Trauma, the Brain, and Why the Positive Impact We Can Have on Kids Is so Important!

~ by Allyson Scanlon, Family & Youth Advocacy Specialist, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

Existing within all of us, no matter our age, are instinctual protective modes that kick in when our bodies and minds perceive us to be in some type of danger. These instinctive reactions can make daily functioning difficult for anyone, but can be especially damaging for children as crucial development is interrupted. Children also have less life experience to allow for self-regulation or the ability to recognize how significant a threat any given situation actually is to their safety and well-being. Thus, in homes where there is on-going intimate partner or sexual violence, children are actually being exposed to chronic trauma. Chronic trauma can cause children to develop many instinctual survival skills. Unfortunately, these skills meant to protect often interfere with healthy brain development, and can even have a lasting impact on how they will live their lives as adults.

Our brains develop 80-90% during ages 0-5. This time period is extremely critical – adverse experiences can literally stunt brain development in kids as chaotic environments cause our amygdala (also thought of as our “reptilian” brain) to overcompensate signaling our “fight/flight/freeze” response. In turn, children are constantly in a toxic state of stress, or sensing they are in danger. The hippocampus, another more primitive part of our brain, cannot function properly when the amygdala is signaling constant alarm. What all of this looks like in terms of behaviors in kids we may work with is an inability to focus, difficulties with speech and memory, behaviors often resulting in our labeling kids as “trouble” or a “problem child” such as outbursts, aggression, high anxiety/overactive startle response, and/or a child may be perceived to have attention deficits. These children may also revert to behaviors they have outgrown such as trouble Continue reading

Breathe deeply!  Taking Care of the Caregiver

~by Judy Szeg, Educator, Office & Volunteer Coordinator, Safeline, Inc.

 “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe                                          deserve your love and affection.”  – Buddha

Watch a lit candle.  Do yoga.  Walk your dog.  Smell your favorite scent.  Listen to music.   Dance.  These are small things but, oh, so important when done mindfully.

The readers of this blog have very diverse roles – teachers, other school staff, parents, counselors, therapists, faith leaders, youth group or community leaders, the list goes on and on.  One thing that we may experience in common is that we may sometimes feel overwhelmed as we do our best to support the children and youth in our lives.

Unfortunately, many of the children and youth that we know experience very serious challenges in their young lives, whether due to domestic or sexual violence, alcohol or substance abuse, bullying, poverty, homelessness or many other issues.  When we interact with them on a regular basis, become aware of their situation and witness their pain, fear or sadness, we may find that we are impacted more than we realize.

Have you found yourself having difficulty sleeping and worrying about a youth you know?  Continue reading

Horses for the Heart

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate at AWARE

Since the beginning of this summer, I have been co-facilitating an equine assisted learning program for some of the kids I work with at AWARE.  This program has been co-facilitated by youth advocates at AWARE in the past before I started working here a year ago, but this summer has been my first experience with the program – and also with horses.

The first time I brought a kid to work with Tonda Bryant, former AWARE advocate and certified EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) instructor, I think I may have been more intimidated by the horses than the kid was.  I’ve always grown up around and been fond of animals, but I’ve never had the opportunity to ride a horse or even be up close to one.  The kid I was working with that day strolled into the paddock as soon as the fence was opened and walked right up to the three horses, so I followed suit.

Co-facilitating this program has made a huge impact on me because I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about horses that I instantly feel comfortable and confident around them now – to the point where I see them almost as big, friendly dogs.  The real impact the horses have made, though, has been on the kids that I work with.  Continue reading

Wait? My Child Starts Kindergarten?!

by Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, Umbrella – Newport Office

 “Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.” Fred Rogers

Before I found out I was pregnant, I always pictured how I wanted to raise my child. I had the goal that I was going to raise my child differently than how I was raised by my parents. Then one day my dream came true, I found out that I was going to be a mom to a baby boy. I knew that I didn’t want my child to grow up walking on eggshells and being afraid of living in his own home. I wanted him to know that he could ask questions and test boundaries to learn, dream and grow. I wanted him to experience the world, while I held my breath and stood closely by to watch…even though I thought of stocking up on bubble wrap. I wanted to teach him how to use his voice to express his feelings and thoughts. I wanted him to be able to identify people that he could trust. But, most of all I wanted him to feel loved and safe.

I worried about all the influences that would affect his development and growth. I worried about my relationship with my husband. We were raised very differently and I was worried Continue reading

Having “the talk”

by Brittany Lafirara, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E Works

I am not a parent, but as a young twentysomething, I can remember sitting down and having my mom have “the talk” with me. She talked to me about changing bodies and what growing into a young woman involves. She even checked out books from the library. I remember being embarrassed and basically listening enough to get the information and leaving as quick as possible. As far as I know this was a onetime event (or I blocked the others out)!  We talked about it in a very scientific and developmental way. I often wonder what it would be like to have been more comfortable talking about human development and sexuality with an adult figure.  These conversations are so hard for adults and youth, but they can actually help prevent sexual abuse and also teach children and youth the language, tools and foundation to reach out for help if they need to.

When working with youth I try to find a way to connect hard conversations with the world around us. With Bill Cosby and the Duggar Family being in the news recently, Continue reading

Developing D.i.i.v.a.s. – Guiding Youth to Grow in Dignity, Integrity, Independence, Virtue and Self Esteem

by Saudia LaMont, creator and director of Developing D.i.i.v.a.s, guest youth writer Asia Domasin, and Allyson Scanlon, Coordinator of Family & Child Advocacy, Claina Howard Nichols Center

D.i.i.v.a.s. was created for several reasons; firstly personal experience knowing what it is like to struggle through transitional years as an adolescent. Secondly, realizing the problematic gap which exists in services for ages 6-16 geared towards developing useful life skills. The following words from Saudia LaMont, creator and director of Developing D.i.i.v.a.s. may explain best the purpose behind our group.

diivas flower

 As someone who grew up with low self-esteem and lack of support I have spent the past several years of my life researching, studying and learning about Self Love, Self Esteem, Mind body Awareness, overcoming obstacles and how to endure. I have attended classes, training programs and support groups. I have self-educated by reading books, pamphlets, looking things up online, doing workbooks, watching documentaries, interviewing people and assessing my own personal life experiences.
Continue reading

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ~ Helen Keller

by Judy Szeg, Educator/Office & Volunteer Coordinator, Safeline

Did you know that the many member programs of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence have a wide variety of youth volunteer and service learning opportunities?  Volunteering is for people of all ages and that certainly includes youth!

Safeline has been very, very fortunate to have had amazing young people supporting our work in many ways.  Volunteer/service learning opportunities include doing research on various topics, distributing posters and brochures around our service area, tabling at events, hands on clerical or technical support, cleaning and maintaining our facility (Shout out to The Sharon Academy students for the recent work days!), answering the hotline, collecting petition signatures for town appropriation requests (Civics in action!), co-presenting with staff at school or community trainings, fundraising and more.

Lifelong activism can begin at a very young age.  One such high school student was Jeanelle Achee.  She was willing to the interviewed about her childhood experiences of being exposed to a batterer in a YATF newsletter issue focusing on resiliency.  While still in high school, she completed Safeline’s advocacy training and covered hotline shifts.  When she went to college, her pager went with her and she continued to cover hotline for us, eventually making the transition to covering the hotline at the local Network Program serving that area.  As an adult, and during her tenure as Miss Vermont, she has continued doing extensive domestic and sexual violence outreach, education and direct service.

More and more schools encourage or require community service of their students, so please keep the youth volunteer opportunities at your local Network Program on mind.  Volunteer opportunities may vary from program to program.

Eye of the Beholder

by guest youth writer Kyrsta Patnoe, intern/volunteer, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

Picture this; the cool summers wind blowing through your hair, your hands wrapped around their neck, and in that moment, everything is perfect. The moon shining down onto your bodies, the stars twinkling in the night, and the only sound to be heard is the soft music the two of you dance to. If you were to see two shadows dancing in the night, you wouldn’t think anything of it. Just two people madly in love, making some beautiful memories. You’d think the guy was being a romantic, but what if the porch light shined out, and you saw the two girls swaying to the beat of the music. Everything you felt before, gone?

It shouldn’t matter who you date, no matter the gender. Love is love, and when you feel Continue reading

Sexuality Education is a Life-Long Process

by Sarah Elliott, Sexual Violence Specialist, The Advocacy Program at Umbrella (Newport Office)

Having just completed my first WholeSomeBodies workshop, I believe that this is the key to getting sex education into schools. After seeing participants’ realize how much the world impacts us as adults, and even more so as children, it’s evident that this is a workshop anyone working with children should attend.

As an undergrad, in order to graduate I had to take “Seminar in Educational Inquiry” and complete a final research project. I did mine on why sex education needed to be taught beginning at an early age and continued as a set program throughout the school years. At that point in my life I had never done advocacy and the only sex education I got was the “puberty video” in sixth grade and family health and wellness my junior year of high school. I had taken Intro to Psychology and Human Growth and Development as college courses but other than that, I had no idea what the world of sexuality education meant. I recently read over the paper I wrote, dated December 3, 2008, and from what I have learned since working here and attending many trainings, I was actually on the right track. Some of my information is not quite accurate and could use updating, but for the most part, even at that point in my life seven years ago, I knew something needed to change. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do. In my 2008 paper I said,

“Sex ed is difficult to teach because controversy surrounds the subject from religious, parental and societal perspectives. If a parent does not want his child to learn about sex, can the school override him? Students are sent to school to learn what is right, so is it all right for a parent to deny his child the right to learn, when sex ed is only a subject Continue reading

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate at AWARE, and trusty four-legged sidekick Marley

Many of you who are reading this are well aware that domestic violence has a significant impact on the physical and psychological well-being and healthy development of children, even if the children are not the direct victims of that violence.  In this post, I’d like to turn your attention to another resident of the home who experiences the same negative impacts of domestic violence, but may not always be viewed as a victim of domestic violence.

The Connection

From hermit crabs to horses, domestic violence can have a profound impact on our pets.  Many people consider their pets to be a part of the family and that makes violence directed or threatened at our pets all the more serious.  The National LINK Coalition works to educate people on the connection between human and animal violence.   They see animal abuse and neglect as the tip of the iceberg in domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse situations.  In other words, animal abuse is generally a warning sign that the perpetrator is capable of other forms of violence if he Continue reading