Topic: In the News

International Impact: Bringing Colorado’s Child Welfare Training System to Belize

 

Last month, two of Kempe’s Child Welfare Training System (CWTS) professionals traveled to southern Belize to lead the first-ever international CWTS training opportunity. Michelle Mares, Foster, Kin, Adoptive Family Learning Manager and Paula Haugerud, Learning Logistics Coordinator spent a week at the Laugh Out Loud (LOL) Ministry orphanage providing their diverse team of program directors, educators and foster parents with professional guidance and educational training.

As one of only three orphanages throughout Belize, LOL Ministry has become a mainstay social justice organization for the country and leads the way in child welfare, human rights and other advocacy efforts. At any given time, LOL Ministry is caring for approximately 40-45 Belizean children. The orphanage is part of a 50-acre community featuring single family homes where children live on-site with their foster parents, as well as transitional housing for foster children that have aged out of the system.

Michelle and Paula worked with Melissa Fisher, Founder and Vice President of LOL Ministry to train the LOL team using curriculum from CWTS’s Foster Parent Fundamentals and Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TRBI) programs. Foster Parent Fundamentals helps parents better understand children who come from trauma backgrounds and how to look beyond their behavior. TBRI is a more holistic training focused on addressing foster parents’ own trauma and offering practical tools to support a child’s physical and attachment needs.

Over the course of a week, Michelle and Paula trained 15 foster parents and employees from LOL Ministry and will continue to stay in touch with the team to provide additional support as needed. They are also exploring the opportunity to offer direct coaching for LOL Ministry next summer, working side-by-side with Belizean foster parents in their homes to build and improve on the initial CWTS trainings.

To learn more about CWTS and the resources available to child welfare professionals, foster parents and family serving personnel, visit www.coloradocwts.com.

Parental Substance Use and Child Welfare

Substance use is a growing concern in the United States. Devastated families of all kinds struggle to maintain a sense of boundary and support, and feel powerless in helping their loved ones overcome their addictions. Often overlooked in the national conversation, and in the local treatment programs, though, are the most vulnerable subset of those affected by these sensitive situations. According to data from the 2009 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1 in 8 children lived in homes with at least one parent dependent on alcohol or drugs.

There is a strong relationship between parental substance use disorder and child maltreatment. Frequently, drugs and alcohol inhibit a parent’s ability to effectively function in a parental role. These parents experience a decreased capacity to read and respond to their child’s needs and cues, have difficulty regulating their emotions, and, accordingly, face a disruption in healthy parent-child attachment building. Substance abuse by a parent often leads to neglect.

Children in this environment are at a higher risk of developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders which further compounds the stress to the household. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, these children are also subject to higher rates of emotional, physical and sexual violence, substance use issues, housing instability, poverty and physical health issues.

In 2014, approximately 47 states had child protection laws that addressed parental substance use. Colorado, a state which is still experiencing a rise in drug use according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, has passed numerous bills focused on providing support for families and individuals struggling with substance use disorder, and protecting the children who suffer the consequences. Over the years, Kempe has worked alongside government agencies and committees dedicated to the prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction of Colorado’s opioid crisis.

This summer and fall, the Colorado legislature’s Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee met to continue this work. Kempe engaged with the committee, closely monitoring and providing feedback on their legislative proposals. In September, Dr. Kathi Wells of The Kempe Center participated on a panel before the committee talking about families affected by substance use disorder along with representatives from Douglas County Human Services and Illuminate Colorado. Dr. Wells was able to speak about the policy evolution as it relates to supporting families affected by substance use disorder and uplifted the creation of the CARENetwork as a critical piece of the puzzle as communities decide how to tackle these challenges..

Additionally, on October 29th, the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee approved several bills including the recovery bill, which contains a provision to change procedures when a baby tests positive for substances at birth, as well as a provision modifying the determination of child abuse, neglect or dependency in situations involving substance use exposure. Again, Kempe had a seat at the table, providing detailed feedback on the bill’s language.

We will continue our advocacy and involvement in this area because we know the cycle of substance use disorder is generational. Many people who struggle with substance abuse share reports of traumatic histories. Because children of parents with psychological illness receive statistically less health treatment than those with healthy parents, they are often unable to get the help they need to stop the cycle. While there are many agencies in Colorado utilizing court rooms and committee meetings to decrease and prevent substance use disorder, the most effective work will always happen within our families and in our homes.

To stay up to date on our work at the legislature heading in to the next session, sign up for our Kempe Advocacy Update emails here.

Housing Instability and Childhood Trauma

Across the State of Colorado, there are over 23,000 children and youth experiencing homelessness, according to a 2017-2018 report by the Colorado Department of Education. Although we often think homelessness means people living on the street, that is only true for less than one-fifth of people experiencing homelessness. Most children and youth without a stable, safe place to live transition among different settings, including short-stay motels, doubling-up with friends or family members, sleeping in cars, or in transitional housing or shelters.

The experience of homelessness puts children and their families in situations where they are at greater risk of additional traumatic encounters such as assault, witnessing violence, child abuse, food insecurity and substance abuse. Children in particular are most impacted by the traumatic effects of experiencing homelessness, as these adverse conditions often result in development delays, mental health issues and chronic health conditions.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network examines the ways that children bear the brunt of homelessness, noting that they are sick at twice the rate of other children and go hungry twice as often as children not experiencing homelessness. Additionally, half of school-age children experiencing homelessness face anxiety, depression or withdrawal. Even more unsettling is the fact that by the time children experiencing homelessness are eight years old, one in three has a major mental disorder.

One Colorado organization working to address the interrelated nature of housing instability and other forms of trauma is Family Tree, a nonprofit human services agency providing innovative, life-changing services designed to end child abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness.

“Experiencing homelessness is particularly disruptive to a child’s education because they are constantly dealing with stigmatization and the stress of not knowing where they’re going to sleep or when their next meal might be,” said Scott Shields, CEO of Family Tree. “When families experiencing homelessness come to us for help, we connect them to programs that offer more than just housing assistance so that the children are provided with the critical resources needed to address their trauma and avoid repeating cycles of poverty across generations.”

An example of this is Family Tree’s Homelessness Program, which provides housing navigation and placement services, comprehensive case management, education and employment services, along with connections to various resources to assist those experiencing homelessness or those at-risk of homelessness.

Additionally, Family Tree’s House of Hope is dedicated to providing safe shelter and supportive services for women with children experiencing homelessness. These families, overwhelmed with the daily struggle of where to stay the night and find their next meal, find a safe place to stay while they begin to get back on their feet.

Another program we’ve been following is Family Tree’s GOALS Program, a Two-Generation (2Gen) housing program for families experiencing homelessness from Aurora and Arapahoe County. While this program is relatively new, it is designed to help stabilize families experiencing homelessness, empowering them to move from poverty and homelessness by focusing on services and opportunities that address the needs of all family members.

“With the GOALS program, we’re focused on empowering families experiencing crisis and trauma to improve their lives and achieve economic independence through proven, integrated services,” continued Shields. “The most important thing we can do is help these families overcome barriers and better position their children for future success.”

To learn more about Family Tree and their work to transform our community through innovative and integrated services, visit www.thefamilytree.org.

 

 

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children and Youth

Left unaddressed, exposure to violence has serious consequences for children’s ability to succeed in school, lead healthy lives, and contribute positively to their communities. This is especially true with exposure to parental domestic violence.

Children who witness domestic violence often experience the same things as the adult victims themselves, such as self-blame, nervousness, fear of abandonment, depression and other forms of behavioral and emotional distress. Additionally, children who have been exposed to violence are at a higher risk to engage in criminal behavior as adolescents.

Here in Colorado, there is a growing effort within our school system to address the trauma of youth who have experienced violence. Introduced by the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, the END Violence Project aims to better equip school personnel to identify students who have been exposed to, or have experienced, domestic and sexual assault and facilitate access to both intervention services for victims and prevention education services for all students.

Barbara Paradiso, Director for the Center, notes this emerging interest among schools and educators in developing school-wide, trauma-informed policies and protocols.

“Now, there’s much more understanding of the impact of trauma on young people and the importance of addressing it early. Our goal with the END Violence Project is to create long lasting and systemic change in our school communities so that trauma responses are minimized and the educational environment is enhanced for all students.”

Barbara also notes that beyond violence, those working directly with youth are coming to understand how connected many different issues are, from teen pregnancy to youth suicide.

“There are so many risk and resiliency factors that are common to the concerns we have for young people. We’ve begun to realize that breaking down the silos between our responses to these areas of concern is important to building truly effective trauma-informed services, and to creating response strategies that don’t overwhelm caregivers.”

To learn more about the END Violence Project and the Center on Domestic Violence, visit www.cdvdenver.org.

Juvenile Crime and Restorative Justice

Over the last decade, there has been a steady increase in awareness and recognition that many youth involved with the juvenile justice system, particularly those who have experienced foster care, have been exposed to multiple types of traumatic events. This can include incidences of physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, community violence or neglect that impact youth before they first come to the attention of law enforcement.

Within the juvenile justice system, these youth often experience harsh punishment and incarceration, which can compound their trauma and weaken their ability to succeed in school, obtain employment, and develop healthy self-esteem and long-term relationships. However, by offering an alternative to punishment, there is an opportunity for youth to avoid re-victimization and to decrease re-offending.

Lisa Merkel-Holguin, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine works with The Kempe Center and touts the benefits of restorative justice, a practice that brings together the young people who offended, their families, victims and the community to address the harms in a non-criminalizing and non-punitive manner. She has been researching, implementing and promoting restorative practices in child welfare and juvenile justice systems for over two decades.

“Restorative justice is about repairing the harm that has been done,” she explains. “With this practice, there is a focus on accountability, responsibility, and righting the wrong which leads to rebuilding positive relationships among the youth, family members, the victim(s), police and the community.”

In the traditional juvenile justice system, professionals ask questions like: What laws have been broken? What punishment does the offender deserve? Under the restorative justice model, questions are framed differently: What is the nature of the harm resulting from the crime? What needs to be done to repair the harm? Who has been impacted and what do they need?

From a restorative justice perspective, rehabilitation cannot be achieved until the offender acknowledges the harm caused to victims and communities and makes amends.

At Kempe, we believe it is imperative to provide this kind of positive support for juveniles who commit crimes so that we can reduce their chances of reoffending and stop their trajectory from the juvenile justice to the criminal justice system. When post-traumatic emotional and behavioral problems are effectively addressed in all services and programs within the juvenile justice system, everyone — youths and their families, adults who are responsible for public safety, and the entire community — can become safer and healthier.