No More Hugging Grandma (without consent)!!!!!  

by Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

About a month ago, I had the awesome opportunity to visit a local school to talk with some 7th and 8th graders about supporting survivors of sexual violence. It was a heavy topic that I was supposed to help “teach”, but I ended up being taught a lesson or two myself while in class. The lesson that stuck with me the most is on the importance of modeling consent to kids and teens.

Consent isn’t a new topic by any means. Most people think of consent as a term that expresses the importance of receiving a clear and uninhibited “yes” before engaging with an action that is sexual. Coming into class, sex is what I automatically associated the word consent with. However, while engaging with the class, the teacher of the class demonstrated a valuable lesson to me that helped me realized consent is about so much more.

As part of the class, the students were given assigned readings for the activity. One 7th Continue reading

On Naming Patriarchy, and an Advocacy of Trusting Children’s Leadership

by Rachel Rudi, Youth and Family Coordinator, Circle, Washington County

“Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy children do not have rights. Feminist movement was the first movement for social justice in this society to call attention to the fact that ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as the property of parents to do as they will. […] Simply calling attention to male sexual abuse of children has not created the climate where masses of people understand that this abuse is linked to male domination, that it will end only when patriarchy is eliminated.”

                                                                        – bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

Six weeks ago, as I stepped into Circle’s Youth Advocate position, a longtime anti-domestic violence worker said to me, “Just to be clear, we don’t think of ourselves as a social service. We think of ourselves as a social justice movement.”

I’ve been chewing on this clarification, this seemingly clear delineation, as I try to see how I’ll wear the role. I have no social work degree, little formal schooling in education or psychology, no firsthand experience with intimate partner violence. I’ve been both panicked and calm about the learning curve: lessons in childhood development, statistics on violence, Vermont law and its shortcomings, endless acronyms, fear of saying the wrong thing to a person in pain. As I meet with survivors, children, medical professionals, family members, social workers, local politicians, law enforcement, advocates and counselors, I scrutinize my own credibility and question my ability to advocate for youth.

But in even the most clinical of these meetings something is invariably said that knocks the wind out of everyone and we sit in an unscripted moment of grief. There’s that communal sigh, a bewilderment at such a normalized culture of terror, a grasping for a Continue reading

Supporting Queer, Trans, and Questioning Youth

by Amanda Rohdenburg, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont
So a youth in your life has come out to you.  Congratulations! This is a huge step for them, and the perfect time for you to show up as an ally in their lives. 
According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely than their hetero peers to experience sexual assault, four times more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe, and six times more likely to attempt suicide.  The survey doesn’t ask about the experience of trans or gender-nonconforming youth,but increased marginalization often puts youth at further risk.  According to the Trevor Project, “Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT people are individual-level factors such as depression and experiences of sigma and discrimination, including anti-LGBT hostility, harassment, bullying and family rejection. There is growing evidence that the two factors are linked.”   
It is so important that queer, trans, and questioning youth have adults in their lives who are validating and supportive of their identities:  A teenager isn’t going to bring their problems Continue reading

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.