Topic: In the News

Empowering Youth to Foster Healthy Futures

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the vulnerability of children and youth in our communities, especially those experiencing trauma or involvement in the child welfare system. These youth are typically at an increased risk for adverse outcomes, but they are also capable of showing remarkable resilience with the right care.

The Kempe Center’s Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a positive youth development program that uses mentoring and skills training to empower youth to foster their own healthy futures, has recently adapted in several ways in response to current events and policy mandates.

“We developed FHF based on the understanding that all young people have strengths they can leverage to thrive in their own way,” explains Heather Taussig, the creator and Director of FHF. “It has been a top priority for us to continue engaging with our youth, particularly those facing adversity during this unprecedented time.”

Adapting to the Pandemic and Beyond

In the wake of COVID-19, the FHF program team shifted to online mentoring and skills groups last spring. “Moving everything online was a challenge, certainly, but we’ve also noticed many positive benefits and plan to use these virtual tools beyond the pandemic,” said Jessica Corvinus, Director of Dissemination for the FHF program. “This year, we plan to offer a hybrid program of online skills groups with in-person mentoring to support those youth who live outside of the Denver metro area.”

Implementing a Family First Approach

Guided by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) passed in 2018, the FHF program team has also shifted their focus to care for youth who have had a range of traumatic experiences – not just those in foster care.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, FFPSA has been characterized as the most significant child welfare legislation in over a decade. This federal law includes historic reforms to help keep children and youth safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, and emphasizes the importance of children and youth growing up in families. In cases where foster care is needed, FFPSA helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate for their needs.

In alignment with FFPSA’s priority of reducing the number of youth placed in congregate care, the Acing Healthy Futures program works with youth who have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), providing them with the same evidence-based mentoring and skills training that are the hallmark of the FHF program.

“We recognized a need to provide our programming to youth living with birth families who have faced adverse childhood experiences,” says Corvinus. “That’s why it was important for us to introduce the Acing Healthy Futures program and focus our efforts on addressing major life stressors before they result in the need for child welfare involvement.”

What’s Next for FHF 

Moving ahead, the primary goal of FHF is to reach more youth outside the Denver Metro area by training additional agencies and professionals to run the program. The FHF program team recently received a Tony Grampsas Youth Services grant to help with this goal.

A donation to the Kempe Foundation can also support the expansion of FHF at a time when our youth truly need it most. You can help us reach more youth by donating today.

Ron Mitchell Named Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center

The Kempe Center and the Kempe Foundation are pleased to announce the appointment of Ron Mitchell, MSW as the new Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center. Mitchell joins the Kempe team with over 30 years of dedication to public human services work and a passion for improving the lives of children through research, system reforms and legislative efforts.

“I am truly honored to begin this next chapter with such a phenomenal organization,” said Mitchell. “The team I’m working with is passionate and driven to create lasting change.”

As Deputy Director, Mitchell will take on the responsibility of developing and coordinating key strategic partnerships for the Center. He will also provide support and direction for projects related to the implementation of evidence-based and promising practices, systems of care and child health across multiple entities.

One of the projects Mitchell will lead, along with Dr. Antonia Chiesa, is the CARENetwork, which develops and maintains a standardized, coordinated response to child abuse and neglect through a network of designated healthcare providers.

“A child’s outcomes in the system shouldn’t be based on where they live. There needs to be a standard approach across the board, and I’m dedicated to moving us toward that goal with the CARENetwork and other projects,” said Mitchell.

Prior to joining the Kempe team, Mitchell’s career included work in child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and fiscal administration. He worked for Denver County and Mesa County, as well as Colorado’s Division of Youth Services, and has been the director of two residential child care facilities. He was also a co-author of one of the initial comprehensive child welfare system reform plans adopted in Colorado, the components of which would be used both in Colorado and nationally to dramatically reduce the numbers of children in out of home placement, and preserve more children with their biological and kinship families.

We are thrilled to welcome Mitchell to the Kempe team and look forward to engaging him in our work to help position the Kempe Center as a catalyst driving overall systemic change.

Kempe Child Protection Doctors Recognized for Professional Excellence

The Kempe Center’s Child Protection Team plays a critical role in our community, providing evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of children for suspected physical or sexual abuse or neglect. The professionals who make up the Child Protection Team share unmatched compassion and dedication to helping the children and families they serve. Two of the distinguished members of the team were recently recognized for their professional excellence and commitment in their work.

Denise C. Abdoo, PhD, cPNP has been elected to a two-year term to the Children’s Hospital Colorado Medical Board. Denise has been on the pediatric faculty at Kempe since 2003 and was nominated by a senior PNP colleague in the department. This important position is voted on by the entire medical staff and offers a great service to the hospital.

 

Andrew Sirotnak, MD, who has served on the Kempe Center Child Protection Team for over 25 years, has been selected as a faculty member in the Young Physicians Leadership Alliance Program (YPLA) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Through this prestigious program, Dr. Sirotnak will, over a period of approximately 3 years, serve with other selected senior faculty members, working with one or more early career physician faculty members to create and present teaching sessions as part of the YPLA curriculum. Beyond the teaching role, these faculty members will also serve as coaches for an assigned group of program participants.

The Kempe Foundation joins the Center in congratulating Drs. Denise and Andy on these truly amazing accomplishments.

 

Kempe Continues to Adapt Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

During the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 crisis, Kempe is committed to supporting the frontline workers who continue to care for Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens – our children and youth. The Kempe Center recently launched its Kempe COVID-19 Virtual Village to allow these frontline workers to connect with experts, share best practices and generate solutions for protecting children and helping families during these challenging times.

The Kempe COVID-19 Virtual Village is an online, integrated learning environment and open space for all child welfare health professionals, legal experts, law enforcement and others who are working to prevent and treat child maltreatment.

The Virtual Village hosted its first two online learning sessions on April 8 & 9, featuring Dr. Steve Berkowitz, a child psychiatrist and expert in stress, trauma and resilience from the University of Colorado Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Berkowitz’s session centered on understanding what it means to be a professional working in service of children and families during this pandemic.

Following his presentation, attendees participated in a conversation highlighting the challenges they’re currently facing due to today’s unprecedented challenges. Both sessions were well-received, with both reaching maximum registration capacity.

The Virtual Village will continue to evolve as we gather additional feedback from professionals in the field. The goal is to provide the following:

  • A series of online conversations
  • A virtual library of resources
  • An ability to connect with local and national professionals from child welfare, healthcare providers/workers, kinship/foster parents, mental health professionals, legal experts, law enforcement and others working to prevent and treat child maltreatment
  • Vetted tools, data and information

The Kempe Center’s Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a positive youth development program that uses mentoring and skills training to empower youth to foster their own healthy futures, has also transitioned online to continue to support these vulnerable youth.

The FHF program is structured into two key components — skills group curriculum and one-on-one mentoring, both of which have had 100% participation since launching just two weeks ago. Both the skills group and mentor/mentees are using phone and video conferencing to conduct all sessions.

Jessica Corvinus, director of dissemination for the FHF program, says the change from in-person to online communication was a quick adaptation — one that has been embraced fully by those who run the program and its participants.

“Many of the children we serve are vulnerable for a host of different reasons, so I think there’s a lot of uncertainly with everything else going on, and it’s nice that we’re able to remain consistent. Our mentors always show up and this further demonstrates that we’re all still here and that we are able to provide that stability in this uncertain environment,” said Corvinus.

For more information on how Kempe is adapting during this time, stay tuned for our next Kempe In Action email on April 29, 2020.

Q&A with Susan Payne, Founder of Safe2Tell

The Kempe Foundation 2020 Luncheon: Championing Healthy Childhoods will celebrate the professionals working every day to ensure children have the opportunity to develop and grow in safe, healthy and nurturing environments, and to inspire community action to keep children safe and healthy for generations to come.

One of those professionals is Susan Payne, a 28-year law enforcement veteran, retired special agent and Founder of the Safe2Tell prevention initiative, developed as a response to the Columbine tragedy. She is also Safe2Tell’s former Executive Director and Special Agent in Charge of Safe Communities and Safe Schools for the Colorado Attorney General and Department of Public Safety.

Susan, who was recently appointed to the National School Safety Task Force and is an Expert Adviser to the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, has worked extensively with the Secret Service on Protecting America’s Schools and participated in the Bystander study of 2004, the 2018 Secret Service Guide for Preventing School Violence, and the 2019 U.S. Secret Service Analysis and Comprehensive Study. Susan has been asked to speak at the White House on several occasions but most recently after the tragedy in Parkland. She also works with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Clearinghouse for School Safety.

We look forward to welcoming Susan as our 2020 Luncheon keynote speaker. In advance of the event, she is offering some insights into her work, experience and how Safe2Tell and other organizations, such as Kempe, are working together to provide our kids with safe schools.

What prompted you to start Safe2Tell, and how has it helped since its introduction in Colorado schools?

Susan: Safe2Tell was created out of necessity. After the horrifying shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 15 people dead, many more wounded and countless others’ lives changed forever, Colorado’s Attorney General Ken Salazar and Governor Bill Owens convened a statewide study to develop a plan for preventing a shooting of this magnitude in the future. As a direct result, the Safe2Tell Initiative was created: To provide an anonymous venue for parents, students, teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement to share information.

Safe2Tell is the first framework for prevention and early intervention. The program helps identify and create a multi-disciplinary team in every school in Colorado. This unique, yet sophisticated approach enables information sharing between law enforcement and teams at schools with a systematic approach to accountability and follow-up. A core element is building a positive culture and climate and a protected method of communication for youth to share information concerning their safety or the safety of others.

One of the findings in our research showed that in 81% of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker/actor knew it was going to happen but did not have an informed way to report it.

Safe2Tell has created a safe, anonymous mode for all individuals to report such information, and has helped to prevent not only school shootings, but also bullying, suicide, substance abuse and other health concerns.

I’m proud to say Safe2Tell is now keeping our children and schools safer across the entire state of Colorado.

What are you doing at schools with Safe2Tell?

Susan: If you want to truly focus on intervention and prevention, you have to start at the epicenter — schools. For a lot of kids, school is the only place they feel safe. Safe2Tell works proactively with schools to help its teachers, administrators and others, through extensive education, outreach, training, and presentations, to know the indicators and signs of potential violence and other youth concerns, to be knowledgeable about resources and how to intervene.
Safe2Tell also works very closely with other key stakeholders, like Kempe, which is making a crucial impact through research and multi-disciplinary approaches to find solutions to better protect our children and youth.

Together, we are truly creating an environment of ‘Not just see something, say something… but also adults DO something.’ There really is strength in numbers, and we want to educate as many people as we can, so these life-changing issues don’t get brushed under the rug.

What are we as communities, organizations and schools doing to prevent school shootings and accelerated mental health crises from happening?

Susan: Prevention is the key. Being informed on childhood trauma — how to prevent it and how to recognize signs of such trauma is absolutely necessary in order to educate and empower our youth on how to stay safe.

It’s really scary stuff but we’re trying to make it not so scary by offering practical and proactive intervention and prevention tips. By operationalizing those things, we can reduce the violence and number of traumatic events taking place in our schools.

What do you hope people walk away from your presentation having learned?

Susan: We can all agree that we don’t want bad things to happen to our children. The key is working together to intervene and prevent potential violence and other youth issues. Together, we can provide more hope and health. Most people truly want to make a difference, they just don’t know how. Our goal is to show them how.

Visit the Safe2Tell website to learn more about its programs. You can also hear Susan speak at Kempe’s 2020 Luncheon on Friday, March 13 in Denver. Tickets are available here.