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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Survivors as Caregivers

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E. Works

Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard. You go through times where your assault or abuse doesn’t cross your mind and then, suddenly something happens and it’s all you think about. Becoming a parent or caregiver is sometimes the thing that triggers past thoughts or feelings. While we often hear that being pregnant and starting a family is the best thing that can happen to someone, there isn’t a lot of talk about how scary and harmful that process can be.

A lot of research has been done on how becoming pregnant can impact survivors. It changes your hormone levels and can be a painful feeling like you have less control over your body. Once the baby is born the risk of post-partum depression increases with being a survivor. If you are a survivor and are thinking about starting a family there are many resources available. Often times Midwives will be more trauma informed and can help make check-ups and the birthing process as comfortable as possible for you. Talking to them about your past trauma will help you get the care you need. For some reading and other resources check out:

For resources on pregnancy and surviving trauma see here and here.

Something that isn’t often talked about is what happens once the baby is born. How trauma can manifest in different ways. Adoptive and Step-Parents are also often left out Continue reading

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

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