Rewarding Responsibility: Honoring Unique Forms of Parenthood

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:

Colors of the Rainbow: Finding Ways to Support Youth on the Autism Spectrum

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.

Make the Change: Encouraging Nutrition for Families and Youth

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.”

Continue reading on Indy With Kids.

Youth Employment: Encouraging Career Exploration

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.”

Read more on Indy With Kids.

Red Flags: Identifying and Preventing Human Trafficking

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.”

Read more on Indy With Kids.

Looking Inside Ourselves: Supporting Children in Times of Grief

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.