recognize this potential and thoughtfully seek to make matches between women and girls who share experiences as people with disabilities.

Big Sister Association of Boston values gender-specific programming, and it is important that this specificity carries over when thinking even further about what it means to not only be a girl, but to the intersection of being a girl with a disability in our society.

One way that Big Sister staff can work on developing knowledge about Disability culture as it relates to girls could be perusing the Gimp Girl website. As a refresher, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute defines cultural competence as “the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients.”

The Gimp Girl website can be used as a resource for Big Sister staff to assist them in the task of continuously working on their cultural competence by becoming fully informed about the views and needs of girls with disabilities in particular. As a non-disabled person, I have permission to access articles and presentations on the site and join their online public forums. The website also includes links to many blogs written by and for girls with disabilities, which can raise awareness of the most current issues and interests of this particular community.

Tuning into Gimp Girl can help me practice cultural responsiveness by making me aware of the issues and concerns of interest to this population in order to most effectively meet the needs of girls with disabilities in a respectful and accessible way. Realizing that some people might prefer the term ‘gimp’ to the term ‘disabled’ might be important for Big Sister staff to realize vis-à-vis the debate between whether to use person first or disability first language.

The website will also help staff to practice cultural humility by reminding them that girls with disabilities have distinct and individual needs, as they describe what it means to experience the intersection of gender identity and disability. Reading about girls’ varying experiences will encourage Big Sister staff to consistently check their own biases and assumptions as well as maintain their position as learners when interacting with girls.

In addition to increasing any given Big Sister staff members’ knowledge and awareness about Disability culture, staff will also be able to share this website with Little Sisters if they are not familiar with it. Our agency constantly provides Big Sisters with information, resources, and activities they can use when spending time with their ‘Littles,’ and this website could be a great resource.

Big Sisters could explore the website with their Littles to find blogs that their Littles can relate to, or even help Littles join a Support Meeting in the online chat room. I think this resource is something that can benefit all of our staff and the girls and women we serve – and perhaps this will be true for you as well!

How Social Services Across Europe are Supporting the Integration of Unaccompanied Children

Photo Credit: @AP

The European Social Network (ESN), in co-operation with its Swedish member, the National Board of Health and Welfare, organises the seminar ‘Migrant children and young people – Social inclusion and transition to adulthood’, in Stockholm on 23-24 October to address challenges in integrating unaccompanied children and young people in communities across Europe.

According to Eurostat figures, in 2015 and 2016 over 2.3 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU. It is expected that about 1.3 million of those will be granted refugee status.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 25.9% of migrants entering Europe are children, of whom 34% are unaccompanied.

The challenge is huge for local social services, most of them squeezed from years of austerity policies. The European Social Network, which monitors social services across Europe, has been working on the issue of unaccompanied children for several years to support the role of local and regional social services in ensuring the successful integration these vulnerable children in our societies.

With more than 130 participants from 18 countries already signed up, the seminar ‘Migrant children and young people – Social inclusion and transition to adulthood’ promises to be a unique opportunity to share insights on migrant children and young people’s inclusion in local communities and their transition to adulthood across Europe.

The registration is open to any individuals and organisations with an interest and expertise on the topic.

Also, the European Social Network is interested in hearing from people with direct experience of migration themselves and will fund the participation and accommodation of members of organisations representing unaccompanied children in care, young migrants or migrant families.

The programme

Based on a questionnaire that was conducted earlier in 2017, ESN collected data and examples of how local public social services are supporting the inclusion and transition to adulthood of unaccompanied children and migrant young people across European countries.

On top of local practices, several international organisations will take us through the policy instruments that have been developed so far to support unaccompanied children and migrant young people. International organisations confirmed so far are the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the OECD, the WHO and UNICEF.

The Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, as well as other representatives of national authorities, local authorities, NGOs and the media, will also be part of the debate. More information on the programme, the speakers and how to register can be found on this page, or do not hesitate to contact Valentina Guerra, ESN Policy Officer.

ESN and its work on unaccompanied children

The European Social Network (ESN) brings together people who plan, manage and deliver local public social services, together with those in regulatory and research organisations. It supports the development of effective social policy and social care practice through the exchange and transfer of knowledge and experience.

ESN has been working on unaccompanied children and young people since 2005, when a first report was published on the theme of the social inclusion of young asylum seekers and immigrants. Some of the issues highlighted in the report are still of relevance today, and even more so given the exceptional number of unaccompanied children and young people reaching EU countries since 2015.

Therefore, ESN published a second report in 2016 analysing the impact of the refugee crisis on local public social services in Europe and addressed the support for unaccompanied children at the launch of our publication “Investing in children’s services: improving outcomes”.

Child Welfare System Increasingly Relying on Relatives to Raise Children Exposed to Trauma

According to a new report by Generations United, grandparents and other relatives who step in to care for children, play an important role in mitigating trauma, which children in the child welfare system experience at starkly higher rates than the general population.

Thirty percent (127,819) of children in foster care are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, a six percent increase since 2008. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, that number is even more dramatic in the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic like Ohio, which saw a 62 percent increase in the number of children placed with relatives in foster care since 2010. For each child in foster care with a relative, there are 20 children outside of the system with a relative.

More than half of the children in the child welfare system have endured four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), leaving them 12 times more likely to have negative health outcomes – substance use disorders, mental health problems, and engaging in aggressive or risky behaviors – than the general child population.

“Growing up with a childhood full of trauma and abuse, there were very few moments where I felt safe and very few people with whom I felt protected. Being put into my uncle’s care was the best decision that could have ever been made for me,” explained Kindra, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy. “It wasn’t an easy road by any means, but I have no doubt in that it completely saved my life.”

Compared to those in care with non-relatives, children in foster care with relatives have more stable and safe childhoods and a greater likelihood of having a permanent home. The have better mental and behavioral health, and are more likely to report always feeling loved.

“These relatives are the loving and protective arms for babies, children and youth who’ve experience trauma,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United. “They are caring for children with multiple high-level needs and they should get the support required for the families to thrive.”

Unlike parents or foster parents who plan for months or years to care for a child, grandparents or other relative caregivers usually step into their roles unexpectedly. At a moment’s notice, they are forced to navigate complex systems to help meet the physical and cognitive health challenges of the children who come into their care.  Grandfamilies are less likely than foster families to have access to specialized training and support from professionals that have expertise in helping children, who have experienced trauma, heal.

“One thing I know to be true: you can’t love away the effects of trauma from neglect and abuse,” said Jan Wagner, grandparent caregiver, Michigan“Our children need the same amount of intensive therapy and services as a traditional foster placement and we, as their caregiver desperately need the same to help them heal.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Reform federal child welfare financing to provide more trauma-informed support to prevent children from entering or re-entering foster care
  • Increase availability of and access to trauma training and supports designed for grandfamilies
  • Address barriers to licensing relatives as foster parents
  • Ensure grandfamilies not licensed as foster parents can access financial assistance to meet children’s needs

Generations United will release The 2017 State of Grandfamilies in America report Sept. 13 at a reception, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, in room G-11 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Generations United will honor Senator Susan Collins (Maine) and Senator Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)with its 2017 Grandfamilies Champion Awards at the event.

To Counter Child Abuse, Administrators and Case Workers Need Support to Implement Evidence-Based Improvements

In 2015, more than 425,000 children were placed in foster care due to incidents of abuse and neglect. But many unsubstantiated cases under investigation divert time and resources from handling cases that warrant close monitoring and attention. According to recent statistics, more than two million reports of child abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation in 2015 – with more than 700,000 of them eventually substantiated as cases of child abuse or neglect.

Imperfect Responses to Harmful Abuse and Neglect

Caseworkers often report that negotiating the multiple demands of their jobs puts them under constant stress. The sheer volume of Child Protective Services reports and investigations, the number of youth in foster care that need to be looked after, and the piles of paperwork that must be filled out to track decision-making – all of these burdens are overwhelming under the best of circumstances.

Faced with such workloads, agencies and caseworkers are ill-equipped to deliver services based on evidence of what works for youth and parents in the foster care system. The current standard of practice, however, leads agencies and caseworkers to engage in practices not supported by research-based evidence. Poorly conceived and delivered services cause considerable harm by failing to limit the incidence and after-effects of abuse and neglect.

Victims of child abuse and neglect are nine times more likely to become involved in crime and 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy. Such victims also face increased risks of smoking, early-age drinking, suicidal ideation, inter-personal violence, and sexual risk-taking. The sad results become obvious in later years. Two-thirds of adults under treatment for drug abuse report that they were maltreated as children. And similar reports of childhood abuse come from 14% of men in prison along with 36% of incarcerated women. Four-fifths of 21-year-olds who were abused as children show evidence of at least one mental health disorder. And saddest of all, about 30% of child abuse victims will later abuse their own kids.

What Could be Done?

Several steps can be taken to improve responses to child abuse and neglect:

  • Improved, ongoing training and job support for caseworkers and supervisors could ensure that they know the characteristics of the populations they serve and are aware of effective anti-abuse practices and know how to deliver them or help clients find others in the community who can provide optimal help. Front-line workers also need training to monitor client progress and detect when a case warrants more intensive intervention.
  • Enhanced preventive efforts could save lives and money. Research shows that the total cost of new U.S. cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment was approximately $124 billion in 2008. The estimated cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment was $210,012 in 2010, including the costs for health care, productivity losses, child welfare services, criminal justice procedures, and special education. In fatal cases, the figure rises to an astonishing $1,272, 900 per death.
  • Resources should be reallocated to areas of greatest need. In addition to redistributing available funding to hire more staff to manage high caseloads, innovative and effective programs and services must be delivered to prevent child maltreatment and fatalities. States should take advantage of funds offered by the federal government to expand evidence-based child welfare interventions that may have previously been underfunded.

Lessons from Philadelphia

A promising model comes from the state of Pennsylvania, which has participated in a federally funded project that allows child welfare agencies to use Title IV-E funds for evidence-based reforms. Philadelphia’s child welfare system has been at the forefront of adopting three evidence-based treatments for children and families that the city was previously unable to implement due to lack of funding. Waiver funds have made it possible to enhance preparation for child welfare caseworkers, develop databases to track outcomes for children and families, and train staff to identify and implement further improvements.

With flexible authority over spending, two child welfare agencies in Philadelphia decided to implement the Positive Parenting Program, an evidence-based approach to preventing child abuse. Although some reallocated resources have been used to train staff, additional funding is needed to discover barriers to effective program implementation and to implement additional steps known to be cost-effective – such as holding weekly consultations and boosting training for current and replacement leaders and caseworkers involved in the new program.

Research could pinpoint which approaches do best at giving various parents and youth access to the positive parenting program. And as parents and their offspring complete the program, further research would ideally track results in areas such as safety, reductions in abuse incidents, and improved parent-child relationships.

Next Steps

The Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Project was a provision in the U.S. Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, which Congress reauthorized for five years in 2011. Now that the act is again up for reauthorization, Congress has the ability to implement changes to the way child welfare federal funds are allocated. Advocates for children have an opportunity to contact representatives and senators in Congress to propose that this program should expand to give more states the chance to reallocate funds and improve child safety.

Much remains to be learned about what it takes to carry out evidence-based interventions in the child welfare system, which provides vital help to many endangered children, youth, and families, disproportionately minorities. The federal Waiver Project provides a unique opportunity to observe what happens when system leaders, community partners, and providers mobilize to prevent childhood trauma. Lessons learned will help provide ongoing guidance to federal and state administrators and welfare leaders as they look for the most effective, empirically proven ways to protect children and families under their supervision.

Connected Commonwealth: Programs for Kentucky Youth Aging Out

Photo Credit: Foster Youth In Action

In May 2016, Anna Shobe-Wallace, program manager for Louisville Metro Community Services said, “Each year, more than 500 young people between the ages of 18-21 age out of Kentucky’s foster care system.” Many youth ‘aging out’ are disconnected from larger society and face barriers to success such as: low socioeconomic status, low educational achievement, unplanned pregnancy, racial segregation, and mental and physical challenges.

A recent study assessed the plight of disconnected youth who are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, and these youths are neither employed, enrolled in or attending school. The study focused on disconnected youth in the following categories: by state, county, congressional district, gender, and by race and ethnicity. Currently, there is approximately 5,527,000 disconnected youth in the United States or 13.8% of young adults.

According to data from the study:

  • Kentucky ranks 36th in youth disconnection rates with 15.2% of youth in this group for a total of 81,850.
  • Cincinnati, OH–KY–IN ranks 44th in youth disconnection among the most densely inhabited areas. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 12.8% or 38,312 total. The racial breakdown for this group is 20.6% Black and 11.8% White.
  • Louisville/Jefferson County, KY–IN ranks 56th in youth disconnection. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 14.0% with a total of 21,750 disconnected youth. The racial breakdown for this group is 18.5% Black and 13.3% White. This Kentucky county has the lowest percentage of disconnected youth.
  • Kentucky counties with the largest percentage of disconnected youth are as follows: Martin County, Kentucky ranks 2,020th with 47.8% disconnected youth; Union County, Kentucky ranks 2012 with 43.7% disconnected youth; Bracken County, Kentucky ranks 1,998th with 41.4% disconnected youth; Lee County, Kentucky ranks 1,994th with 40.9% disconnected youth; McCreary County, Kentucky ranks 1,992nd with 40.4% disconnected youth; Morgan County, Kentucky ranks 1,985th with 38.7% disconnected youth; and Wolfe County, Kentucky ranks 1,972nd with 37.5% disconnected youth

Researchers from this study concluded that larger urban communities had increased numbers of disconnected youth due to the following indicators: a historical pattern of disconnection, decreased neighborhood well-being rates, low SES, increased unemployment, a lack of academic achievement, and racism.

These alarming statistics clearly indicated systemic issues that impact disconnected youth. Experts from this study proposed that, “Disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome year in the making.” With this thought in mind, the study recommended these steps moving forward:

  • An estimated $26.8 billion dollars was involved with supporting the nation’s 5.5 million disconnected youth— comprising Supplemental Security Income payments, Medicaid, public assistance, incarceration, in 2013. Proposing more beneficial ways to invest in this population would be advantageous to society as a whole.
  • Designing preventive measures to address disconnection by sustaining at-risk parents and investing in quality preschool programs. It is usually more cost effective and compassionate to implement prevention strategies than crisis responses.
  • Re-joining youth and young adults who are secluded from higher education and the job market is more expensive than pre-emptive methods that address disconnection at the outset. However, these young people need another opportunity—considering many came from challenging backgrounds.
  • At the community level, an evident positive correlation was seen between adult employment status and youth’s relationship to education and employment. The amount of education adults had greatly projected the likelihood of young people ages 16 to 24 years old to attend school.
  • Significant headway involves individuals and organizations cooperating to institute specific measurable attainable realistic timely (SMART) goals for decreasing youth disconnection.

Amy Swann, author of “Failure to Launch”, notes that for 2013, the study data indicates that the Louisville Metropolitan Area (which consists of bordering counties) has 14.0 percent of youth ages 16-24 disengaged from employment and education. The study’s emphasis on cities resulted in reporting by Louisville news outlets at the Courier-Journal and WFPL. Media exposure of the status of disconnected youth in Kentuckiana has led to remarkable new efforts that focus on this population.

In light of this compelling evidence: social workers, legislators, and other helping professionals in the state of Kentucky have amassed their efforts to cultivate community partnerships and programs to support disconnected youth on their journey into emerging adulthood.

According to their website, here is a description of each program, and how it addresses the needs of disconnected youth and youth ‘aging out’.

Family Scholar House plans to open its fifth Louisville campus at the Riverport Landings development in southwest Jefferson County. The project goal is to equip families and youth to excel in education and to obtain independence. The new facility is expected to be ready by 2017 and will accommodate low-income families, single-parent families, and young adults formerly in foster care.

Fostering Success is a summer employment program developed by Gov. Matt Bevin that began June 1, 2016. The program provides job training via the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services for youth ages 18 to 23 years old. The program will run for 10 weeks and culminate with meetings with college and career counselors to prepare participants for future education and employment goals. Approximately 100 youth will be employed full-time at a rate of $10.00 dollars per hour. Fostering Success is one of the seminal programs in the state to target youth aging out.

Project LIFE serves 60 kids across Kentucky, including 25 in Louisville and offers an empowering environment to prepare them for success. Youth are given a housing voucher, along with social supports to improve access to education, employment, and income management skills.

Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CYSA) is an initiative created to address the barriers faced by Louisville’s disconnected young people. The mission is to develop: a standard agenda that meets the needs of Louisville’s vulnerable youth and young adults; common measurement tools that define collective goals and strategies; mutually supportive activities that create new partnerships and execute thoughtful programs; effective communication that creates a viable structure; foundational support that stimulates growth, responsibility, and dependability.

Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams (TAYLRD) is an effort to create a unique program for young people born out of the federal government’s proposal called “Now is the Time” Healthy Transitions Grant Program. The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) in Kentucky requested and received funding and Seven Counties was chosen as a venue to open drop-in centers where young people can foster relationships and access support /services to achieve their future goals. Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSS) and Youth Coordinators work together with clients to define what concerns are most important, and then appropriate services/supports are brought into the drop-in centers. Some of the supports/services offered include: case management, life skills development, employment services, academic support, legal support, and therapy.

True Up founded by foster care alum Frank Harshaw, is a nurturing group of foster care alumni who have overcome obstacles to employment, pursuing education, gaining independence and solidifying healthy relationships. They have chosen to pay it forward through mentorship. True Up empowers foster youth through academic and hands-on learning in the following areas: Mobility & Transportation, Career Mapping, Financial Management, Relationship Building Skills, and Educational Achievement.

These are just a few of the innovative programs and resources available in the state of Kentucky. As helping professionals and the broader community create data driven programs for disconnected youth and youth aging out, expected outcomes will be much more positive in the near future.

Why the Use of Scare Tactics to Promote Sexual Health For Youth May Backfire

Many adults do not like to think about youth engaging in sexual activity, but the reality is that the majority of young people have had sex before they graduate from high school. Exploring one’s sexuality is a normal part of adolescent development, but risks also accompany sexual behavior. Although people in American society have strong and divergent feelings about adolescents and sex, most will agree that research can and should guide efforts to help young people to stay safe and healthy as they navigate their journeys into adulthood.

Sexually transmitted infections (also called sexually transmitted diseases) are one of the most commonly diagnosed medical conditions in the United States. More than 110 million people in the United States live with such an infection. After years of decline, sexually transmitted infections are now on the rise, with young persons aged 15 to 24 disproportionately affected.

The good news is that many of these infections are curable, and all are treatable. However, if left undiagnosed, they can lead to serious conditions including infertility and cancer. In addition to their health toll, sexually transmitted infections also carry a financial burden, with $16 billion spent annually on treatment. Given such high costs, it is important for researchers to examine efforts to prevent sexually transmitted infections to ensure that they are implemented as effectively as possible. One approach questioned by research is the use of graphic pictures meant to scare young people about the suffering and disfiguration having a sexually transmitted infection might entail.

Sexually Transmitted Infections and Youth Education

The majority of young people in the United States receive school-based sexuality education, including information about sexually transmitted infections. Older adolescents may also get such instruction in collegiate settings, such as classroom-based health courses or at forums held in residence halls or fraternities. Often, instructors display graphic PowerPoint slides, initially developed for use in medical training, portraying real but atypical sexually transmitted infections that have led to visually disturbing symptoms such as severe genital warts.

Many sexuality educators have strong feelings about integrating such images into their programs. Educators who use graphic pictures feel that young people should be aware of potential consequences of unprotected sex, or of sex in general. They also want young people to be prepared to recognize sexually transmitted infection symptoms. But on the other hand, educators who do not use graphic images find them misguided, in that most sexually transmitted infections have no visible symptoms at all. What is more, these reluctant educators worry that graphic images may lead young people to think that sexually transmitted infections are rare, when instead they occur frequently in less visible forms.

Public health educators are expected to use evidence-based practices, but surprisingly, the impact of sexually transmitted infection graphic images on young people’s sexual health has been unknown until recently. While understanding the impact of these pictures may seem inconsequential, most people would never feel comfortable taking a medication if its efficacy had not been tested. The same standard should be used for public health interventions.

Pros and Cons of Instilling Fear about Health Issues

Scare tactics, also called fear appeals, are intended to make people think about the worst-case scenario that can follow from a problematic health behavior. The intention is to cause mental distress in order to prompt healthy behaviors that will minimize the health threat. Fear appeals are not new in public health; they have a longstanding place in health communication campaigns – such as the infamous, decades-old “this is your brain on drugs” public service announcements.

Research reveals mixed effects from fear-inducing strategies. A well-known large-scale study found that fear appeals can be useful at changing attitudes and behaviors when people feel susceptible to the health problem and confident in their ability to take action to prevent it. Yet for people who don’t meet these two conditions, fear appeals can backfire – indeed, such tactics can induce even more risk-taking behavior. Although this research is compelling, little attention has been paid to the ethical implications and potential unintended consequences of fear appeals.

A key issue is that many fear appeals portray possible but rare and unlikely maladies in ways that may mislead. People with sexually transmitted infections are more likely than not to exhibit no symptoms at all. Because educators are supposed to impart factual information, fear appeals pointing to atypical symptoms could be seen as deceptive. Fear appeals also put the full responsibility for decision-making on individuals without recognizing or working to change root causes, the underlying reasons why many people take health risks. This can be stigmatizing to already marginalized groups in society.

In 2016, I conducted an experiment with young people enrolled in a large public Midwestern university. Participants watched one of two randomly assigned web-based sexual health programs, one with graphic sexually transmitted infection images and the other without such images but otherwise identical. I then compared the two groups of participants to assess their knowledge, beliefs, and behavioral intentions related to sexually transmitted infections. Overall outcomes were the same, but when I asked participants to provide feedback, more than a quarter of those that saw the graphic images expressed disgust and dismay. These results suggest that presenting such images may prompt stigma – without having any health benefit.

What Now?

Because sexuality education is an important tool to help prevent sexually transmitted infections among young people, it is vital for programs to be crafted with great care. Given the mixed evidence, the use of graphic sexually transmitted infection images should be reevaluated. Parents, policymakers, and community members should learn more about what kind of sexuality education is being taught in local schools, and if scare tactics are used, assess whether they may be more harmful than helpful.

Young Victims of Cyberbullying Twice as Likely to Attempt Suicide and Self-Harm

Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.

While perpetrators of cyberbullying are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviours, researchers say.

The study, which is a collaboration of a number of researchers from across the United Kingdom (UK) including the University of Birmingham looked at more than 150,000 children and young people across 30 countries, over a 21-year period. The University of Birmingham’s Department of Social Work and Social Care, which is based in the School of Social Policy, is the oldest running social work education programme in the country established in 1908.

Their findings, published on open access in PLOS One, highlighted the significant impact that cyberbullying involvement (as bullies and victims) can have on children and young people.

The researchers say it shows an urgent need for effective prevention and intervention in bullying strategies. Professor Paul Montgomery, University of Birmingham said:

‘Prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies, alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene; and more specific interventions such as how to contact mobile phone companies and Internet service providers to block, educate, or identify users. ‘

‘Suicide prevention and intervention is essential within any comprehensive anti-bullying programme and should incorporate a whole-school approach to include awareness raising and training for staff and pupils.’

A number of key recommendations have been made:

  • Cyberbullying involvement should be considered by policymakers who implement bullying prevention (in addition to traditional bullying) and safe Internet use programmes;
  • Clinicians working with children and young people and assessing mental health issues should routinely ask about experiences of cyberbullying;
  • The impact of cyberbullying should be included in the training of child and adolescent mental health professionals;
  • Children and young people involved in cyberbullying should be screened for common mental disorders and self-harm;
  • School, family, and community programmes that promote appropriate use of technology are important;
  • Prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies, alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene; and more specific interventions such as how to contact mobile phone companies and Internet service providers to block, educate, or identify users;
  • Suicide prevention and intervention is essential within any comprehensive anti-bullying programme and should incorporate a whole-school approach to include awareness raising and training for staff and pupils.

The study also found a strong link between being a cyber-victim and a perpetrator. This duality was found to particularly put males at higher risk of depression and suicidal behaviours.

The researchers highlighted that these vulnerabilities should be recognised at school so that cyberbullying behaviours would be seen as an opportunity to support vulnerable young people, rather than for discipline.

It was recommended that anti-bullying programmes and protocols should address the needs of both victims and perpetrators, as possible school exclusion might contribute to an individual’s sense of isolation and lead to feelings of hopelessness, often associated with suicidal behaviours in adolescents.

It was also found that students who were cyber-victimised were less likely to report and seek help than those victimised by more traditional means, thus highlighting the importance for staff in schools to encourage ‘help-seeking’ in relation to cyberbullying.

Into the Woods: On the Path to Recovery

Addiction is devastating at any age, but for parents with a teenager substance abusers, it can all but tear the family apart. Adolescence is a period prone to experimentation, but unfortunately, the desire to try new things can lead teens down a dark path that stops being fun and becomes life-threatening.

Studies demonstrate that many teenagers hold a blase attitude regarding drug use; dosomething.org — a global youth outreach program — reports that 50 percent of American high schoolers in 2013 did not find it harmful to try crack/cocaine once or twice; 40 percent reported that they believe trying heroin is not a bad or dangerous thing. In the same study, it was found that a total of 6.5 percent of American high schoolers smoke pot daily and that 54 percent of them do not see a problem with regular steroid use.

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Drug Abuse

Teenagers who are using drugs actively usually exhibit telltale symptoms. Some of the most common include a change in friends, a careless attitude toward work and school, lower grades, changed eating and sleeping habits and strained relationships with people they were once close to.

Teenagers who struggle with drug addiction may be scared to admit their problem due to the consequences they’ll receive from their parents, but getting help as soon as possible is critical. Teens who do not seek help with their drug addiction during adolescence face psychological and developmental damage that will only hinder them the older they become. They are also more likely to engage in criminal activity that could further disrupt their life and tarnish their future; a 2012 TEDS report by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality revealed that the primary reason for drug treatment referral was the criminal justice system; 51.2 percent of older adolescent (15–17 years old) rehab patients were admitted under court orders.

An Alternative to Rehab

While a teen substance abuser can seek help from a psychologist or traditional drug rehab, there are other options that have proven themselves to be incredibly effective in more ways than one. Wilderness therapy for drug addiction is one such option.

Wilderness rehab presents addicted teens with a new, challenging environment over a 6 to 9-week recovery program. There are many advantages to teen wilderness drug therapy that can elicit profound and life-changing results.

Control & Self-Discipline

Although the wilderness rehab programs for drug-addicted teens are incredibly regimented, the fact teenagers take such an active role in their treatment and survival outdoors leaves them with a sense of control and empowerment.

For teenagers who have problems with authority and struggle to thrive in a structured environment, wilderness camps are difficult. However, the structure that is provided throughout the duration of the course demonstrates to teens that they are capable of succeeding under a set of rules and that they don’t need drugs to tame their insecurities or fears.

Useful Life Skills

There are a lot of skills that a teenager picks up in wilderness rehab that they will continue to employ throughout their recovery and well into adulthood. Anger management, healthy emotional coping mechanisms, goal-setting, perseverance, conflict resolution, and enhanced communication skills are just several of the aspects teens explore and develop during treatment.

Don’t Wait for a Sign

If you suspect your teenager is addicted to drugs or you are a teen struggling with drug abuse, don’t avoid seeking outside help. Because of all the doubt and fear involved in sending a teen off to rehab, it’s not uncommon for people to try and figure things out at home instead of seeking professional treatment.

Consider wilderness rehab programs and other types of drug therapy now. Doing so in the midst of addiction can help stop it from spiraling even further out of control and put teens back on the path toward a productive, healthy life.

The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach: Rethinking Challenging Kids

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The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) model seeks to alter our thinking about children’s attitudes and behavior. Rather than seeing the child as bad, willful, contrary, oppositional, etc, we see the child as lacking certain skills resulting in frustration, which in turn appears to be expressed behaviorally. It is a paradigm shift, away from extrinsic motivational models such as rewards and consequences.

By understanding and addressing the skills deficit, children can be better taught to manage tasks that were previously sources of frustration. The CPS model is collaborative in that we seek to engage the child in a process of exploration and problem solving which in turn increases and teaches the development of these cognitive capacities.

Where the CPS model has been applied in clinical settings, a common denominator with regard to the children, is a history of trauma. It is important to understand and appreciate that exposure to trauma really means being raised in chaotic and violent circumstances.

Consider social learning as a result of exposure to chaos and violence and consider the sense of safety and agency a child has internalized.

The CPS model seeks to provide a very different experience for the child through the teacher-child relationship or adult-child relationship than previously experienced, one where the adult is empathetic, non-judgemental, and supportive.

When “consequences” – code for punishment is used, it reinforces coercive behavior to which many of these students have already been exposed. It triggers a sense of danger and a lack of being valued.

The CPS model mitigates those negative triggers. It offers a sense of importance, is being heard, and is participatory in the problem-solving process. We no longer see the child as bad but as needing support for skill development. Here we view children as wanting to do well, but the issue is can they? If they can’t their frustration, despair, and upset comes out behaviorally.

Here, the CPS model assumes that if the child can do well, they would enjoy doing so. This is so different than a punishment/reward paradigm where we seek to incentivize the child externally by avoiding punishment and earning rewards. If there is a skill deficit, no amount of punishment or reward, or external incentives will provide for success.

Like any intervention, the CPS model will not be helpful to everyone. However, it does provide another very potent and different tool set to the teacher and clinician alike.

My clinical work with adult couples in conflict includes elements of this model.

Many adults I see in counseling have family of origin experiences that include elements of abuse, neglect, violence, alcohol/drug issues, and severe mental health concerns. I help adults to understand the implicit learning that took place in their family of origin and the strategies learned which were successful towards surviving as a child exposed to those elements. Many adults never realized the impact of those formative experiences in terms of determining their world views and relationship problem solving strategies.

We then look at the utility of those strategies now at a different place in time and different contexts and different sets of relationships. Do the survival strategies of childhood work now as an adult? What might be more effective now?

Then I can directly teach or instruct or guide or coach on new strategies, providing the “tools” people ask for. Couples are then provided an opportunity for practice, starting in the office and then on their own at home.

When couples return, we review progress and fine tune the instruction.

My clients typically find this a very engaging process and unlike any other therapies previously attended. It is also why in my approach to helping people I ask many questions, explain what is at issue, offer guidance and set aside so much time for our meetings. Gone are the blame and shame in favor of helping people develop positive skills to improve relationships.

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