Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grind with family team time.

What is Family Team Time?

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities — as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly change students’ lives — but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes — all these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

Museums & More

Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang — not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs.

Family Entertainment

Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so children can follow along while listening to the book aloud.

Physical Activity Fun

Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste-tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud!

Volunteer as a Family

As opposed to hustling from a game, to a recital, to a playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day — what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Even Toddlers Care What Others Think

By the time toddlers are forming two-word sentences, they are already aware that they may be judged by others, behavior that previously wasn’t believed to emerge until years later, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our research suggests that by 24 months old, children understand that their behavior can be positively or negatively evaluated by others,” said lead researcher Sara Valencia Botto, MA, of Emory University, in a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Previous research has documented this behavior to be clearly evident in 4- to 5-year-olds but this study suggests it may emerge much sooner, according to Botto.

Botto and her colleagues conducted four experiments involving 144 children between the ages of 14 and 24 months using a robot toy.

In the first experiment, the researchers demonstrated in front of a toddler how to use the buttons on a remote to operate the robot and then either observed the child with a neutral expression or turned away and pretended to read a magazine.

When the child was being watched, he or she displayed more inhibition and embarrassment when hitting the buttons on the remote than when the observer was not paying attention, according to the researchers.

A second experiment added positive and negative feedback. This time, the researcher used two remotes during the demonstration to the child. When using the first remote, the researcher smiled and said, “Wow! Isn’t that great?” and when using the second remote, she frowned and said, “Uh-oh! Oops, oh no!” When it was the child’s turn to hit the buttons on his or her own, the researcher either watched the child or looked away at the magazine.

“The children pressed the positive remote significantly more while being watched and used the negative remote more when not being watched,” Botto said. “This behavior is like older children who behave well and do good things while others are watching and misbehave when no one is paying attention.”

The third experiment served as the control. In it, the researcher gave a neutral response of, “Oh, wow!” when demonstrating how to use the two remotes and again, alternated between observing the child or looking away. Results showed that the children no longer chose one remote over the other depending on the attentiveness of the experimenter.

“This shows us that in experiment two, the children were paying very close attention to the positive and negative reactions of the researcher before making a decision of which remote to use,” Botto said.

The last experiment involved two researchers sitting side by side, using one remote. One experimenter pressed a remote, smiled and said, “Yay! The toy moved!” while the second experimenter pressed the same remote, frowned and said, “Yuck! The toy moved!” Once the child had the opportunity to operate the remote, the researchers alternated either watching or turning their back to the child.

The children were much more inclined to press the remote when the positive experimenter was watching, according to the study.

Across all four experiments, the researchers saw no difference in responses based on the gender of the child.

“Our study offers strong support for the idea that very young children are much more attuned to their surroundings and others’ responses than previously thought,” said study co-author Philippe Rochat, PhD, of Emory University. “This is an important milestone in our understanding of human social cognition and development. Further research needs to be done to examine if even younger children – those under 14 months – could be sensitive to the judgments of others.”

“Our concern for reputation is something that defines us as human. We spend resources on make-up and designer brands, are terrified to talk in front of an audience and conform to many of society’s standards because we are concerned with how others will evaluate us,” Botto said. “We believe our findings get us closer to comprehending when and how we become less or more sensitive to other people’s evaluation, and it reinforces the idea that children are usually smarter than we might think.”

Helping Your Kid Transition Back to School

As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:

Responsibility:

Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).

Brain development:

Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).

Resilience:

It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).

Self-esteem I:

It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).

Self-esteem II:

Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).

Humility:

Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.

The Long-Term Impact Of Parental Divorce On Young Adult’s Relationships

divorced-parents

When parents divorce, many people wonder—what will happen to the children? From a psychological standpoint, it is very likely these children may start to question and worry. They may lose faith in their current relationships and family in general. In some ways, time seems to stop for these children as everything they thought they knew has suddenly changed.

Many children will think the divorce is somehow their fault, even if their parents tell them it isn’t. Their whole world seems to crumble, and they have no control over what is happening. Which parent will they live with? Will they get to see the other parent? How will things work at holidays? Those are the short-term questions many children of divorce have in their heads.

What divorce does

Divorce causes families to change, finances to change, and children often will become depressed, anxious, or seek outlets for their frustration or mixed feelings. They become known as “the kid from the divorced family.” It’s not a fun title. All of this can contribute to a shaky foundation in their life. They can get on a path of negative thinking for themselves. If a child’s parents can suddenly divorce, what else in life is going to crumble?

As if that isn’t hard enough, another important thing to consider is the more long-term effect that divorce has on these children when they are eventually adults themselves. In fact, it has been the subject of various studies. Is a child with divorced parents more likely to have rocky relationships in the future?

What research reveals

Long term impacts of parental divorce on intimate relationship was the subject of a study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Helsinki in Finland. In the study, researchers gave questionnaires to 16 year olds who had divorced parents, and then again when they were 32. It gave insight into their thoughts as teenagers and again as adults.

They did find that children with divorced parents were more likely to choose the same path in adulthood, or they chose to never marry. This may seem a logical outcome, as children tend to follow in the footsteps in their parents. But the interesting thing was that the study showed that to be true in the women—not the men.

The study found that of the Finnish children they surveyed, the women were the most affected in future relationships. The study stated that divorce was associated with poorer intimate relationship quality later in life among the women studied. No such associations were found among the men of the study group.

Why would that be? Was it because these daughters probably lived with their mothers, and then saw more how much their mothers suffered during and after the divorce? Or perhaps without a strong father figure always in the house, she didn’t have a good model of how to relate to a man or even develop the faith that there was a good man out there for her. It definitely is worth exploring further.

However, there was another important aspect to the Finnish study which was a major factor in the quality of these women’s adult relationships. According to the study, those with a good mother-daughter relationship caused those women to have more self esteem and satisfaction in future intimate relationships.

What does this mean? Children learn from their parents. When divorce happens, they learn that this is a possible outcome, for good or bad. As adults perhaps it’s in the back of their minds as a possible option when conflict arises. Also, they could be less trusting of others because they know that someone could leave them. Of course, everyone is different, and many children of divorce go on to have healthy relationships as adults.

What’s important is this: when divorce happens to maintain and further develop those parent-child relationships. For each divorced parent, this means allowing those relationships with the other parent to develop. So be sure to allow proper time for them to happen, and encourage them in that relationship.

As the study indicated, it’s important to keep those relationships alive not just during childhood, but well into adulthood. Children, even when they are in their 30s, need the support of their parents. They need someone who loves them who can offer a listening ear and also give advice when relationships come and go.

Divorce is a huge life change, at the time it happens and then for the rest of the lives for those involved. But, it is possible to move on and have healthy, positive relationships in the future. Parents should be good examples of what a health relationship can look like, so the child has the motivation and model to engage in healthy relationships as adults.

Youth in View: Providing An Engaging Continuum of Care

Youth in View is a not-for-profit child-placement organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of youth by providing a continuum of care through foster care, adoption, post-adoption, unplanned pregnancy intervention and residential treatment services. Located in Texas, founders Sandra and Doug Umoru opened Youth in View in an effort to assist parents in residential treatment facilities who children entered into the foster care system.

Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States with 1 in 4 girls being sexually abused before her 18th birthday. These statistics highlight the severity of abuse facing young people and the need for a proactive intervention to deal with the impact of abuse.

Image Credit: Youth in View
Image Credit: Youth in View

Youth in View bases itself on partnership working to share responsibility and accountability for those who cannot take care of themselves. With four main goals at its center, Youth in View help prepare youth for permanent placement, provide positive family environment encouraging growth and development, provide opportunities to participate in activities outside of an institution, and carefully matching families with children in order to maintain stability.

In some aspects of social work and other fields, reaching people can sometimes be challenging. With first-hand experience of what fostering is like, Sandra and Doug found compassionate and creative ways to work with parents who had no idea what was happening to their child in the Child Protective Services system.

As a plan of care, Youth in the View involve service users in the process while allowing their children to contribute to the policies impacting them. This element of social justice and personalization on both the macro and micro level is often overlooked within the child protection system.

While Youth in View aims to prevent child abuse, it is sometimes difficult when there is not as much support as hoped. Sandra feels there is not enough attention given to child abuse, with it instead being just something that people talk about on banners of campaigns. There needs to be a more practical and engaging intervention in order to support organizations like Youth in View which are not supported by the broad Child Protective Services system. Despite the difficult barriers, Sandra are Doug are determined to make a difference even more so since opening the doors at Youth In View in 2000.

Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View
Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View

This positive and heart-warming approach to practice shows that change can be accomplished in even the hardest of circumstances. Sandra and Doug are committed to making a change even with sometimes minimal support from the wider system. Social networking is filled with photos of abused children with the only message being ‘Share if you think this is wrong’. Whilst this increases awareness, a more practical proactive response is needed in order to tackle child abuse but also to help empower children.

Youth in View host training each month in order to provide parents with the right resources and support to raise a child.  Sandra and Doug argue that buying a child toys or being a consistent and caring adult in their life can make all the difference to a child.

The transformation of a child from someone who is withdrawn to someone full of happiness is the best reward any service provider could hope for. Any progress helps to show them that they are one step closer to seeing the light at the end of a very dark and scary tunnel.

Empowerment is a key value promoted at Youth In View, and it is important to provide opportunities for growth. ‘The Lab’ is a space for children to talk about any issues or abuse, and it teaches children how to use their pain positively in an empowering way rather than succumbing to the instinct to run from their experience. By encouraging children to deal with the abuse they suffered, it reduces the negative impact it could have on their adult life.

As a result of Sandra’s own childhood experiences, she empathizes with children in her care by helping them to walk into empowerment and embrace the moment they stopped running. Sandra says that she wants ‘for them to leave Youth in View knowing they’re not victims, but they are victors.

LGBTI Children Have the Right to Safety and Equality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children are often victims of bullying and violence in schools, at home and via social media. This has a serious effect on their well-being and prevents openness about their personal identity. Like all children, LGBTI [i] children are entitled to enjoy human rights and require a safe environment in order to participate fully in society.

Responses to bullying

According to a survey carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), at least 60%  of LGBT respondents had personally experienced negative comments or conduct at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 80% had witnessed negative comments or conduct as a result of a schoolmate being perceived as LGBT. Given the frequency of negative behaviour directed at LGBT students, it is not surprising that the survey also found that two out of three LGBT children hid their LGBT identity while at school.

gay_childThis situation is unacceptable. It puts a heavy burden on LGBTI children, many of whom are at high risk of suicidal behaviour. According to an Irish study, over half of LGBT respondents aged 25 or younger had given serious consideration to ending their lives.

It is clear that bullying affects LGBTI children’s educational achievement and impedes their right to education without discrimination, in addition to their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

School should be a safe environment for all students. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that homophobic speech in educational settings is not protected by the European Convention’s guarantees of free expression. Confronting homophobic and transphobic intimidation requires continuous and focused attention from schools and educational authorities. UNESCO and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) have provided detailed guidance on effective responses. Ireland has introduced legal requirements and a mandatory policy for addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, along with a concrete action plan.

Right to information

Children have the right to receive factual information about sexuality and gender diversity. Anti-bullying efforts should be supported by education on equality, gender and sexuality. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education has highlighted children’s right to comprehensive sexual education without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is necessary to question stereotypes about gender and sexuality in schools. The European Committee of Social Rights has found a violation of the European Social Charter with reference to teaching materials which were “manifestly biased, discriminatory and demeaning, notably in how persons of non-heterosexual orientation are described and depicted”.

The protection of children is sometimes evoked as an argument to block the availability of information about LGBTI people to children. The Venice Commission has stressed that such arguments fail to pass the essential necessity and proportionality tests required by the European Court. There is no evidence that dissemination of information advocating a positive attitude towards LGBTI people would adversely affect children. Rather, it is in the best interests of children to be informed about sexuality and gender diversity.

Family and homelessness

Many LGBTI children experience prejudice and violence within their own families. The acceptance of LGBTI children is still difficult for many parents and other family members. The FRA survey found out that 35 per cent of young adults were not open about being LGBT within their family.  In Montenegro, I visited a shelter and a social centre for LGBTI persons where I met young people who had been rejected by their families and forced to leave their homes. The NGO running the facility was engaged in mediating between the families and LGBTI persons, and had achieved family reconciliation in some cases.

When they are forced to leave their families, young LGBTI people are at high risk of becoming homeless. Research from the UK suggests that up to 25% of homeless youth are LGBT. The current economic crisis makes it even harder for homeless young people to find a job and shelter. When LGBTI youth cannot rely on the support of their families, the result can be long-term marginalisation with a high cost to individual health and well-being. The Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK runs both temporary shelters and more permanent accommodation options for young LGBTI persons along with social and vocational support. Municipal and state-funded services for homeless people should also strive to welcome homeless LGBTI youth.

Right to self-determination

Trans and intersex children encounter specific obstacles when exercising their right to self-determination. As minors, trans adolescents can find it difficult to access trans-specific health and support services while intersex children are often subjected to irreversible “normalising” treatments soon after birth without their consent. The legal recognition of trans and intersex children’s sex or gender remains a huge hurdle in most countries. Children are rights-holders and they must be listened to in decision-making that concerns them. Sex or gender assigning treatment should be based on fully informed consent.

LGBTI children share many common problems. In their “Vision for 2020, trans and intersex youth in Finland gave high priority to the right to grow up in a safe environment, as well as the right to information. They also stressed “the right to a legally secured life as an equal member of society” and called for inclusive equal treatment legislation.

Empowerment and protection

This vision for the future should be today’s reality. Governments already have a duty to empower and protect LGBTI children. Respect for children’s views and the protection of the best interests of the child are clearly laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human rights apply equally to LGBTI children without discrimination.

LGBTI children should be able to exercise their participatory rights in all areas of life. Access to information is a basic condition enabling participation and decision-making. At the same time, LGBTI children must be protected from violence and bullying at home, in schools, on the internet, in sports and in public spaces. Child protection services, children’s ombudspersons and the police should make particular efforts to include LGBTI children in their outreach. Governments need to take systematic action to improve the safety and equality of LGBTI children.


[i] This Human Rights Comment is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children under 18 years of age. The acronym “LGBT” is used when reference is made to research which does not explicitly include intersex people.

Foster Care Youth Trapped in the School to Prison Pipeline

Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors.

foster careEducation reform is one of the foremost civil rights issue of our day, and at the heart of the dilemma is a set of very simple questions. Why do we not utilize evidence base practices that will have far-reaching benefits in establishing a foundation for better life outcomes? Why do we not create solutions that create benefit the poor?  The answers to these questions are chilling, downright cowardly, and unpatriotic. The American society is afraid of change.

A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder. – Stir Journal

For moral, social and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that an array of  supports be put in place to help support foster alumni develop a strong family structure which is paramount to sustaining future successful outcomes. A primary marker for the healthy development of  young families is a solid home life which can anchor children right from the start while benefiting society overall. A basic premise of sociology is the interconnectedness of  society to the community and community to  family. Healthy families mean strong communities, and strong communities increase the functioning of society as a whole.

Education is more than a pedagogic issue, it is a basic human right as well as society’s collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education. Currently, the issues  related to education and its impact on the most vulnerable are a matter of national security. As evidence, the United States prison system is a direct reflection of the failures of our education system. The future of our society lies within the margins of the discarded, the poor, and the orphaned in this country.

There is no greater work more urgent, more exhausting, and more spiritually rewarding than helping to create opportunities to engage, inspire and ignite foster care alumni. Many of whom have had a lifetime legacy of being impoverished, ignored, as well as unwanted. Together, the economically fragile and advocates, can create a new reality of hope and global opportunities of economic and social mobility.

While our nation, and specifically Massachusetts, has made considerable progress in child welfare, social service delivery systems, and  education, we  must not  lose sight of the challenges ahead.  We must be purposeful in ensuring foster care alumni receive needed supports while in  placement as well as opportunities for advancement post placement in order to elevate their social  mobility and educational opportunities.

Wake Up Politicians, American Families Need Your Help With Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness[i] reports that one in four adults have a mental illness. Take pause for one second of your day today to raise your eyes from your smart phone to look around you. See that woman over there? She’s one…keep it going. Count four people. Are they standing, sitting, or walking by you? STOP at four. Yes, one of those, yes…61.5 million Americans have a bout of mental illness of some form or another in a given year. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 with three-quarters by age 24.  The number four person you counted, how old do you think they are?
1 in 4 logo news

The CDC[ii] reported in 2013 that an estimated 13 –20 percent of children living in the United States which is 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder every year. Next time you are in a grocery store, department store or movie theatre, look up and count again. One small child hounding his mom for popcorn.

Another running circles around his father while he tries to reign him in. Three. Four and a fifth, a nine-year old staring blankly into space as those around her engaged in friendly chatter. One of those children is suffering with mental illness. And although an estimated $247 billion is spent each year on childhood mental disorders, they are increasing and more than 50% of those children’s illness are not being addressed.

These statistics break my heart. My family experienced mental illness without resources in spades. I know we are not isolated or rare, however, and that is even harder to swallow than the outcome of what happened behind the front gate of my white picket fence.

Families all over the country are being told to call the police, restrain their children, and medicate in their living rooms with the likes of prescription drugs that were once only common in state-run mental health facilities.  Until a child cries that someone is hurting them or hurts or worse, kills others, there is barely a framework of support for the family – often left with the finger of blame pointing straight in their direction.

Are they victims? The jury is out. The more important truth is that no one is taking responsibility for there being a bare bones band-aid to support families raising the 20% of children that will become the 25% of adults with mental illness, if they survive their own battle towards self-destruction. More than 90% of suicides occur in those that have had mental disorders.[iii]

In October of 1980, then outgoing President Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act[iv], which had proposed to continue the federal community mental health centers program, although with some additional state involvement. Just a month later as Ronald Reagan on the heels of taking the presidency and probably before he’d even spent his first weekend in the white house no less read the entire Carter Mental Health Commission file, Reagan dumped the Mental Health Systems act and the appropriated funding to support the state’s programs was immediately blocked.

In this legacy of shame and disregard for the American people, President Reagan never understood mental illness. It wasn’t for lack of exposure as it was reported that several of his own family members suffered from various levels of mental illness. Rather, it was more ignorance and a sheer lack of interest in identifying ways to approach and care for those struggling with it. In the end, much of the out-picturing of that move towards sweeping the issue under the rug became clear as homelessness of the mentally ill soared.

No longer were there facilities or programs to support the growing need. No longer were there appropriations to develop new strategies or research to address the increasing incidents of mental illness. Board and care homes and state hospitals across the nation were bolted and to this day sit like empty horror houses, the haunting echoes of those that once sought care there now only ghosts in the halls.

It’s been a long 34 years since those first days when the shuttering of those services pushed so many back into the streets, homes, schools and of course jails. It wasn’t too long before everyone realized that deinstitutionalization of patients from state mental hospitals was a huge mistake. Crime and homicide doubled and tripled and the percentage of inmates with mental illness increased threefold if not more. And yet, nothing short of band aids were applied on the gaping wound not being addressed. Those band aids aren’t covering the wounds in families in this country. The statistics are undeniable. Mental illness doesn’t just crop up in the adult population, it often begins as young as five years old and there are so few resources for families who are parenting these children it’s ridiculous.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. Where does change begin? It begins with each of us. Speaking our mind, advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves and making noise about the inequalities of support services for invisible disabilities. Eradicating the stigma surrounding the need for the services might just be the first step of many, but until we take the first step, we’re not being accountable to the needs of so many. Look around. Count to four. Know the strength in numbers. If two or even three in four stand up for the rights of one in four, change happens – for all of us.[i] National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf

[ii] 3/13 -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mental Health Surveillance Among Children —United States, 2005–2011
[iii] National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf
[iv] Mental Health Systems Act of 1980- http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=45228

Family Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills — They’re Basic Needs

President Obama Speaking at the Working Families Summit
President Obama Speaking at the Working Families Summit

As President, my top priority is rebuilding an economy where everybody who works hard has the chance to get ahead.

That’s the subject of the first White House Summit on Working Families, which is taking place today. We’re bringing together business leaders and workers to talk about the challenges that working parents face every day and how we can address them.

Take flexibility — the ability to take a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when your kid is sick. Most workers want it, but not enough of them have it — even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies lower turnover and raise productivity.

Take paid family leave. Many jobs don’t offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers can’t afford to be there when their families need them the most. And the United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave.

Take childcare. Most working families I know can’t afford thousands a year for childcare, but often, that’s what it costs. I recently got a letter from a woman in Minnesota whose kids’ preschool is so expensive it costs more every month than her mortgage.

And take the minimum wage. Nearly 28 million Americans would benefit if we raised the minimum wage to $10.10. And we’re not just talking about young people on their first job — the average worker who would benefit from an increase is 35 years old. Many have kids. And a majority are women. Right now, many full-time minimum-wage workers aren’t even making enough to keep their kids out of poverty.

Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line.

Parents who work full-time should earn enough to pay the bills and go to work every day knowing that their kids are in good hands. Workers who give their all should know that if they need some flexibility, they can have it — because their employers understand that it’s hard to be productive when you’ve got a sick kid at home or a childcare crisis. And talented, hard-working people should be able to say yes to a great new opportunity without worrying that their families will pay the price. Nearly half of all working parents surveyed say they’ve chosen to turn down a job not because they didn’t want it, but because it would be too hard on their families. When that many members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something’s wrong.

Some businesses are realizing that family-friendly policies are a good business practice, because they help build loyalty and inspire workers to go the extra mile. JetBlue offers a flexible work-from-home plan for its customer-service representatives. Google increased its paid parental leave to five months — and the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half. Cisco lets their employees telecommute as needed, which they estimate saves them over $275 million every year.

And there’s a bigger economic case here, too. The strength of our economy rests on whether we’re getting the most out of all of our nation’s talent — whether we’re making it possible for all our citizens to contribute to our growth and prosperity. That’s the key to staying competitive in the global economy. Right now, we’re leaving too many people on the sidelines who have the desire and the capacity to work, but are held back by one obstacle or another. It’s our job to remove those obstacles. That’s what supporting working families is all about.

States are getting on board, too. California, Rhode Island and New Jersey give workers paid family leave. Connecticut offers paid sick days. So does New York City. Since I asked Congress to raise the minimum wage last year, 13 states have taken steps to raise it on their own.

But all Americans should get to benefit from these policies. That’s why we need to see some action here in Washington.

I’ll work with anyone — Democrats or Republicans — to increase opportunity for American workers. But in this year of action, whenever I can act on my own, I will.

Today, I’ll sign a Presidential Memorandum directing every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedules, and giving employees the right to request them.

I’m calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, because too many pregnant workers are forced to choose between their health and their job. They can get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks, or forced on unpaid leave just for being pregnant. It’s inhumane, and it needs to stop.

And to help parents trying to get ahead, I’m directing my Secretary of Labor to invest $25 million in helping people who want to enroll in job-training programs, but don’t currently have access to the childcare they need to do it.

I take this personally — as the son and grandson of some strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me; as the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our young ladies when my job often kept me away; and as the father of two beautiful girls, whom I want to be there for as much as I possibly can — and whom I hope will be able to have families and careers of their own one day.

We know from our history that our country does better when everybody participates; when everyone’s talents are put to use; when we all have a fair shot. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America I’ll keep fighting for every day.

The following op-ed by President Obama appeared first on the Huffington Post.

Where is the Voice of the Child?

Jeffrey Baldwin
Jeffrey Baldwin

A few months ago, I conducted a survey of just under 50 lawyers who represent children in the child protection system. I was interested in the degree to which children have voice when their parents are being assessed. Child protection often contracts for parenting capacity assessments to determine what the strengths and deficits of a parent might be and what might be done to return children to parental care, or avoid taking children into care.

For the family, these assessments are a “big deal”. The outcome can impact case plans, interventions that are or are not offered and, most importantly, whether the child should be in the care of the parents. Courts take a lot of notice of these assessments.

Child protection should be a child-centered business. After all, it is really about the best interest of the child. You can imagine how taken aback I was when all but one lawyer said that the child’s voice is rarely or almost never evident in these assessments.

In a seminar I ran with lawyers, I was told that assessors in their jurisdiction rarely even saw the child with the parents. They went on to say that assessors typically did not interview children of an age when that would be appropriate.

The results of my research shocked me, quite frankly. What it does suggest is that, at least in this process, the focus on the child has been lost. The rights of the parents have garnered too much attention by comparison.

I thought about this as well when reading the latest report from the Child Advocate in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The advocate spoke of numerous times that child welfare was involved with a particular child but that child was not interviewed or seen – repeatedly. This is not the first time that I have read reports of children who have died while involved with child protection where the reports note that the child was almost invisible in the case plan. One of the more famous cases comes out of the United Kingdom, the case of Victoria Climbie.

Another notorious case was in Toronto where workers failed to see Jeffrey Baldwin through many visits missing that he was starving to death.

These should act as powerful reminders that the child is the core purpose of the child protection system. The child needs to be seen, the child needs to have a voice and that voice needs to be heard.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of  CBCNews

Family Therapy Balloon Activities

tumblr_mumdhrpnIb1s3e1yro1_500 Introducing activities into your family therapy sessions can help make the process more engaging while creating a warm/fun environment, and breaking down concepts to be more developmentally appropriate for children.  These simple activities can bring out sides of family members they may not always be shown at home, encourage playful and healthy interaction, build rapport, and allow the therapist to role model, redirect and provide positive reinforcement.

Balloons are a cheap/accessible item that can easily spice up a family session, and be then be used to continue work at home.  The following activities promote team-work, group cohesion, attunement, communication, problem-solving, conflict-management, etc.  They can be used to both assess family functioning and teach new skills.  Notice patterns that come up, how they negotiate or resolve conflicts, who leads, etc.  After each activity process with the family how it went, what they noticed, what they liked/disliked, what they need to work on, etc.  Families can also do these fun games at home.

  • Juggling Issues: In a family session it is common for the topic of discussion to snowball as family members bring up multiple subjects at once.  Have each family members blow up balloons and write an issue on each one.  The family then stands in a circle and bats a balloon around without letting it touch the ground.  Add the rest of the balloon, one at a time, to demonstrate how ineffective it is to juggle so many issues at once.  Afterwards the family decides together which issue to tackle during that session.
  • Balloon Pass: Have the family/group stand in a circle and make up (or have them make up) ways to pass a balloon around (ex. using only elbows, feet, etc.).  Have them hold hands in a circle and try to keep the balloon from touching the ground as they bat it around without letting go.
  • Busy Balloons: Have family/group members partner up and call out different body parts that they must hold the balloon up with (ex. noses, elbows, etc.)  If there is an odd number of people than family members can take turns being the person calling out body parts.
  • Balloon Waddle: Each person holds a blown-up balloon between their legs.  The family/group must come up with a way together to get across the room without anyone dropping the balloon (ex. jumping, waddling, rolling, etc.).  Once one slips then everyone must get together to re-strategize and start over.  You could also modify this to complete with partners or as a relay.

If you have any balloon activities you use in therapy, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Let’s Talk About Military Family Mental Health: Tweetchat 5/8/14 #MacroSW

Military service members, veterans, and their families are extremely resilient , but the stress of war, multiple deployments, and frequent moves can impact their emotional, physical, and overall well-being. During the month of May, #MacroSW is teaming up with USC School of Social Work to help raise awareness by inviting our community to participate in the Military Family Mental Health campaign. The goal behind this campaign is to build public recognition about the importance of mental health to overall health and wellness, particularly within the military community.

Join us for the next #MacroSW Chat this Thursday 5/8 6pm PT/ 9pm ET to discuss Military Family Mental Health Advocacy!

  • How are milfamily organizations taking the lead on Mental Health advocacy?
  • What can civilian organizations and advocacy groups learn from the military family groups?
  • What do social workers who work with the military community need to know to provide the best care?

Raise your voice to raise awareness through social media!

  • Stay tuned to the conversation around Military Family Mental Health using #MilfamMH!
  • Take 30 seconds to change your profile picture or cover photo to one of these images during the month of May to show your support for this important cause!

Change your Facebook profile picture:

MFMH.FBProfile

MFMH.MilSpouseFBProfile

MFMH.VetFBProfile

Change your Facebook Cover Photo:

MFMHCoverPhoto2

Share this message with your friends and family on your favorite social platform!:

Facebook/ Google+: This May, I am raising my voice to raise awareness around milfamily mental health. Find out how you can make a difference by participating in the #MilfamMH campaign too!

Twitter: I’m joining the #MacroSW chat hosted by @MSWatUSC to discuss #MilfamMH advocacy on 5/8 6pmPT/9pmET! More info:

Twitter: I’m raising #MentalHealthAwareness this month! Join me and @MSWatUSC for the #Milfam Mental Health Campaign: #MilfamMH

Do You have a blog or Newsletter? Copy and paste this message to show your support!:

“I’m raising awareness for Military Family Mental Health by blogging for the #MilfamMH Campaign sponsored by USC’s masters degree in social work program. Join me in blogging for an important cause!”

Archived Tweetchat:

Can be viewed on Storify at this link.

Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care Epidemic

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Possibly one of the few things more challenging than being a teenage parent is being a teenage parent in foster care.  While the adverse effects of teen pregnancy have been well studied, researchers and social service providers are only recently coming to terms with the growing epidemic of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.

According to a 2009 Chapin Hall Study  adolescents in foster care are at a significantly higher risk for pregnancy than the general adolescent population:

  • At ages 17 and 18, one third or 33% of young women in foster care were pregnant or parenting  
  • By age 19, more than half or 51 % of young women currently or formerly in foster care were pregnant or parenting, and nearly half of those young women had more than one child
  • 60% of 21-year-old former foster males report impregnating a female partner as compared to 28 % of the general population

To be clear, foster youth are children who have been removed from their families and are in the legal custody of the state. Another way to think of this is, the government is their parents. If that is the reality, than foster youth are basically “our children” and we are doing a pretty shabby job at being their parents.

What is possibly even more troubling than a 50% pregnancy rate is the experiences of these young parents while in foster care:

  • 1 in 5 pregnant teens in foster care received NO prenatal care
  • 22% of teen foster care mothers were investigated for child maltreatment
    (this is way above the 12% of teenage parent in general)
  • 11% of teen foster care mothers had their children removed from their custody 
  • 44% of foster care mothers graduated from high school; 27% for parenting foster fathers
  • Having a child while in foster care was the largest predictor of homelessness after exiting care

Teen pregnancy and parenting is only one of the indicators of poor foster care outcomes. Very few programs and policies address the needs of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care or work to prevent initial or repeat pregnancy.  Other critical foster care outcomes include a significant  increase in the risk of homelessness, incarceration, poor educational attainment, and poverty for foster youth ages 14-18 . But there is something uniquely disturbing about the fact that the children of foster youth are at-risk for entering foster care while their parents are still in foster care.

Though I am in no way suggesting that the U.S. do away with child protective services or foster care, circumstances such as these do beg the question, “Is the government any better at being a parent than the very caregivers these children are removed from?” This is a scary question to ask, but one that social workers must constantly be appraising.  The answer is not “no” but it is not a resounding “yes” either.

By definition, children in foster care come into care from troubled circumstances, putting them at greater risk for a number of poor outcomes. But we must make a guarantee to these children that the new environments we provide for them will make them better off than the environments we took them from. We must transition child welfare into a place where safety and permanency are not our only goals.  Well-being and a better future are essential.

As a child welfare systems change analyst, I applaud the tireless work of child welfare workers and administrations and recognize it is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs to do. There are so many forces beyond our control and endless administrative hurdles to overcome. But we must still do better. We have to do better or what is the point of the entire system?

References & Resources: 

Boonstra, H.D. (2011). Teen pregnancy among young women in foster care: A primer. Guttermacher Policy Review, 14 (11) pp.8-19.

Center for the Study of Social Policy: Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care

Children’s Bureau, Administration of Children, Youth, and Families. The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2012 as of July 2013.

Children’s Defense Fund. (2010). Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act Summary.

Is Your Spouse The Next Walter White?

By Deborah Nguyen

Walter White

Walter White, the fictional character of Breaking Bad fame, has quickly become the antihero that people couldn’t avoid loving. In reality, however, life isn’t always like it’s portrayed on television. While the difficulties that White faced were extreme, it’s often the family of a criminal who ends up hurt, both physically and emotionally.

While it’s hard to say just how many people have spouses who are drug dealers, the reality of the situation is that a drug arrest happens every 17 seconds in America. With these types of numbers, it’s imperative for those who suspect a spouse of criminal activity to know what they’re up against.

Domestic Violence

One of the most serious risks that a person faces when their partner is engaged in criminal activity is from the spouse themselves. This is especially the case when the person in question is not just trafficking drugs but using them. Drugs such as benzodiazepine (Valium), cocaine, crack, meth and anabolic steroids can all increase aggression in a person. Sadly, as was the case with wrestler Chris Benoit, this can lead to violent and sometimes deadly outcomes for a user’s spouse.

A person engaged in criminal activity, however, doesn’t have to be on drugs to be violent. Simply being involved in such a stressful atmosphere can lead to violent behavior. One of the main precursors for domestic violence, for instance, is displaced anger. This occurs when a person showcases anger or acts violently towards a subject who is not actually the cause of their anger. This displaced anger can lead to repeated physical abuse in a relationship.

Other Risk Factors

Even if a person has the most mild-mannered spouse in the world, his criminal activity puts his family’s safety at risk. His colleagues may not always be so concerned about the welfare of his family. As a matter of fact, families stand the risk of being used as a bargaining chip, or are seen as a liability, when complications occur in the illicit goings on. This was portrayed in the movie Alpha Dog which told the true story of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz being kidnapped and murdered over drug money that his half-brother owed.

There are a few options of recourse that a person has when their spouse has put them into danger. One option could be developing a safety plan in order to protect yourself and your family in advance. Contacting the national domestic violence hotline to obtain information and identify resources may help you process the chaos around you. Also, you may want to consult a divorce attorney to see what options are available to dissolve the relationship.

Getting Out Alive

The first step to getting out of these situations with your level head intact is recognizing that there is an issue. If you don’t know where the source of income springs from, this could be an immediate red flag that something suspicious is going on. Do your research and start collecting financial information and by performing a criminal history check.

If you find out the whole ugly truth to be real, be prepared to walk away. You have to ensure your and your children’s safety. But you probably don’t know the extent that his influence reached within his business colleagues. Your future could be wrought with danger. No level of criminal activity is safe, so getting out as quickly as possible is the only safe recourse.

While watching the character Walter White was undoubtedly enjoyable for millions of people, the realities of living a life that is funded by illegal drugs is undoubtedly accompanied by many risks.

Germaphobes Raising Babies: Tips to Keep Your Sanity

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When you’re a new parent, you want to protect your child from everything including germs and potential illness. While it may be amusing to joke about never leaving the house without your hand sanitizer or a trunk load of baby wipes, people with germaphobic tendencies can actually be doing more harm than good for their family by overly-sanitizing their environment. Though it is good to wash your hands regularly and maintain a clean environment, how much is too much?

How To Handle Your Baby and Your Fear of Germs

Keeping a healthy body and environment is important to new parents, and it’s only understandable that you might have every cleaning product under the sun in your cupboard. However, you may be doing your family a disservice. According to Health.com, over-sterilization can actually kill good bacteria that helps your skin and digestive track to stay healthy. So how do you balance the two?

1) Understand the “Hygiene Hypothesis.”

The theory of Hygiene Hypothesis has been under some study and mounting support since the late 1980’s. It relates to a correlation that was discovered between an increase in auto-immune diseases and allergies new and higher usages of cleaning and sanitation products. Further, it puts forward that when humans are not exposed to their normal level of germs and bacteria in their environment that their immune systems then attacks inward.

2) Realize that kids are messy and will get dirty.

Many of the bacteria, microbes and germs that are with us today have been in our environment for longer than humans have been on the planet, and some are actually essential for life as we know it. Just like your baby needs mental stimulation, their immune and digestive systems require revving up too. When your child gets a little dirty from routine play, there’s no need to run for the sani-wipes straight away.

3) Don’t overly wash your baby.

Your baby has extremely sensitive skin. Giving your baby too many baths a week can actually irritate the delicate balance, causing rashes and other discomforts. Aim to wash your child only 1-2 times per week. Remember, they’re not like adults who are running around and getting sweaty, so a daily wash isn’t required.

4) Do sanitize diaper-related and nursing related items.

What many doctors are now suggesting is a return of a more common-sense approach to keeping our family environments clean. Anything diaper related, including the changing area, diaper bin and other implements should be been kept clean and sanitary, as should nipples and breast pumps. Wash baby’s bedding and clothing on a hot wash for maximum cleanliness.

5) Don’t get too bent out of shape about toys.

While slobbered on cuddly toys can pay a weekly visit to the washing machine, baby toys kept in a clean environment don’t really require frequent sanitation. If there’s been a large play date or someone’s accidentally spit up in the should be washable play yard, then a quick wipe down with regular soap and water will do fine. You can also use your dishwasher for more hardy, plastic toys.

When you’re a germaphobe, it’s hard to keep your sanitary sanity. The best bet is to try to err on a more common-sense, natural approach to keeping your baby clean. By doing so, you’ll ensure maximum health results for you and your family. It is highly encouraged that you not obsess over the babies cleanliness and focus more on the contact surfaces. Having products that are easy to clean like a washable play yard will make it easier to keep your sanitary lifestyle on track.

Peripartum and Postpartum Depression Series 2 of 2

Postpartum depression can be unexpected for new moms.  As discussed in the last article, new parents often expect to grapple with the new challenges brought by an addition to the family unit with resiliency and composure.  Moms may picture themselves as actively hiking and running with baby in the stroller or back carrier, but may end up having a different experience in reality.  Sometimes just getting through daily routine is a huge accomplishment, and it can be hard to see that or recognize it when unmet expectations are coming up.

9131353649_d37a1c43cf_nIf there is a huge discrepancy between a new mom’s expectations and experience, then sadness, self-doubt and negative self-statements can result.  It can also be common to miss symptoms of Peripartum (Depression during and after pregnancy) because of lack of awareness about it.  So, what are some more ideas that can help a new mom who is experiencing peripartum depression, as well as, what can others do to support her? Here are some suggestions:

  • Counseling- someone to talk to who will help uncover faulty beliefs and increase realistic goal setting, so that achievements can be experienced.
  • Aromatherapy & Accupuncture for depressive symptoms
  • Activities that involve movement- Yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, walking, exercise, etc. on a daily basis
  • Time and conversations with supportive others- family, friends, therapist
  • Relaxation- Massage, diaphragmatic breathing, hobbies, warm bath (“Calgon moment”)
  • Relaxation exercises such as body scan (close eyes and scan through body from head to toe for tension & relaxation) and progressive muscle relaxation (tense & release each body muscle of body one at a time)
  • Goals are simple and doable
  • Developing a routine
  • Combat negative thoughts by posting positive thoughts/self statements around home, reading affirmations to oneself and/or listening to affirmations

There are often support groups for depressive symptoms in the community.  A  local support group for Peripartum depression can be helpful, as well as, Mind Body Medicine groups.  Mind Body Medicine groups can be helpful to address depressive symptoms and learn coping skills to foster resilience to life stressors.  A Counselor who is available online (such as through Breakthrough.com) can help support a mother in her own home when it is difficult to arrange childcare.  It is also a good match for moms who enjoy social networking or who are experienced with video chatting.  The new mom would need to make less arrangements, especially when she is already experiencing overwhelm, to get her counseling support via an online site.  In terms of streamlining a new mom’s lifestyle this is one way to eliminate a number of transitions.

Resources:

Breastfeeding Support: La Leche League (website: -Breastfeeding resource where you can go 24 hrs. a day to get answers on all breastfeeding related topics

Aromatherapy Link: 

Mind Body

Medicine:

http://www.acgov.org/wellness/documents/Kaiser%20Mind%20Body%20Medicine%20brochure.pdf

Mindfulness Websites with free guided audios:

(go to self-care link & then select “Soft Belly Meditation” use green link, not podcast to get to the “view slideshow link” to get to the 4 minute diaphragmatic breathing meditation)

  & then search “guided imagery” & select “podcasts.”  This website includes positive affirmations in some of the guided imagery links.

Affirmations-

Online Counseling:

It’s About Living: Difficult Conversations Made a Little Easier

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It’s A Wonderful Life

Ahhhh holidays! Once the hustle and bustle are over … our thoughts turn to cozy evenings with family, wrapping and then opening presents, crackling fires in the fireplace and another round of the seasonal food that we all associate with childhood wonder and good times.  What a time for celebrating our lives!

In these busy times, it’s just so rare when families and extended families get together for uninterrupted and unhurried conversation.  But, whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year is an ideal time to really connect and go  beyond the usual chatter and catching up.

This holiday season think beyond the traditions of the past and take the opportunity to start a new one.  Have a conversation for which you will be thankful in the future.  What is this conversation? It is a conversation about joy and having your voice heard even when you cannot speak for yourself.  When serious illness or long-term disabilities impact everyday life, difficult conversations need to take place. How do you find a way to start that conversation long before difficult situations are staring you in the face? It’s really quite simple. Here’s a holiday recipe for starting the conversation.

As you come together, invite everyone to take turns sharing what makes them happy and where they’ve found joy in their lives. This is something to which even the youngest family member can contribute.

Talking about the joys in life can easily lead to a discussion of what it is in the things that bring us joy. This invites everyone to share a bit more deeply about who we are and what makes us unique.  It promises to even surprise a few with the hidden story gems that will emerge and what you’ll learn about those you think you know well.

And, don’t be surprised if it now feels much easier to ask one final question…

“If something happened and you couldn’t tell us yourself, what would you want us to know that is important to you in being alive?”

Does this feel like an old friend in new clothes? Yep, it is, but the new clothes carry great significance. Unlike the more familiar questions about choices in case of illness or at the end-of-life, this is a question that comes from the perspective of living and that makes it a much easier, more palatable question to answer. Don’t be surprised if this gently evolves into a discussion about a beloved family member with an illness or a health challenge to face, and then into very personal sharing of thoughts on individual preferences and choices.

It’s fine to keep this topic on the light side but making sure family members have an idea of what’s important to you and how you’d want to be cared for during a difficult situation is really important.  And, it’s important for you to know … and understand … their choices too.

There is no question that the holidays can bring up a lot of emotions and you can use your best judgment about your family based on their response, but starting the dialogue about living life to the fullest is a way to connect and learn more about the people you love the most.  And, when you need to know what’s important to them in life, it’s a conversation you’ll be thankful you had.

A Recipe for Joy

Many of us see joy differently. To some, it might mean, sitting in the backyard watching the grass grow. To others, it could be contemplating their life sitting by a mountain stream with a fishing pole in hand. It’s an interesting discussion. We all take this journey that has a road that eventually ends. How we spend that journey is as individual as we are. Sharing with our loved ones how we envision that journey gives us a better chance of realizing it. We must remember that respect for the dignity and privacy of our family members comes first.  But, to initiate this conversation can be a beautiful gift for all who take part in it.

Initiating Important Conversations With Loved Ones

If you’re the conversation initiator, you’ll be surprised at how many possibilities you can find during holidays or other family gatherings.

·         Missing a loved one at holiday events
·         Movies you’ve seen
·         Sermons/seminars
·         Television talk shows, dramas and comedies
·         Medical checkups
·         Family occasions such as baptisms, marriages and funerals
·         Magazines and books

Supporting a Conversation That Continues

It’s only in the movies that everything is neatly wrapped up in a package. The real world is much more complicated. Family conversations stop and start over time. Maybe touching on the subject during family celebrations can be seen as a starting point.

The true objective of family conversation is more than a simple package of papers with advance directives and estate details. Those things matter, because they will guide final actions. But what matters most is to talk with the people you love about decisions relating to the joy you wish to live in the journey of your life.

We never know for sure when the story of our life is going to write its final chapter but we do know what gives us joy. Discussing what brings that joy and how we envision our life is meaningful conversation that helps eliminate difficulties and complications later but also brings families closer together today.

When Processes Become Part of Outcomes: Collaboration, Creativity, Community

As social workers involved in community development, we all know and understand that funding bodies, sponsors and management committees wish to see “objectives and outcomes”, but how much valuable information gets lost when these are the only areas of focus for reporting? And how much do we restrict ourselves when planning programs purely based on stated initial objectives and outcomes?

A recent experience highlights the need to be flexible in the planning and implementation of projects as well as in the final evaluation phase. Had the focus for this particular project remained inflexibly on the initial “objectives and planned outcomes”, we may well have missed valuable opportunities and failed to report valid information in the outcomes section of any final evaluation.

The key is to spend a little bit of time thinking about the impact of “processes”. You may be pleasantly surprised that processes can actually add to the outcomes.

The Canopy Family Community Exhibition

The Canopy at Cameron Park Community Centre is a community organisation (in NSW Australia) that provides services to families, children and communities.  To celebrate 25 years of supporting families it was decided to hold an event that involved other organisations who provide family services.

The objectives of the Canopy Family Community Exhibition were to:

  • Give local groups and/or agencies the opportunity to promote what they are doing in the community to support families
  • Spread awareness of services to the local community
  • Provide an opportunity for networking
  • Provide a forum to positively model relationships and family

With objectives such as this, it would be all too easy to simply send out an invitation to participate, and wait for the bookings to roll in. The end result would be similar to a kind of “expo” where organisations have a stall with various pamphlets and information.

The trouble with that concept is that it’s been done before. Not too much thought or preparation needs to go into the event. In other words, the process for staff and/or volunteers from each agency would simply be to nominate one person to gather promotional items from the agency’s cupboards and set up a standard table of information.

How do we expand on this concept?

  • What processes could we set in motion to encourage communication around the meaning of “family”?
  • How could we engage clients of some of these services into a process that ultimately portrays and promotes the function of the service?
  • How can we take some of the projected outcomes beyond just the planned “one day” of exhibits?
  • How do we foster collaborative efforts?
  • How do we encourage agencies to do something innovative so that others are inspired by their presentations? (yes this means encouraging people to move out of their comfort zone)

What we came up with was to ask agencies to submit a creative representation of “family” as it related to their group. Creative representations allow participation from all ages, backgrounds and skills levels.  Each agency was asked to enter a collaborative effort involving staff, volunteers and if possible, clients of the service. They were asked to explain their “creation” and also provide information about their service. For those who felt stuck for ideas and/or time, we offered consultation and assistance with brainstorming and/or assistance with the creation.

The results were 17 entries, all depicting “family” from their agency/group perspective, with an explanation of the services that their agency provides to the community. The making of each entry had become a “mini” project with outcomes of its own. Subsequent conversations between agencies revolved around the process of making their creation. Who took part, how they made decisions, sharing stories about what “family” meant to them, which contributions were made by staff, volunteers and clients of the service, and the feeling of teamwork the process inspired.

The following statements from agencies involved explain this:

Our communities are from various cultural backgrounds coming together to develop new relationships that redefine family in Australia, after their loss through migration of close loved ones. This project has been very important as a way for  parents, children, siblings and community coming together as family. We have had over 20 participants inclusive of children involved + 5 staff and 4  volunteers.  ~Northern Settlement Services

We started out with the idea of having a hat stand…to represent where the family members ‘hang their hat’….So…one of the ladies from the craft group who meet here on Tuesdays said she had an old plant hanger which may suffice as a hat stand. When I picked it up and brought it into my office the staff, volunteers and visitors all started contributing ideas and somehow it turned into a family tree instead of a hat stand. It ‘grew’ from there…at one stage it was going to have photos of our various ‘family members’ hanging from it but then the leaves seemed to work better.  ~ Woodrising Neighbourhood Rising

A lot of our tiles came from donations of staff and families old tiles which also added a special element of family and  togetherness. Many wonderful conversations and reminiscing came with our “labour of love”, family and friends and times gone by. ~Domain Macquarie Place

Would these results have eventuated if we only implement a cookie cutter approach? Next time, you’re involved in planning a community project, don’t lock in the goals. Don’t restrict yourself to preconceived outcomes. Remain flexible, get out of your comfort zone, and try a little innovation! Check out some of the photos on https://www.facebook.com/cameronparkcommunitycentre

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LinkedIn for Kids: Yay or Nay?

How old should you be to be able to decide what you want to be in life?  Some people say it’s as soon as you finish high school, because then you’d have a certain level of maturity, balanced with idealism from youth.  Others say it’s when you’re in your mid 20’s because you never really know what you want until you’ve explored a little bit of the real world.  LinkedIn, on the other hand, says it’s never too early to start thinking about your future.  This social media network, popularly used by professionals, has now opened its platform to kids as young as 13 years old –– and boy is it getting heat from people.linkedin(2)

Why, LinkedIn?

Dr. Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute told BBC that this would help children “differentiate between the public profile they want for employment (and) the personal profile they share on Facebook with their friends and family.”  He may just have a point.  With the amount of children over-sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn just might be the platform that will teach them how to put a lid on it, to avoid creating a bad image professionally.  But what was LinkedIn really thinking when they decided to open the platform to a younger market?

The suspected reason behind LinkedIn welcoming a younger market is their latest creation called “University Pages”.  In fact, around 200 universities have signed up to create their own pages in LinkedIn University which include information about campus life for present and prospective students, campus news and activities, and links to famous alumni.  These universities include NYU, the University of Michigan, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and more.  University pages on LinkendIn are supposed to encourage and facilitate communication between the universities, present and prospective students, and alumni to make the information on the education, campus life, and networks within the university, more accessible and transparent.

What’s in it for the universities?  Their promotional video claims that the university pages on LinkedIn aren’t just for branding; they’re about better targeting, engagement, and insights.  With the university pages, you can show statistics on the products of the school (the alumni) and their paths from campus to career.

What’s in it for the students?  Their promotional video encourages soon-to-be professionals to use LinkedIn in order for them to have a “resume that never sleeps.”  Also, they’re promoting a platform which will help young professionals and professionals-to-be to look for jobs as their ad says
job hunters simply have to “…keep tailoring and connecting and applying, and before you know it you start to get responses, first a few, then more, then an interview and before you know it, you’re hired”.  Basically, it promotes subscribing to a platform that will help you create a network, which in turn, will help you once you get out on the real world.

Nay-sayers 1: Think about the children

The “Yay-sayers” argue that taking part in the LinkedIn community and seeing the career paths of successful LinkedIn users (most likely alumni from their schools) will help teens understand how the correct work experience and degree, and responsible use of social media networking can help them choose a career path.  However, there are quite a few people who are strongly opposed to the idea of LinkedIn branching out to very young teens.

Josh Constine on TechCrunch believes that “The problem isn’t teens doing things that could fill out their LinkedIn profile.  It’s them choosing what to try after judging themselves through the hypothetical eyes of recruiters and college admissions officers lurking the web.  That could pressure them into making decisions based on what others want, rather than what excites them.”linkedin(1)

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from the Guardian, on the other hand wrote that “You may argue that this move demonstrates a distasteful failure to allow children to be children by inflicting upon them the inherent melancholy of the knowledge that one’s destiny is merely that of a wage slave in a riddled service-based economy, and you’d not be wrong.”

Nay-sayers 2: Tough for recruiters

Several recruiters I personally know use LinkedIn as a source for professionals they need to recruit.  Whether they add everyone or simply send personal messages to people, the purpose is to create a larger search network in hopes of finding the perfect match for the positions they need to fill.  My friend Maria, however, thinks that by adding a whole new generation, it’s going to be a bit more tedious for recruiters to filter through a search base cluttered with teenagers.

Despite the cynicism of several people towards this bold move by LinkedIn, they still pushed through with this last September 12th.  It’s intriguing to see how this will play out for the former social media network for professionals.  Will their expansion to forward-thinking younglings help them grow as a network or will this all come crashing down after a year?

Thoughts? Sound off in the comment section below!

Four Tips To Building Self Esteem In Children

Parents want their child to have good self esteem. However, self-esteem doesn’t come naturally to children. It is something that must be fostered, developed, nurtured and grown. Following these four tips can help.

1.  Show them you value them
Let your children know you love them.  This is done through praise and through direct expressions of love, hugs, and kisses. Children need to be told directly by their parents or caregiver that they are loved. Children need to be held, cuddled, and played with. Quality and quantity of time demonstrate valuing. Few things speak more to being valued, then just being there.

2.  Teach them and let them learn
Competency is the next ingredient to healthy self esteem. As the child grows and begins exploring the house (often the kitchen cupboards) the child gains the opportunity to increase competency with access and control of larger objects over greater spaces.  Again the response of the parent is crucial.  Some parents structure the child’s environment for maximum exploration while other parents localize their child’s area of living.  Either way, making way for the child to play and explore safely, whatever the limits, is often referred to as “baby proofing”. The greater the control and mastery of skills a child develops the greater the sense of competency which is the second ingredient to healthy self esteem.

Parents can facilitate competency by providing safe areas for children to develop skills and by allowing their children to participate in household activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, making beds, etc.  The goal of these activities is for the child to develop a sense of control and not the perfectionist pursuit of the best made bed, etc. Participation should be fun, supportive or helpful.

3.  Participate in doing good deeds
The third thing parents can do to facilitate healthy self esteem in their children is to direct and participate with their children in the doing of good deeds.  Doing good deeds teaches children to be aware of the life of others beyond themselves.  This enables the development of empathy and altruistic behaviour.  What’s important is that children are encouraged or even positioned to be helpful to the extent of their ability.  The little one may carry a plastic cup to the table, the middle one a plate and a spoon, while the big one can clear.  Special little projects can be undertaken, visits can be made, and pennies can be put in the charity coin boxes at the check-out counter.

4.  Make the rules of life clear
The last thing parents can provide to facilitate self-esteem in their children is structure.  Structure is a word that actually implies two separate concepts: routines and limits.  Routines provide structure over time and limits provide structure over behaviour.

Another way to think of structure is like the rules of a game. How well could you play Monopoly, Hop Scotch, Tag, or Hide and Go Seek, if there weren’t rules?  Rules include who goes next, under which circumstances, and when.  The rules also include what happens when someone goes outside the normal bounds of play – miss a turn, pay a fine, etc.

Knowing the rules of the game of life is sometimes referred to as internalising structure.  This too is also a form of competency – when the child knows the how’s, what’s, when’s, and where’s, of life. Unfortunately this information doesn’t come automatically.  Children may pick some of the rules up incidentally as they go along, but this leaves much to chance.  Parents can help their children internalise structure by commenting on daily routines, specifying appropriate behaviour, providing feedback and by providing consequences for undesirable behaviour.

These four ingredients, valuing, competency, good deeds, and structure form the basic building blocks for the development of self esteem.  And why develop self-esteem in children? Children with a healthy self-esteem feel good about themselves, relate well to others, behave more appropriately and are more aware of the world around them.

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