Topic: In the News

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.

Protecting Against Emotional Abuse

According to the Child Maltreatment 2017 report prepared by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2.3 percent of children experienced psychological or emotional maltreatment in 2017. This number underestimates the true scope of the problem, as emotional abuse is more difficult to identify than other types of child abuse.

Children from all backgrounds can be at risk of emotional abuse, especially when a family is experiencing multiple life stressors, such as a family history of abuse or neglect, health problems, marital conflict, or domestic or community violence—and financial stressors such as unemployment, poverty and homelessness. All of these may reduce a parent’s capacity to cope effectively with the typical day-to-day stresses of raising children.

Research has shown, however, that the good can outweigh the bad, and that we can mitigate or eliminate the risk of emotional abuse by developing strong protective factors in parents and families.

The Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework distills extensive research into a core set of five protective factors that everyone can understand and recognize in their own lives. These protective factors work as safeguards that can help parents find resources or supports and encourage coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under difficult circumstances.

Parental resilience is a protective factor that can help one manage stress when faced with challenges, adversity or trauma. Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well an occasional crisis, have resilience. They have the flexibility and inner strength necessary to bounce back when things are not going well.

Social connections can also provide emotional support for a family. Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. On the other hand, parents who are isolated, with few social connections, are at higher risk for child abuse and/or neglect.

Access to concrete supports for the entire family may also help prevent the unintended emotional abuse or neglect that sometimes occurs when parents are unable to provide for their children. Families who can meet their own basic needs and who know how to access essential services such as childcare, health care, and mental health services are better able to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.

It is also important for parents to understand child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language and social and emotional development. Children thrive emotionally when parents provide respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe opportunities that promote independence. Conversely, delayed social-emotional development may obstruct healthy relationships.

When multiple protective factors are present, a family is better able to successfully navigate difficult situations and moderate the risk of emotional and other types of abuse or neglect.

​Within the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Office of Early Childhood has established the Strengthening Families Network to increase awareness and encourage efforts to embed the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework in family support practice across Colorado.

Learn more about how this framework is being implemented throughout the state here.

Hidden Scars: A Look at Emotional Abuse in Sports

While we often talk about the long-term, adverse effects that stem from physical and sexual abuse and neglect, the toll and trauma of emotional abuse can be just as damaging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love and threatening. Children who have suffered emotional abuse or neglect may find it difficult to form healthy relationships, become overly reliant and dependent on one person, or develop problems with emotions and memory.

Within the world of sports, emotional abuse is an under-acknowledged but common form of abuse that occurs at all levels, from youth and grassroots amateur sports organizations to professional leagues.

Emotional abuse within sports and athletics typically manifests as shaming and mocking for poor performance, using inappropriate nicknames, denying attention, making threats of repercussions, and excluding or singling out individuals.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport– the first national organization of its kind focused on ending all forms of abuse in sports – has endeavored to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s sports culture through abuse prevention, education and accountability. Katie Hanna, the Director of Education & Outreach for the Center, explains that abusive behaviors are usually demonstrated by coaches, but can also be perpetrated by an athlete’s teammates or even parents.

“No matter the source, emotional abuse and bullying can have a lasting impact on athletes. These bullying behaviors can manifest feelings of shame and degrade self-esteem, pushing some athletes to leave their team or even quit the sport entirely because of it.”

Within the world of sports, Hanna adds, the power imbalance between coaches and athletes can lead to that relationship degrading into an unhealthy one.

“At the Center, we offer training for sports groups, coaches and parents that educates them on how to create a safe and supportive environment for athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to prevention and changing the sports culture to focus on building healthy relationships that foster the growth and improvement of athletes.”

In addition to offering trainings and consultations to sports organizations, the U.S. Center for SafeSport responds to and resolves allegations of physical, sexual and emotional misconduct. The Center also has exclusive authority over reports of alleged sexual abuse or conduct related to the underlying sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and its 50 National Governing Bodies. Since launching in 2017, there have been 3,256 reports made to the Center, 552 sanctions issued, and 796,505 SafeSport trainings completed.

“The most important thing you can do as a parent, coach or athlete is to speak up when you see or hear something inappropriate happening on the court or field,” said Hanna. “The more we openly discuss this issue, the more we can ensure that every athlete will be safe, supported and strengthened through sport.”

To learn more about the U.S. Center for SafeSport, click here.