Project Everlast Councils Celebrate Foster Youth Awareness Month

This May, Project Everlast youth councils across the state held events to celebrate Foster Youth Awareness Month. Here are just a few of the outstanding events that the young people put together.

LINCOLN

The Lincoln council held a hot dog and hamburger fundraiser at the Bay, where they showed a video to raise awareness of what it was like to be a teenager in the foster care system.

GRAND ISLAND

The Grand Island council worked with the local CASA chapter to hold the Superhero Run to raise awareness of youth in foster care. View the local coverage of this event now.

OMAHA

The Omaha council held their annual recognition event, where each young adult received an award for accomplishments of the year — like graduating high school, getting a job, staying sober and more. One of the most touching times of the night came when the youth presented a video that they created for their Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.

NORTH PLATTE

The North Platte council celebrated Foster Care Awareness Month with an open mic night at a local coffee house.

Sixpence Early Learning Fund awards 16 new grants

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The Trustees of the Sixpence Early Learning Fund announced this week that 16 high-quality early childhood programs serving at-risk infants and toddlers across the state will receive grant awards totaling approximately $2 million, beginning July 1, 2015.

Sixpence grants are intended to build new early childhood programs or expand existing services to address the developmental needs of Nebraska’s youngest children at risk.

This brings the statewide total up to 31 grantee sites, serving nearly 1,000 at-risk babies and toddlers.

“We know for a fact that children’s preparedness to enter kindergarten and thrive in the K-12 system depends on the quality of their earliest learning experiences,” said Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, Commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Education. “Sixpence is about creating the kinds of high-quality early experiences that reduce the achievement gap in our state and improve children’s chances of lifelong success.”

“Sixpence pursues its goal by helping Nebraska parents provide safe, stimulating, supportive environments and relationships during the critical early years of life,” said Amy Bornemeier, grant administrator for the fund. “This is especially important for families who face significant challenges in meeting the developmental needs of their youngest children.”

Sixpence grants are awarded to community partnerships through local school districts. The grants make it possible for communities to provide an array of resources and services such as high-quality child care and specialists who work with individual families to improve parent-child interactions. “Sixpence partnerships are flexible and highly responsive to local needs,” said Bornemeier. “Communities can help families with young children more efficiently and effectively when they understand how to organize and make the most of their local resources. Sixpence helps make that happen.”

Sixpence is an innovative, results-driven model for early childhood development in Nebraska. It represents a collaboration between the Nebraska Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and private investors at the state and local level.

“Our partners and donors demand a high degree of accountability for the dollars they invest,” said Bornemeier. “Sixpence grantees are held to a rigorous evaluation process conducted by world-class researchers at Munroe-Meyer Institute to ensure we’re seeing the kinds of outcomes we ought to expect from high-quality programs.”

Bornemeier also noted that Sixpence grantees are required to match their grant awards with local funds to demonstrate a commitment to this level of early childhood education. Approximately $2 million in local resources was raised to leverage the $2 million disbursed directly as Sixpence grants in the latest awards.

The following school districts are recipients of the June 2015 Sixpence grant awards:

  • Auburn Public Schools
  • Crete Public Schools
  • Falls City Public Schools
  • Fremont Public Schools
  • Garden County Public Schools
  • Hastings Public Schools
  • Kearney Public Schools
  • Lexington Public Schools
  • Millard Public School
  • Norfolk Public School
  • Omaha Public School – Early Learning Center
  • Omaha Public School – Educare
  • Papillion-LaVista Public School
  • Schuyler Public School
  • Scottsbluff Public School
  • Seward, Centennial and Milford Public Schools Consortium

“Sixpence is a far-reaching investment in our state,” said Cara Small, who was appointed to the Sixpence Board of Trustees by Governor Ricketts earlier this year. “It’s preparing more Nebraska children to succeed not only in school, but in life. That means more graduates with marketable skills, fewer young people entering the criminal justice system, healthier and safer communities, and a stronger economy.”

Jennifer Thielen hired as Associate Vice President, Strategic Partnerships

Jen Thielen

Nebraska Children’s development and advancement efforts now have a new face. Jennifer Thielen of Omaha has taken over the top development spot at the foundation, and is now working to secure partners in the organization’s mission to create positive change for children through community engagement.

“The amazing thing about Jen is that she has a profound understanding of our work to prevent abuse, close the educational achievement gap, and help foster kids transition successfully to adulthood,” said Kelly Medwick, Nebraska Children’s Chief of Staff. “And our partners see that. They also love being around her because she’s such a warm, welcoming person.”

Thielen was previously the director of Project Employment, a program of Nebraska Children that provided former foster youth with critical employment skills and the opportunity to secure a well-paying job.

“I loved the work I did with Project Employment,” said Thielen. “I’m even more excited to bring partners into the mix who will support all the outstanding work happening at Nebraska Children.”

Thielen’s background in hospitality and management has uniquely suited her for this role of serving the needs of our partners. Everyone at Nebraska Children is thrilled to have Thielen in this new role, and is looking forward to supporting her continued success in helping to cultivate the good life for all of Nebraska kids.

Those interested in learning more about Nebraska Children can contact Jennifer Thielen at (402) 965-1711 or jthielen@nebraskachildren.org.

Passage of LB 519 means more funding for afterschool and summer learning

afterschool

The 2015 Legislative session was a big one for Nebraska’s children and families. Among the many bills that passed, LB 519 was signed into law — including for the first time in Nebraska, a definition of Expanded Learning Opportunity programs (which was based largely on the Nebraska State Board of Education’s 2013 Policy Statement on ELOs) and created a grant program to support these programs in the future.

Funding for these programs is set at 1% of the education funds generated by the State Lottery. This program will be implemented in the summer of 2016 and the Department of Education is currently determining a process to take advantage of this new funding opportunity.

While these critical wins for Expanded Learning in Nebraska were a small part of the bill, this is a huge win for afterschool and summer education. This is the first time in history funding from the state will be put toward Expanded Learning Opportunities. Currently, programs are funded by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants and private funding. This new strand of funding will mean more sustainable and innovative programs in even more Nebraska communities.

Here’s Expanded Learning matters:

Want to learn more?

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Download the Big Book of ELOs in Nebraska.

Be a friend to the children in your community: How friends and neighbors can strengthen families

Your circle of friends and neighbors is a powerful safety net for families. It can range from the close relationships you’ve had since childhood to the casual acquaintances who are in your circle by chance. Adults look to other adults to know how to act in many situations, including how to behave with their children.

But parenting is a touchy subject. There’s an invisible line that friends don’t cross when it comes to telling other parents how to raise their kids. The secret here is not to tell, but to show, by helping the families in your life build Protective Factors.

Protective Factor #1: Nurturing and Attachment

If you have children of your own, set an example with how you treat your children. Your friends will notice if you’re very close to your kids and that they’re securely attached to you, and can then use your behavior as a model when things get stressful.

Even if you don’t have kids of your own, holding, snuggling with and cooing to the newborn of exhausted new parents reminds them how precious their little bundle is. Asking older kids questions and getting to know them might give overworked parents ideas on how to talk to their kids.

Protective Factor #2: Knowledge of parenting and child development

If you’re looking for an awesome gift for a new parent you should skip the baby blankets and buy a couple of great child development books. There are plenty of excellent books for parents on how to better relate with their children starting kindergarten, becoming a “tween”, beginning high school or experiencing some specific life event or milestone.

Protective Factor #3 & 4: Parental Resilience/Social Connections

Friends are imperative to both of these important protective factors. What makes someone resilient? Getting a break from the stress. And a network of friends – close and casual – are the best source for people to get a break.

Make time to connect

This doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive or complicated. Just take the initiative to plan a time for your parent friends to meet up – for dinner, coffee, a softball game, a watch party of your favorite show – whatever. The important thing is that friends are connecting and that parents are getting a break from the rewarding, but very stressful job of raising children.

Check-ins

New parents, or families that are going through tough times don’t always need a lot. But they do need to know that you’re there for them. Call, text or email unprompted just to “check in.” You just want to see if there’s anything your friend needs and let them know that you’re there if they need you. Even if they never take you up on it, the simple act of reaching out lets them know they’re not alone.

Parenting war stories

When you’re having parenting challenges, but it seems like everyone else’s family is perfect, you can feel very lonely – like there’s something wrong with you as a parent. Feeling like this causes too much shame to seek out help if it’s needed. Friends can help by empathizing – letting a parent who’s having trouble know that you’ve been there too. It’s much easier to deal with stress when you know that your friends have all made it through similar struggles.

Protective Factor #5: Concrete Supports

While as a friend, you may not BE the concrete support that a family you know needs – like a doctor, help with housing, or emergency food – you can make referrals. If you see your friends and their families struggling and you know a service that can help them, SAY SOMETHING.

Learn more about protective factors and child abuse prevention. Download the eBook now.

Protective Factors for educators and service providers

Teachers, para-educators and other caregivers are the center of most children’s waking hours. While parents are at work, educators like you have uninterrupted hours of influence on the children in your charge. And because of your regular contact with parents, you have a unique perspective into the dynamic of each family you touch.

You also have the power to maximize the Protective Factors in each of your families.

Protective Factor #1: Nurturing and attachment

Even though you’ll spend much more time with students rather than parents, educators have opportunities to encourage positive interactions that foster healthy attachment between parents and children. Children who are securely attached to their parents, and have nurturing families, behave better in the classroom and are ready to learn.

What we know

Children’s early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with caring adults affects all aspects of behavior and development. Children that feel loved and supported by their parents and other adults tend to be more competent, happy and healthy as they grow into adulthood.

What you can do

  • Help parents build positive relationships with each of their children
  • Develop trust and working relationships with the parents you serve. Regular communication helps
  • Guide parent observations of their children’s unique characteristics, strengths and development
  • Promote development of daily routines that provides infants or children with ample time for rest, nourishment, and play
  • Link parents to evidence-informed programs to promote attachment such as Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI) and Circle of Security
  • Know symptoms of maternal depression and make appropriate referrals as needed
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific strategies

Parent nights

Periodic events where parents come to the classroom with their children can give you an opportunity to show new ways for families to interact. By teaching new games and modeling positive interactions, parents have the opportunity to expand their repertoire of behaviors with their kids.

Homework for parents

Send home periodic “worksheets” for parents to fill out that encourage interaction. For example, one worksheet could have the parent interview a child on his or her favorite hobby. The homework could be positioned as a way to help the child develop better conversation skills. Another example might be family art projects, or asking parent and child to develop their own recipe book.

Home visiting services

Many schools in Nebraska offer home visiting services for families with infants and toddlers – such as those in a partnership with the Sixpence Early Learning Fund or working with Early Head Start. Is there an organization in your community that you can partner with to offer weekly home visits to your families who’ve just had babies or have toddlers in the home? Evidence-based home visiting has proven to increase nurturing and attachment within the family.

Protective Factor #2: Knowledge of parenting/child development

As an educator, you have a formal education in child development, plus the day-to-day immersion in the world of children. It’s easy to forget that parents don’t always have the same training!

What we know

Parents that understand child development stages and parenting strategies to support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development are more consistent with rules and expectations and communicate more effectively with their children.

What you can do

  • Provide information on developmental stages with examples
  • Be responsive to issues presented by parents in the moment
  • Offer information or coaching on specific parenting challenges
  • Give parents opportunities to network with each other
  • Promote early identification of children’s developmental delays and provide of appropriate assistance
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific strategies

Monthly development info

Share what you know about the age group you’re teaching. Send home periodic letters about the developmental milestones, challenging behaviors that are common, interests that may come up, and age appropriate activities. You can also include quality information on family and parenting like these Parenting Guides from Boystown.

Host infant care classes

When one of your families has a new baby, invite them to periodic infant care classes at the school, where they can learn how to care for their new baby and get face-to-face education on child development.

Protective Factor #3: Parental Resilience

When parents and children can bounce back quickly from the stresses that lives throw at them, they’re far better positioned to respond effectively to the needs of their children, adapt to changes and manage challenges and crises.

What we know

Many characteristics and abilities comprise resilience, such as a problem solving skills, positive attitude, and seeking help when needed.  Resilience is the ability to handle both general life stresses and parenting stresses as well as to recover from occasional crises.

The word “resilience” will not be understood by all parents. Explore alternative ways of talking about these skills, for example, using an affirmation such as, “I have courage during stressful times or in a crisis.” By partnering with parents, you can help them pinpoint factors that contribute to their stresses, as well as the successful coping strategies they use and their personal, family, and community resources. (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Provide information on causes of stress and how it affects health and relationships
  • Help parents develop skills such as planning, goal-setting, problem-solving and self-care
  • Make mental health support accessible and non-stigmatizing
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Protective Factor #4: Social Connections

Having a strong network of close and even casual friends is a proven factor in positive parent-child interactions. Consistent informal support helps provide for the emotional needs of both parents and children. Holding periodic Parent Nights is a wonderful way to introduce parents to one another and get them comfortable with other adults in the school. Just by knowing someone, it’s easier to reach out for help when it’s needed.

What we know

Parents that are connected to constructive, supportive family, friends and community have better child and family outcomes. Everyone needs people in their lives that offer, positive emotional support, positive parenting norms, resource sharing and mutual help.

Identifying and building on parents’ current or potential social connections, skills, abilities, and interests can be a great way to partner with them as they expand their social networks. For parents who have difficulty establishing and maintaining social connections, your discussion may help them identify what is holding them back.  Encourage parents to express goals regarding social connections in their own terms, such as, “I have friends and know at least one person who supports my parenting.” (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Create spaces or opportunities for parents to socialize
  • Help parents choose positive social connections
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Protective Factor #5: Concrete Supports

The Protective Factor means that parents have access to tangible goods and services to help families cope with stress, particularly in times of crisis or intensified need. The school is the center of the community for families with children. And many schools capitalize on this by offering other services to families at the school itself. What are the concrete needs facing your families at risk, and how can they be met at the school?

What we know

Parents need basic resources such as food, clothing, housing, transportation and access to essential services in order to ensure the health and well-being of their children. Many families do not get the resources and services for which they are eligible. Stigma can be one significant barrier.

Most parents are unlikely to use or identify with the words “concrete supports.” Instead, they might express a goal such as, “My family can get help when we need it.” Working with parents to identify their most critical basic needs and locate concrete supports keeps the focus on family-driven solutions. As a partner with the family, your role may simply be to make referrals to the essential services, supports, and resources parents say the need. Some parents might need additional support in identifying their own needs, addressing their feeling about asking for help, navigating eligibility requirements, or filling out forms. (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Use trusting relationships as the gateway to services and service networks
  • Help families know what is available in the community as well as how to access local resources and services
  • Promote service designs that support family integrity and build on family strengths
  • Strengthen connections between service providers
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific Strategies

After-school/summer learning programs

Child care in the non-school hours is a critical need for working families. Having the kids safe and engaged in meaningful activities after-school and during the summer means that parents will have the peace of mind they need to earn the income that will help the whole family get ahead. Your school may already have these programs in place. Are they serving all of the children who need them?

Food distribution

Making food available, via a backpack program or another discreet method is a way to ensure that families who are food insecure have what they need. After all, it’s difficult to maintain secure family bonds and positive interactions when the stress of chronic hunger is very real.

Central access to family services

The community’s network of supports for families isn’t always the most accessible. Often, even adults have a hard time navigating the system and they don’t know who to go to. Since they’re already familiar with your school, be a place parents can come and get access to other community services. Having easy and low-visibility access to the services they need can make a major difference in how families interact.

Protective Factor #6: Social-Emotional Competence of Children

This is a protective factor that all educators are familiar with. When social and emotional competence is present, children experience, regulate and express emotions to develop secure adult and peer relationships. Over the last few decades, teachers and administrators have added a range of social and emotional teaching methods to their toolkit as it became clear that without these critical skills, children couldn’t succeed.

What we know

Children who learn to communicate their emotions effectively and develop self-regulating behaviors interact more positively with adults and peers and are more likely to fare better in school and in life.

As a partner with parents, your role may simply be to explore how parents perceive their children’s social and emotional development and how that is affecting the parent-child relationship. Not all parents will relate to the terms “social and emotional competence.” They may choose to communicate its importance in terms of the desired outcomes: “My children feel loved, believe they matter, and can get along with others.” (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

Assist adults and caregivers to:

  • Have positive perceptions of each child
  • Respond warmly and consistently to each child’s needs
  • Create an environment in which children feel safe to express their emotions
  • Talk with children to promote vocabulary development
  • Help children separate emotions from actions;  model empathy
  • Encourage and reinforce children’s social skills such as taking turns
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

The Pyramid Model

Across Nebraska, the Pyramid Model is being implemented in facilities that educate children from birth to age five. This is an evidence-based approach to promoting social and emotional competence in infants and young children. Learn more about the Pyramid Model.

 Learn more about Protective Factors and child abuse prevention in Nebraska. Download the eBook now.

Everyone’s business: How the business community can strengthen families and prevent abuse

At first, the idea of businesses playing a role in raising healthy, stable children seems counterintuitive. But when you consider that working adults spend the majority of their waking hours at their jobs, it becomes clear that employers have a powerful impact on the quality of life of their employees. And employees with healthy, stable homes have fewer sick days and are more productive at work. As a business owner or manager, you have a lot of say in whether your practices positively influence the family lives of your employees.

You can build a culture, policies and practices that encourage the six Protective Factors with your employees’ families.

Protective Factor #1: Nurturing and attachment

Parents that are securely bonded to their kids are far more likely to have the positive interactions that lead to long-term stability and health of the children. Business owners and managers like you can promote nurturing and attachment through the following.

Maternity leave

While companies with 50 or more employees are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to mothers after the birth of a child, smaller businesses may find this difficult. Work with your expecting employees to make sure they get enough time to bond with their babies, either with 8-12 weeks of maternity leave or with a shorter amount of leave followed by a part-time return period. For employees reluctant to take unpaid leave, consider offering inexpensive short-term disability insurance that will pay a percentage of the employee’s salary while she’s on leave.

Bonding leave

Dads need time to bond with their new children too. Many businesses give new fathers a paid week off to get to know their new baby in addition to any vacation or sick time. This is a great way for fathers to get acquainted with the newest member of their families.

Encourage vacation and sick leave

Having vacation and sick time wonderful, but employees often don’t use all of the time their employers provide them. By creating “use it or lose it” policies that allow employees to roll over only a week of their vacation/sick time, you’re encouraging them to use these days off to care for sick family members, or better yet, connect as a family with a vacation.

Family events

Having an annual holiday party or family picnic can be a powerful way for employees to connect their home life with their work life. By providing family-friendly activities that your employees can do with their children, you’re helping them build a deeper connection, while letting your employees know that they’re important to you.

Protective Factor #2: Knowledge of parenting and child development

Parents that understand the ages and stages of infancy and childhood, and have a good grasp on strategies for dealing with the more challenging aspects of child development, make better parenting decisions. It sounds obvious, of course. And since working parents spend most of their time with their employer, businesses can help provide some of this knowledge.

Books as gifts

If you give gifts to your employees on birthdays, holidays or when a new child is born, consider giving a book about child development. Mind in The Making and The Happiest Baby on the Block are two good choices.

Home visiting referrals

Many new parents find the services of a home visitor invaluable. Trained child development professional will visit the home, check on the child’s development and share activities parents can do to help the child meet developmental milestones. This is powerful one-on-one learning that benefits both parent and child enormously. Provide any new parents that work for you with the contact information for home visiting in your area, such as:

Protective Factor #3: Parental Resilience

One key component to a successful family that’s bringing up strong, stable children is the ability of parents to bounce back from stress. As a business owner or manager, you know that the job can be a primary source of stress… and that’s not going to change. One thing you can do is provide resources for employees to deal effectively with stress.

Encourage regular breaks

Periodically recharging while on the job leads to greater productivity and innovation, plus allows employees to effectively deal with stress.

Reward healthy living

Regular exercise is a proven way to manage stress and promote resilience. Provide your employees an incentive to join and use a local gym. For example, any employee who logs 21 days of workouts in a month earns a day off. You can also work with local health clubs to negotiate a lower rate for your employees.

Personal development

Many companies will periodically bring in trainers to speak to employees about health and stress management.

Protective Factor #4: Social Connections

This Protective Factor is a win-win. For your business, employees are far more likely to stay with an employer if they feel like they have friends on the job. For your employees, parents who have solid friendships are much more likely to have positive, healthy interactions with their children. Is your workplace a place where friendships grow?

Informal mentoring programs

These effective and free programs help new employees become acclimated with your business, while providing them with an instant connection. Mentors can help guide employees without involving management, and make employees feel like they belong.

Social events

The occasional social event on a Friday afternoon can do wonders for relationship building. It brings people closer together and helps employees create those workplace friendships that mean so much for their on-the-job performance and their ability to bounce back from stress at home.

Protective Factor #5: Concrete Supports

Every family sometimes needs some extra help. And while it might not be the role of your business to provide the help they need, supervisors and human resources managers are in a good position to provide referrals and indirect access to concrete supports.

Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program is a very inexpensive benefit businesses can offer their employees, allowing them to get free counseling for personal, work and family issues.

Opt for insurance that covers mental health visits

If you offer health insurance to your employees, be sure to offer a policy that covers counseling and mental health prescriptions.

Keep a list

Doctors, dentists, child care facilities, grief counseling groups, food pantries – sometimes when an employee has an emergencies, coworkers and supervisors are the first to notice. Being able to discreetly slip an employee the contact information for a service they desperately need is a helpful, caring move that will benefit the employee, their family and you.

Protective Factor #6: Social-emotional competence of children

The most effective way for businesses to support the development of their employees’ children is to make it easy to access high-quality child care.

Dependent Care Flex Plan

Allow your employees to pay for child care tax free by instituting a flex plan. A certain portion of their wages is withheld and not taxed, and they can be reimbursed from the withheld money for what they spend on child care.

Consider a partnership

If there is a high-quality child care facility near your location, consider approaching them about reduced rates for your employees. The benefit to you is that having your employees’ children at a nearby child care center will also make it easier for them to stay with you.

 

Learn more about Protective Factors and child abuse prevention in Nebraska. Download the eBook now.