Checking the Pulse on Youth Advocacy and Prevention Education Work

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE

I’ve been the Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE for a little over two years now and I’m finally starting to feel grounded in what this job is all about.  That being said, I also feel that the field of youth advocacy (and advocacy in general) has been shifting during the course of my time at AWARE and that it continues to shift.  Maybe this is the way it has always been – the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  After all, in order to best meet the needs of the people we serve, we need to be constantly evolving.  I got curious about how other Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators have experienced change, success, and challenge in their role, so I sent out a set of questions to my colleagues across the state.  Responses came from people who have been in this work anywhere from one year to over a decade.  Here is a picture of where youth advocacy in Vermont is headed, straight from the horse’s mouth.

 Where do you see our work as Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators headed in the future?

Savannah Williams from Umbrella North in Newport explained, “Schools used to be really hesitant [about working with advocacy programs] before Act One was passed, but now Youth Advocates & Prevention Educators are seen more as allies than as strangers in certain communities.”

Bobbi Gagne from the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT) in Barre describes the future of advocacy as “Learning from youth what they see as issues they face rather than us deciding what issues they see as important.”

What’s your favorite part about being a Youth Advocate and/or Prevention Educator?

Laura Young from Umbrella South in St. Johnsbury says, “My favorite part of being a Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator is all of the relationships that I have been able to build Continue reading

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Clarina Happenings!

Part II

Engaging Kids by Getting Outside

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

It is that time again… school is coming to an end for the year and the weather in VT is actually pretty GREAT! It also means that it is a wonderful opportunity to get the time and attention of kids who may be significantly struggling with any number of things. For lots of kids, school may actually be preferable than spending every day at home this summer.

That’s why I feel one of the most important programs we offer through Clarina is our Summer Youth Program. Writing this blog, I’m realizing I should probably try to come up with a more exciting name for it, but the good news is that I have been coordinating and facilitating the program for the past four years and kids keep coming so we must be doing something right!

As an individual who is passionate about the outdoors and physical activity, I just see so many links to positivity, friendship strengthening and growth, self-esteem, team-building and confidence-boosting that can be formed simply by engaging in outdoor activity. Not to mention, here we are blessed to be nestled in the beauty of the Green Mountains. That beauty, especially in summer, is something impossible to ignore. I have witnessed kids bonding simply due to the need to walk single file on a narrow mountain trail. Kids who normally tend to follow begin taking the lead because they may be older and feel they finally have a reason to take on a leadership role. Simply meeting a group of new friends, and the feeling of a clean slate that comes along with that – combined with going places they have never been before and/or doing things they simply haven’t done, such as swimming in a pool at the bottom of a natural mountain waterfall – can coax out pieces of a child’s personality that are typically guarded; and not lightly.

Last year we were extremely fortunate to connect with a local horse farm, Hope Grows. Their mission is to encourage personal growth in children and families. They also strive to Continue reading

The Last Girl

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(Excerpted from the Spring 2016 Vermont Network Newsletter)

A world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential

As the Network moves forward to actualize our purpose to create a world free of oppression, we envision a world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential. The “last girl” is a helpful metaphor that we use to understand the complexity of oppression and focus our efforts.  Where the last girl thrives, so too will her entire community because she is the most marginalized of them.  As a child advocate who has worked in the violence against women’s movement for many years, I feel hopeful.  I see that we now have an opportunity to talk about and engage young people in a way that we have not before – all because we have said that we want the last girl to thrive.

The Network is committed to examining how multiple forms of oppression compound to impact individuals and communities.  This path leads us right to the last girl.  She is oppressed because of her gender, further oppressed if she is a person of color or may be oppressed because of her ability or class.  She is also oppressed because she is a child.  Although her status as a child is a part of her identity that she will outgrow, it is connected to her other identities – and together they can create a deep rooted set of barriers.

Ultimately, we cannot make the world a better place for the last girl unless we look at all that oppresses her including the power that adults have over children – adultism.  On one hand, it is the hardest form of oppression to confront because it is us who are the 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

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

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

Remembering Teens Living With Domestic Violence

By: Judy Szeg, Advocate at Safeline in Chelsea, Vermont

We hear a lot about children who are exposed to domestic violence (also known as IPV – Intimate Partner Violence).  Unfortunately, we don’t hear or talk nearly enough about teens who are living in homes where one of their parents or caretakers is hurting the other. It is as if kids in homes with IPV become invisible when they become middle school age. Continue reading

How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD

By: Amy Torchia, Children’s Program Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

It feels like Advocates have been talking about this for years.  We know that a good number of the kids with whom we work – children and teens who have experienced domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and sexual assault – are diagnosed with ADHD.  We have had infinite conversations with caretakers about situations where their children have been prescribed stimulants for ADHD to help increase neurotransmitter levels (connected to pleasure, movement, and attention) with no apparent positive impact on their behavior or emotional well-being.

Children who have experienced trauma often behave in ways that resemble those associated with ADHD.  They may have difficulty controlling their behavior and may quickly shift from one mood to the next. They might periodically ‘relive’ a terrifying memory and lose focus or become hyper-vigilant anticipating a threat to their safety.

For this group of children, could it be that it isn’t ADHD that is driving their seemingly inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive behavior?  Could it instead be Continue reading

Introducing the Adults who Experienced Domestic Violence in Childhood (AEDVC) Leadership Forum

By: Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator at the
Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Even after having worked as a Children’s Advocate for 27 years, I continue to wish for more ways to hear from children and youth about what it is like to live in a home where there is domestic violence. I am excited to Continue reading