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

Advertisements

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

Empathy Books: Big Emotions in Little Bodies

By Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, The Advocacy Program of Umbrella

I have been an advocate for a little over 11 years, but I’m not only an advocate I’m a mommy too, as I may have mentioned in past blog posts. Since I became a mommy I feel like I have one foot in each world. Sometimes the two worlds will mesh together, but there a times when I want to keep them apart. There are things that I’m not ready to teach my son about yet. People told me that parenting was going to be hard, but I guess I never really believed them until now.

I feel like with the experience and tools that I have learned throughout the years to share with other parents have helped me be the mom that I am today. By no means am I perfect. Nope, not at all. There are days when I think, “Is this going to bite me in the butt when my son is a teenager?” I guess we will see.

I’ve learned the importance of teaching children the right names for their private parts to enhance sexual violence prevention. Ever since my son was born I made sure to teach him the correct terminology. When he was three he decided to tell the cashier that he had a penis and asked her if she had a vagina. The cashier looked at me in horror, and I was having this internal debate on whether I should tell him to hush or use this as a teaching moment. So, I looked at her and asked her, “Well, do you?” Hoping she would be kind enough to share the moment with me, and she did. She was pretty great about actually after she too got over the initial embarrassment.

Which brings me to another tool that I found very useful, making empathy books.

We know that children learn about their emotions, behavior, relationships and how to develop empathy from the adults in their lives. As adults in children’s lives we need 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

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