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Around this time of year, we happily celebrate the wonderful parents who give their kids all of the love and attention they need. However, we sometimes neglect to thank the “unique parents” – foster parents, grandparents, extended family members, family friends, etc. – who often take on major roles in the rearing of children.
Jeanine Bobenmoyer, chief mom officer of theCityMoms, provides content and online community-building opportunities for families of all kinds. She said that unique parent roles “are important because they demonstrate how modern parenting takes a village to tackle all that parenting entails.”
Peggy Surbey, a regional manager for the Indiana Department of Child Services, also sees several forms of unique parenthood in her line of work.
“Every child needs a loving, caring adult to care for them when a biological parent cannot due to a circumstance that involves DCS,” said Surbey. “Grandparents, other family members, or a kinship home can provide the child a home-like setting that also is least restrictive.”
As stated in research presented by Child Trends in 2014, nearly 5000 youth in foster care were placed with a relative foster family. Furthermore, 40 percent of youth adopted from foster care were adopted by relatives. According to Surbey, today about half of the kids in out-of-care are in the custody of a family member.
Unique families often need unique forms of assistance. According to Surbey, DCS offers some financial support and counseling services. For individuals who find themselves caring for children, she recommends that they reach out to support groups, call 211, or contact Children’s Bureau. Additionally, Surbey says that help can often be found in schools, community mental health centers, and churches.
“It’s important to reach out for help or assistance,” said Surbey. “If DCS has an open case, the family case manager will also be a resource with material relief, daycare costs, guidance for community resources, or advice in accessing other resources specific to the family’s situation.”
Bobenmoyer says that community members can also rally around non-traditional families through compassionate conversations.
“Stop talking in broad messaging as though every household contains the nuclear family,” said Bobenmoyer. “Understand that the fabric of family has shifted. Host a judgement-free zone for friends and acquaintances. Be present. Be aware. But above all, be supportive. For businesses, I’d note to spend some time understanding your target through research and own it. For us, we are a community 100 percent comprised of moms. When we talk to our audience, we know she’s a mom who comes from various walks of life and various familial makeups, but what grounds her is her role as a mom. And that’s where we can connect with each other.”
In the end, the work we do as parents, community members, and service providers is for the benefit of children.
“Helping raise a child in need can be very rewarding,” said Surbey. “There are many resources that are available to help so no one has to take on the responsibility alone.”
For individuals looking for more information on this topic, please reference the following resources:
With Earth Day, Arbor Day, and other similar celebrations coming up, April is all about “going green.” With appropriate support and training, youth can be leaders in the movement to help our environment. In fact, many concerned young people in our community are already finding ways to actively preserve our planet.
“Honestly, we adults should be doing everything possible to listen to young people and to ensure, as best as we can, a livable future for them,” said Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana. He added that “adults can be models for young people to live a less wasteful life.”
The Earth Charter, according to Poyser, was created to “find the intersections between poverty, racism, and democratic transparency (or lack thereof) – all within the context of the climate crisis.” Earth Charter Indiana focuses on climate issues by offering education in schools, working with young people on sustainability projects, hosting climate camps, and teaching leaders about climate issues.
Poyser said that much of Earth Charter Indiana’s programming for young people is designed to teach them about systems thinking, problem-based learning tactics, and leadership skills. From projects such as zero-waste cafeterias, no-idling programs, and youth-led Climate Recovery Resolution initiatives, Poyser has seen quite a bit of success.
“Thus far, three Indiana cities have passed Climate Recovery Resolutions, led by young people: Carmel, Lawrence, and Indianapolis,” said Poyser. “This project is in various stages in a handful of other Indiana cities. The outcome we hope for is an engaged, intergenerational, grassroots population working through municipal government channels to, together, bring climate change out of the closet and into the scary light. We can address our twin crises of environment and civics, simultaneously.”
Youth should care about the environment around them for a number of reasons, according to The Nature Conservancy’s Melissa Moran, director of community programs, and Emily Davidson, AmeriCorps member for education and outreach.
“Our natural world not only provides the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the soils in which we grow our food,” said Moran and Davidson. “It also provides a place for the mind and spirit to rest and habitats for countless other species of plants, animals, fungi, and more with whom we share space. Being disconnected from our natural world means that we are not directly observing the effects that humans have on the environment that sustains us. By spending time in parks or on nature adventures, learning about environmental topics, and participating in ‘going green’ projects, youth can grow in their knowledge about the natural world, learn how life depends on it, and be inspired to care for nature. Spending time in nature has also been scientifically proven to be better for kids’ health, their ability to pay attention in school, and their overall well-being.”
Read more on Indy With Kids
Most parents would agree that they have many schedules to balance. You check the school schedule, work schedule, soccer schedule, PTA schedule, and so on. But there is another schedule that needs attention: the vaccine schedule.
Vaccines are a hot topic right now, and it is important to know what vaccines are, how they work, and which ones are recommended for different kids.
“Vaccines allow your body to safely recognize and learn to fight a disease before you are actually infected,” said Lisa Robertson, executive director of Indiana Immunization Coalition, an organization that educates individuals about vaccines throughout the human lifespan. “Vaccines introduce something that looks like the disease but is much safer. This allows the body to ‘practice’ fighting the disease and create antibodies, which can be used to fight off the real disease in the future.”
Amie Clemons, immunizations program manager at Marion County Public Health Department, agreed, noting that vaccines are a “biological preparation made from killed or weakened bacteria and viruses (germs). The vaccine is introduced into the body where the immune system reacts by producing antibodies. These antibodies destroy the ‘vaccine germ’ as if it was the actual disease. The antibodies then remain in the body, ready to fight off any future invasions by that same bacteria or virus. This is called immunity.”
According to Robertson, most families are following the recommended vaccine schedule, which describes the ages at which children should receive different vaccinations. Less than two percent of toddlers remain unvaccinated. Nevertheless, a conversation around immunizations is much needed.
With the recent shooting at a Noblesville middle school fresh in our minds, central Indiana citizens are growing more and more concerned about the realities of violence and how it affects youth. When kids go to school, they should be safe. Young Hoosiers need to know that they are protected from natural and manmade disasters so that they can focus on learning.
David Woodward, director of School Building Physical Security and Safety for the Indiana Department of Education, provided a bit of background information on the topic of school safety.
According to Woodward, Indiana code mandates that each school corporation have a certified school safety specialist who must attend the state’s School Safety Specialist Academy to create safety procedures for each school in their corporation. IDOE provides five days of basic training to each of these specialists, who are also required to attend additional training for two days each year to receive updated information and learn about best practices across the state and nation.
Woodward stated that, “State Board Rules require that schools have provisions to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students and the public in case of fire, natural disaster (such as a tornado or earthquake), adverse weather conditions, nuclear contamination, exposure to chemicals and manmade occurrences (such as an active shooter, kidnapping or bomb threat). The details of each plan are not mandated by the state, as local resources and coordination are vital. Our Safety Academy provides training on best practices to address each hazard, but we urge planning with local first responders as well.”
In addition to these protocols, Woodward mentioned that IDOE has encouraged further training by partnering with the Indiana State Police to provide an “Unarmed Response to Active Shooter” course and with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to provide grant money for schools to support school resource officers and additional safety initiatives.
Along with traditional law enforcement training, school resource officers receive special training about the specifics of working with kids in a school setting. This is especially true for those supported by grant money, according to Woodward.
“The training for any officer in the state of Indiana is the same,” said Greg Dewald, a local school resource officer. “When you’re an officer in the schools there is a lot more training. That is where INSROA and NASRO come into play. When officers all use the same training source it creates a consistency across all schools. In Indiana, officers that are in the school every day are able to work as a police officer but also as a school administrator. It allows the officers more freedom to search a locker or a student for the safety of the other students.”
Dewald said that training from the Indiana School Resource Officers Association helps new school resources officers gain the same tools as current officers, while also helping the officers learn about effective procedures from a variety of communities.
“We are a resource to our members for all matters regarding school safety,” said Mike Johnson, lieutenant of the Fishers Police Department and president of the Indiana School Resource Officers Association. “We allow members to network and share information as well as put on trainings in as many fields as possible in best practices for school safety. [There is a] wide variety of topics ranging from safe afterschool activities to response to an active shooter. We also provide training through our partnership with the National Association of School Resource Officers. We adopt the NASRO Triad in our training approach that provides for [a school resource officer] to serve as an educator, informal counselor/role model and a law enforcement officer. Finally, we share policy ideas and practices as well as model memorandums of understanding that are essential to a strong relationship between schools and police.”
April is Autism Awareness Month, so what better way to honor youth on the autism spectrum than by learning about their experiences and getting to know some of the organizations dedicated to helping them grow up well!
“An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by problems with social interactions and communication, as well as limited and repetitive patterns of behavior,” said Holly Barszcz, clinical director at Cornerstone Autism Center. “It is important to support individuals with an autism spectrum disorder because, by providing them with proper supports, these individuals can have greater independence when completing tasks, learn skills that they might not have been able to complete in the past, increase their communication skills and interaction with others as well as even display skills appropriate for gainful employment.”
Read more on Indy With Kids.
Organic, sugar-free, fat-free, all-natural, fresh, non-GMO, low-calorie – with so many hot topic buzz words trending in the media and on food advertisements, nutrition can be difficult for anyone to navigate. It can be especially difficult for families to instill the value of nutrition in their homes to pass on to their children.
“Nutrition is the science of consuming and utilizing foods by our bodies,” said Christina Ferroli, a Purdue Extension educator in Marion County. “Nutrition is about eating what our bodies need – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals – to grow, be healthy, be active and live a long life.”
Ferroli’s program provides educational programming for youth and adults about food safety, health, nutrition and more. Opportunities include the Nutrition Education Program and 4-H Youth Development.
Ferroli said that “youth development rests on proper nutrition where youth get the nutrients they need to grow and develop healthy minds and bodies through food. Not getting the nutrients in the amounts needed for growth and development set youth up for deficiencies.”
Carol Rice is the owner and chef at Stargazer Inc., a program that promotes nutrition and encourages healthy choices by providing culinary classes for youth. Rice’s curriculum includes “kid-friendly” recipes that help participants try healthy and tasty foods.
“In my years of teaching, I have learned youth are more apt to ‘buy into’ new things when they’re invited in the process from planning to preparing and picking new things to try,” said Rice. “Research some meals as a family, [and] pick a new [fruit or vegetable] weekly. Always make sure the recipes are youth-friendly, and try not to get to caught up in the calories and fat to where it’s no longer fun. Slowly implement healthier items to your menu and daily snacks.”
Jobs today are not like they were a few generations ago. Many Hoosier youth are struggling to find employers who will hire young people, and others find it difficult to develop personal and professional skills needed to acquire and maintain employment.
Molly Hansen, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist working at Decatur Central High School, said that adults can be supporters and motivators for youth who are looking for jobs.
“Youth need to feel empowered by parents and teachers to pursue a job,” said Hansen. “As youth supporters we need to help youth find jobs that can fit into their lives and benefit them on multiple levels, not just as something to make some easy money. We need to help youth understand the long-term benefits of obtaining a job.”
The JAG program encourages career exploration and focuses on helping students graduate high school and begin their adult lives on positive, productive paths by teaching them personal, life and employability skills that will “make them the most sought-after graduates for the world of work.”
Hansen works with teens to create resumes, practice interviews and research career opportunities. She also emphasizes professional and personal skills that will help youth find and maintain quality jobs.
“Communication skills are a key,” said Hansen. “Students must be able to communicate with family, schools and their employers to keep track of their schedules. Grit is another key skill students should utilize. I have found that many of my students do a fantastic job of finding a part-time job but struggle to keep the job once they have it. Students need to work on developing professional skills that will help them maintain long-term work. Students also need to demonstrate respect and a willingness to learn new work skills and complete the task at hand.”
Janet Boston is the executive director of Indiana INTERNnet, an organization that encourages employers, schools and students to offer and accept internships. She noted that students should be aware of “timeliness and appropriate behaviors, particularly with technology” and that they “really need to hone what we’re calling the soft skills, particularly written and oral communication.”
Furthermore, Boston mentioned that “employers tell us [that youth] really need to enhance their critical thinking skills…it’s not just absorbing information, but turning that information into meaningful projects.”
Human trafficking is an epidemic that is catching the eyes of leaders and concerned citizens globally. Though many people consider this to be a third-world problem, it is affecting families in every community, including Indianapolis.
Indiana statute defines human trafficking and sexual trafficking of adults and minors, but it is important to remember that victims and traffickers are difficult to classify.
“Traffickers can be anyone – any age, any race, any gender [and] any socioeconomic background. They typically have some connection to the victim,” said Kate Kimmer, Statewide Anti-Trafficking Coordinator with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, an organization that develops and coordinates victim services for adult survivors of trafficking. “Victims are equally as dynamic, but we are seeing trends that suggest particular communities and populations are disproportionately impacted by this crime.”
“Victims can be adults or minors,” said Karen Maher, Region 5 Coalition Coordinator for Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program, which trains individuals around the state to identify and address trafficking situations while also finding ways to meet the needs of victims. “However, youth are particularly vulnerable due to lack of life experience, impressionability and their judgment and reasoning not yet being fully developed. Runaway [and] homeless youth, youth with a history of abuse and LGBTQI youth with a lack of support are especially at risk.”
For many, the holidays are a time of joy, laughter and fun memories. For some, though, this season can be a reminder of pain, depression and mourning. This is true for many children who are grieving due to loss or trauma.
“Grief encompasses the thoughts and feelings we experience when we endure a loss,” said Elizabeth Boring, coordinator of bereavement services for the Hope in Healing Pediatric Bereavement Program, which offers grief support to families who have experienced the death of a child at Indiana University Health’s Riley Hospital for Children. “Mourning, which is heavily influenced by culture and society, is how we are able to express our grief as we journey through it. Grief is a natural response to death, but can also be a result of other types of losses such as changing schools, losing abilities due to injury or illness, divorce, foster care, etc.”
“Grief is our body’s natural response to change,” said Kelly Petersohn, hospice bereavement manager and youth grief specialist with Community Healing Hearts and Camp Erin, a Moyer Foundation camp for children and teens who are grieving the death of a loved one. “Grief is experienced after the death of a loved one as the bereaved learn to adjust to a life without their physical presence. Everyone experiences grief differently dependent on a multitude of circumstances.”
As Petersohn mentioned, it is important to remember that not all children grieve in the same way or for the same reason, but they all need support to find ways to handle their emotions in healthy ways.
“Grief is everything we experience inside ourselves when we experience trauma, be it a significant loss, death or traumatic event,” said Carol Braden, clinical director of programs and services at Brooke’s Place, an organization that provides support groups, therapy services and community education to help children, teens, young adults and their families. “Every person experiences their internal grief uniquely; therefore, how our grief is turned outward (‘grieving’ or ‘mourning’) is unique as well.”
According to Braden, it is important to note that youth often grieve differently than adults.
“Children cannot grieve as adults grieve. Adults cannot grieve as a child grieves,” she said. “We grieve where we are developmentally. The younger we are developmentally, the shorter the intense aspects of our grief will come out. The older we are developmentally, the more our being can sustain letting out the intense parts of our grief. The younger we are developmentally, the more we grieve through our play. Even adults grieve through play. At Brooke’s Place, we hold play with great respect, because we know this is how most children and teens integrate their grief story and learn to thrive in the midst of their grief.”
Continue reading on Indy With Kids.