Monday, August 29, 2016

Helping Youth Deal With Post Traumatic Stress - A Few Tips

In recent months the Baton Rouge community has faced several major challenges.  Public violent incidences and the recent historic floods have disrupted daily routines and placed unprecedented stress on every aspect of our society including religious institutions, education, governmental and law enforcement agencies.

In dealing with the long and intensive process of recovery, we sometimes forget the silent faction impacted the most......our children.  Youth are exposed to media more than ever.  Daily exposure to violent incidences, damage to homes and public institutions, and lack of resources can be devastating to a child's emotional and mental health.  Post traumatic stress can disrupt healthy family and community relationships and it can interfere with learning and emotional growth.  Ignoring stress can have devastating long term effects.

To prevent long term effects, adults can assist children by being aware of the signs of exposure to trauma and violence.

Young children struggling with post traumatic stress may be irritable, fussy and have difficulty calming down.  Adults may notice that children become easily startled and resort to behaviors common to being younger (for example, thumb sucking, bed wetting, or fear of the dark.)  Affected children may have frequent tantrums, cling to caregivers, experience changes in level of activity, or repeat events over and over in play or conversation.

Older children may exhibit the most behavioral changes as a result of exposure to violence.  Teens may talk about the event all the time or deny that it happened, refuse to follow rules or talk back with greater frequency  They may complain of being tired all the time, engage in risky behaviors, and sleep more or less than usual.  Adults may notice an increase in teens' aggressive behaviors and a desire to be alone and isolated from friends.  Additionally, teens may use drugs or alcohol, run away from home, or get into trouble with the law as unhealthy responses to post traumatic stress.

Adults can also help young people deal with post traumatic stress by creating a predictable environment, and by listening to and assuring children and adolescents that whatever happened was not their fault.  In working to support children and adolescents, remember that exposure to violence may require specialized assessment and interventions that many adults are unable to provide. Refer children and adolescents to professionals both within and outside the school system.  Other professionals may include family doctors, psychologists, social workers, school counselors or I CARE specialists.

The I CARE Program of East Baton Rouge Parish Schools has compiled a list of local and national resources necessary in addressing trauma and post traumatic stress.

Dealing With Trauma

Other I CARE Resources

Please note that the information in this post was taken from the Safe Start Center, a National Resource Center for Children’s Exposure to Violence.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Stability......the Key to Success!

In my professional readings, I recently discovered a 2013 research synthesis by Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta on the negative effects of instability on child development. As these things often do, it got me thinking about real world applications, specifically, some of the cases we work through our I CARE program.

Sandstrom and Huerta's work discovered the following:
"Children thrive in stable and nurturing environments where they have a routine and know what to expect. But a large number of children face instability at some point in their lives. They experience change in individual or family circumstances that is abrupt, involuntary, and/or in a negative direction."
Five areas of instability are examined: family income, parental employment, family structure, housing and the out-of-home contexts of school and child care. The research also studies some of the key pathways through which instability may affect development and suggests policy and practice to alleviate this devastating effect. The article can be found at this link. If you work with kids, especially those who live in poverty and may lack adequate resources, I strongly encourage you to read it. The information is eye-opening and provides some real answers to problems that seem to plague many of the kids in our school system and district.

Recently, our program intervened in a situation in which an elementary-aged child, who had suffered the loss of her mother, was being uprooted by her father to move away to a new city and state. Many of those close to the child (church members, teachers, friends of the family) begged and pleaded with the father to avoid this move if possible. The move was related to employment and was also optional. The concern was that the child who already dealing with grief related to the loss of her mother, would also have to cope with the changes associated with the loss of her friends, school, church members and community.  Consultation on the issue didn't change the dad's mind, and I began to reflect on the number of cases I worked as a specialist in which the child's way of life was impacted by instability.  Frequent residence changes, changes in co-cohabitants in the home, abrupt and sudden changes in school enrollment and attendance, and a lack of life routines were common threads in many of my students lives.  

In facing the many challenges of life, parents can sometimes overlook the importance of stability in the life of a child.  Living in the same home for an extended period of time, attending the same school, and experiencing shared life routines with family and friends, are an important, and sometimes overlooked, protective factor in the life of a child.  Stability can act as a buffer to substance abuse, mental health issues, and other challenges in life.  Stability can also act as a facilitator for resilience and a "boosting" of those personal characteristics that contribute to academic and everyday success.

My best advice to parents......even when you are faced with uncertainty and upheaval, do your very best to shield your child from the unnecessary and unhealthy effects of change.  Your effort could be the key in contributing to your child's long term success.

Sandstrom and Huerta.  "The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis" The Urban Institute. September 2013

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Parent Factor in Underage Drinking

One of the experiences of working in the prevention field is that we are often approached by people during off time with questions related to substance abuse.  I love the work I do and see these minor intrusions as important to our mission.....I welcome the opportunity to serve.  Just recently, during a jog, I had a grandparent/neighbor ask me about the proper course of action when she discovered that the friends of her granddaughter possibly were indulging in substance use.

The discovery was made on the granddaughter's cell phone.  Her parents were informed and my immediate reaction was, "Contact the parents of the friends and let them know."  The grandparent seemed hopeless and helpless because she didn't feel it would do any good.  We often hear about parents who allow underage alcohol use by their teens as long as it happens at home. The mistaken assumption is that this course of action is safer due to the parents knowing where their kids are and what they are doing.  We all know what the research says about early alcohol and substance use and the effect it has on the developing brain.  Either parents choose to ignore these facts, or they believe it won't happen to their kids.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this dilemma.  As parents and grandparents, we can no longer choose to only be aware of our child's actions and decisions. We have to now engage other parents and be aware of their beliefs and decisions about their teens and underage substance use.  It's a challenge, and social media, depending on our approach, can make it easier or more difficult.

A few resources do exist.  Our own website, I CAREhas a digital guide for parents.  Lots of information can be found at Partnership for Drug Free America.  In fact, an excellent article at this link debunks so many of the myths associated with underage drinking at home.

Even though it is filmed in a different state and jurisdiction, the video below sums up my perspective perfectly on the issue.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Welcome to the Director's Corner. Over the next few months and years, I will examine issues relevant to substance abuse and violence prevention education from the perspective of someone who works in public and non-public schools. I work with a staff of 15 specialists who are all licensed prevention professionals in the state of Louisiana. We spend our days providing one-to-one supports, small group instruction, and classroom presentations in a variety of substance abuse related issues.  Our topics range from underage alcohol use to suicide to bullying.

Please check back here often and I look forward to conversing with you.