Protecting Our Children: What Delaware Can Do To Stop Child Abuse

The News Journal

“Imagine Delaware” is a recurring effort by The News Journal designed to create a dialogue about the future of Delaware. The March 31 discussion will focus on child abuse, including neglect, physical and sexual abuse. While sex abuse cases get a lot of public attention, the vast majority of abuse cases fall into the neglect realm of not properly feeding, clothing, housing and schooling children, as well as not seeing to their medical needs. The day after the panel discussion and vendor fair, our partners will sponsor several tracks of workshops, some devoted to training people to spot child abuse and know what to do, and some to general information about protecting children. If you are interested in registering for any of those programs, please sign up here.

The Imagine Delaware series involves both deep reporting and storytelling followed by a public forum that brings together state and national leaders to discuss these major issues affecting the state. Past Imagine Delaware efforts have included Delaware's deadly heroin crisis, aging in Delaware, climate change threatening our coast, improving performance in education and the growth of Delawareans suffering from diabetes.

Protecting Our Children: What Delaware Can Do to Stop Child Abuse

Friday March 31, 2017

Time:Vendor exhibition 5:00 – 7:00 PM, panel discussion 7:00 – 8:30 PM

Venue:Cab Calloway School of the Arts

Key Partners:Red Clay Consolidated School District

 Beau Biden Foundation

 Prevent Child Abuse Delaware


Opening remarks by Dr. Jill Biden


Dr. Lyndon Haviland - international expert on public health issues

Josette Manning - Delaware Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families

Dr. David Paul - Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Christiana Care Health System 

Kellie Turner - Director of Programs for Prevent Child Abuse Delaware

Teri Lawler - psychologist for the Red Clay Consolidated School District 


Parking:  Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the school, as well in the long upper lot which overlooks the baseball field and track. In the event that both lots are filled, overflow parking will be available at The Cannery Shopping Center across N. DuPont Rd in the spaces behind Walgreens (see photo below for designated spaces).

Delaware council: Human sex trafficking '2nd largest' criminal enterprise

WDEL | Amy Cherry

January, 9 2017 - For the entire month of January, Delaware officials will attempt to raise awareness about a little-known, but wide-spread issue of epidemic proportions happening closer to home than many would ever guess: human trafficking.

"These are children who are 'throwaways in our society,' who are runaways," said Nancy McGee, a member of the Human Trafficking Coordinating Council.

Those children are being targeted and becoming victims of human trafficking, she said 

"Children who come up out of the foster care system and are not feeling connected, and therefore, are very vulnerable to being approached as somebody who can offer them a quasi-family or financial support," explained McGee.

The council calls it the "least recognized epidemic in the country."

"There's children being trafficked within their own families," said council member Yolanda Schlabach. "There are women that are in prison that have been arrested for prostitution that are actually trafficking victims."

Delaware's location along Interstate 95, which helps to fuel Wilmington's heroin epidemic, only adds to the trafficking problem.

"We know that they're here, and the I-95 corridor is a vessel that traffickers use throughout Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania--that whole Eastern Shore, the I-95 corridor Washington D.C. and Baltimore, that's often the interstate that they use to travel," she said.

"You can kind of tell which massage parlors--they maybe look like homes that maybe look a little 'sketchy' on the outside or they will advertise or Chinese or foot massage, or they're open with a red flashing neon light at 10:30 at night when everything else is closed," she said.

Tuesday, Governor Markell will declare January "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" in an effort to end the crisis, which the council claims has become the second-largest criminal enterprise in the United States.

"[It's] surpassed weapons, and part of the reason for that is because you can sell weapons one time," said McGee. "But a human body you can sell over and over and over again, until they discarded or they die--and then they're easily replaced."

My Worst Nightmare: What If I Raised The Bully?

Today | Leslie Blanchard

April 18, 2016 - I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her 4th grade class, was annoying her.

“What is she doing to you?” I questioned, instinctively protective.

“She’s following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch!” she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter. “You mean she’s trying to be friends with you?” I asked incredulously.

I realized immediately that I had a problem on my hands. I was raising my own worst nightmare. Smack dab in the middle of my brood of five kids, was a charismatic, sassy, leggy, blonde, dance-y, athletic girl oozing confidence ... and apparently annoyance, directed towards another little girl that wasn’t lucky enough to be her. Inconveniently for my daughter, her own mother WAS Bethany in grade school. Freckled of face and frizzy of hair, I was an Army brat, always the new girl clamoring for a friend, drawn to the natural confidence of girls like my daughter. This conversation found me vacillating between heartache and fury, but one thing I knew for sure: Mama was about to put her money where her mouth had been all these years.

The battle of two very strong wills ensued at my home the next morning. It wasn’t pretty, but I prevailed. My daughter attended a private Catholic grade school, where on any given day, she and a handful of her cohorts ruled the roost. One quick phone call to Bethany’s mother that same evening confirmed my worst fears. My daughter and her posse were using everything short of a can of “Cling Free” to rid themselves of the annoying Bethany.

I’m sure there are parents out there who will say I overreacted. But, I firmly believe we’ve got to start to address our country’s bullying epidemic right at the heart; by re-defining bullying at its very core. To me, the rejection and complete lack of interest my daughter and her “clique” displayed toward Bethany was the beginning of a subtle type of bullying. It is true, (confirmed to me by Bethany’s mom and teachers), that there was no overt unkindness or name-calling etc., just rejection; a complete lack of interest in someone they wrongly concluded had nothing to offer them. After experiencing childhood myself and raising five of my own, I’ve been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider.

We would serve our children well, in my opinion, if we had a frank conversation with them about Social Darwinism and what motivates human beings to accept and reject others. It happens at every age and stage of life, race, creed and religion. It has its roots in our own fears of rejection and lack of confidence. Everyone is jockeying for their own spot on the Social Food Chain. I feel like I have experienced demonstrable success with my children by tabling this dynamic right out in the open. Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, shine a bright light in its ugly face. We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. Of course it’s tempting to ‘curry favor’ and ‘suck-up’ to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect. In spite of this, we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.

It’s simply not enough to instruct your children to, “Be Nice!” You’ve got to be more specific than that. Kids think if they aren’t being outright unkind, they are being nice. We know better. Connect the ugly dots. Explain the Darwinistic social survival instinct that’s often motivating and guiding their impulses. I promise you, they can handle it. They already see it on some level anyway. They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction.

As for my girl, I instructed her that she was going to invest some time and energy getting to know Bethany. I assigned her to come home from school the next day and report three cool things she found out about Bethany, that she didn’t previously know. My strong-willed child dug in. She did not want to do that. I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power. Her resistance gave us time to have the Social Darwinism conversation. I walked her through my “ATM Machine Analogy.” I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little.

“Let’s invest!” I enthused and encouraged.

She got dressed reluctantly and I drove her to school. She had a good day — what was left of it. But, she was still buggy with me when I picked her up, telling me that her friends’ mothers, “stay out of such matters” and let their daughters, “choose their own friends!” (Such wise women.) And then she told me three cool things about Bethany that she didn’t previously know.

I checked back in with Bethany’s mother by phone two weeks later. It’s called follow through. (I don’t think enough of us are doing that. We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say, “Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of?” No wonder there’s zero accountability and a bullying culture!) Bethany’s mother assured me that she had been welcomed into the fold of friendship and was doing well.

Bethany’s family moved to another state a few years later. My daughter cried when they parted ways. They still keep in touch through all their social media channels. She was and is a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. She is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. She is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people. When she was malleable, impressionable and mine to guide:

— She learned her initial instinct about people isn’t always correctly motivated.

— She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships aren’t people that are your “type!” In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.

— She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.

But, most importantly, she learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldn’t care less if she’s Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, she’s going to damn well treat people right.

Parents — your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let’s at least hover over the right areas.

Five things that can make you a better parent right now

Washington Post | Meagan Leahy

July 20, 2016 - Since 1998, I have worked with hundreds of parents. As a teacher, school counselor, parent educator and currently a parent coach, I have taken note of what makes some parents more effective than others.

Effective parents are not measured by any of the cultural standards that we seem to be working toward these days. They come from all walks of life and have followed many paths to parenthood.

I know parents who underwent severe trauma as children, yet consciously created families to reflect values that were born out of ideas, not experience.

I know parents who have children with serious physical and emotional needs, and these parents seem to have cultivated a life of hope and joy.

I know parents who are introverted but have a brood of wild extroverts, and they manage their own needs while allowing the children to bloom.

A tween’s mood swings and tantrums are driving mom crazy ]

All of these parents offer the same things to their children: safety (emotional and physical), connection, boundaries and patience. They are not perfect, nor are they effective all of the time. They keep going, even in the face of confusion, doubt, egregious mistakes and fear. They may give up for the night, but they get up the next day ready to begin again.

Here are five ways that you, too, can be a more effective parent.


1. Cultivate a family value system. “Well, jeez, who doesn’t have values?” you may ask, and the answer is that yes, when asked, all parents profess to having strong values. But Americans don’t have a common parenting culture that has been passed down to us. Our wonderful mix of religions, ethnicities, worldviews and customs means that we are able to create our own parenting and family mores.

This is both freeing and problematic. How do we feel about faith, busyness, education, puberty, sex, romantic love, marriage? The questions can go on and on. But rather than seeing this as a problem, parents have the power to create their own family values, and that’s spectacular.

You wanted more faith growing up in a family that didn’t practice anything? You can choose a religion for yourself and your children. You feel that travel is an important way to understand the world and how others live? You can hit the road with your family at every opportunity. You grew up volunteering and giving to others, and you loved it? You can continue it in your family.

But it’s not enough to just say something is important, or to do something without thinking about or explaining your choices. Effective parents consciously choose their value systems, talk about those choices and make sure that they are practicing them in their everyday lives. Parents know that if they don’t create a value system for their family, our society will, and, frankly, we don’t want society raising our children.


2. Prioritize self-care. I have met parents over the years who are facing incredibly hard situations: terribly sick children; an unexpectedly ill spouse; career, home and money hardships; and other challenges. Yet they bear their problems with hope, an honest acknowledgment of the difficulties and (this is important) a surprising lack of self-pity. What is the common thread among these parents? Self-care.

Take your notion that self-care is nothing more than a trip to the spa and chuck it. True self-care means not only placing your physical and emotional needs on your list of things to do, but also using them as a compass for your life. Without self-care, you are a martyr, living from moment to moment. You are bouncing through life like a pinball, sometimes a winner, often a loser. You feel as though life is hurting you, and you don’t feel empowered to make decisions. This can cause you to resent your children and your partner. You resent work when you are there and home when you are there. Your future is bleak, and you may be perpetually tired.

An introverted mom struggles to deal with her kids’ nonstop chatter]

Self-care is the glue that keeps you together. I know a mom who always has a wedding anniversary dinner with her spouse, and who will go for a run by herself, even though she has sick children. Another mom, going through a terrible divorce, turned to her friends for help and graciously received it. When parents are in the weeds with their first baby, they should allow neighbors to cook, clean and bounce the baby, ignoring that inner pride screaming, “No, do it yourself.”

It’s okay for busy, hardworking parents to go away for a week of sun and rest or to wake up at 5 a.m. to walk the dog by themselves for a moment of peace and exercise. Or to sacrifice some of their family’s time and money so they can finish a degree.

Effective parents place their own needs high on their list of priorities. When these needs are met, the parents feel fulfilled. And when parents feel fulfilled, they can calmly turn to their family with renewed energy, feeling deeply grounded and ready for whatever comes their way. Balanced parents create balance in their families.


3. Create strong but kind boundaries and routines. This is, hands down, the most powerful strategy for raising young children. Effective parents know that the younger the child, the more boundaries and routines are needed. Whether it be waking up, meals, napping or bathing, a young child feels safe when the same thing happens over and over. Yet effective parents also know that there needs to be room for flexibility within that structure. Why? Life happens. Constantly. Wise parents know that a boundary held too tightly and a routine that does not allow a child to grow will create tension, struggle and misery.

It is better for children to struggle against a boundary or routine than to struggle against their parents. It is responding to “Mom, why do I have to do my homework now?” with “Because this is the time homework gets done” instead of “Because I said so.” It is not that one response will make the child adore homework; it is that one response is rooted in control, while the other is a matter-of-fact statement of routine.

As the child matures, the boundaries and routines may endure some debate, but it is still important to keep them up. Despite how they may act, tweens and teens do not want their parents to let go of the reins; they just want a voice in how much slack there is.

My parents weren’t affectionate, so I had to teach myself how to be]

Strong and kind boundaries and routines can almost eliminate the need for punishments, bribes, threats, rewards, nagging and yelling. Almost.


4. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Let’s get real here. Are you really going to go through life not taking any of your children’s behavior personally? No. The beautiful and complicating factor of parenthood is that you love your children, and this love makes everything personal. It is your job, however, to gather all of your maturity and understand that children are immature. They are reacting to deep impulses coming from within them, both lovely and tough.

If you fall into the trap of taking your children’s behavior personally, you cannot clearly see your children. You are too busy reacting to your own junk. You explode or you waver in indecision. When you buckle down and realize it’s really not about you, you will be free to parent. And when you do occasionally explode, forgive yourself and move on.

As you are growing as an adult, you will also become more comfortable with the expression of emotion, in all its messy forms. Will you enjoy your child’s tantrum? Will you relish the hitting? Will you celebrate the rudeness? No. But you will understand that the human experience involves feeling emotions and letting them out. And young children do this frequently and poorly. We guide, we hug, we create boundaries, and we help them move through the emotions and move on.

Effective parents acknowledge that there is no workaround for this. Big emotions are inconvenient, but they are appropriate — and the alternative (keeping emotions in) makes children angry, violent and withdrawn.


5. Take the time to connect, and know how to laugh, play and not take yourself (or your children) too seriously. The most effective parents I have witnessed take the smallest moments with their children and create intimacy. My grandmother was an expert at this. When she turned her gaze to me, her eyes sparkled, she smiled, and she gave me all of her attention. She may have been simply handing me a mint, but it was still a moment of connection. Our culture is distracting us more and more (smartphones, right?), but it is critical to remember to give your children your full attention.

Connection with our children comes in car rides and silent cuddles, reading books and shopping, shooting hoops and learning about video games. Effective parents don’t let moments slip away, and when they realize they are becoming distracted, they get back in there.

And whether they are introverts, extroverts, sporty, artsy, silly or serious, effective parents recognize play as key to development. Make room for and encourage imaginative play. This will vary from family to family and parent to parent, but the beauty is that there is room for all types of play and silliness.

And perhaps most important: Play doesn’t end as children mature. One of the reasons so many parents are miserable is that they live in an endless loop and forget to enjoy the ride. Effective parents make time, among their daily duties, to have joy, laughter and play. Make it a priority, and you, too, will be an effective parent — and an effective human being. Now that’s worth repeating.

The Prevention of Violence Against Children: A Global Effort


November 19th is the International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Learn more about how CDC is protecting the futures of children all around the world with the Violence Against Children Survey.

On September 25th, the United Nations released a comprehensive list of Sustainable Development Goals designed to improve global inequalities by 2030. These goals, ranging from improvements in economic growth and clean energy to ending world hunger, require that all people from all parts of the world join together for the common good of humanity. They ask that we recognize each of the goals as imperative to the well-being of future generations, which is a timely reminder as we approach the International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse on November 19th.

To advance the United Nations call-to-action, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has collaborated with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other key members of the Together for Girls public-private partnership to provide technical assistance to host country governments in the implementation of national Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS).

Children who experience violence are at a greater risk for long-lasting consequences, including, but not limited to:

  • Infectious diseases such as HIV
  • Chronic diseases
  • Reproductive health problems
  • Crime and drug abuse
  • Social and developmental difficulties
  • Serious mental health problems

More than 1 billion children—half of all the children in the world—are victims of violence every year.

These consequences are costly, pervasive, and preventable. CDC's Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) seek to understand the breadth of the problem of violence against children, which enables countries to better allocate limited resources to prevention programs. VACS are unique, national household surveys that measure physical, emotional, and sexual violence against children in order to inspire action and save lives. VACS data have been released in eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, with growing demand for VACS implementation in Central America, Eastern Europe, and West Africa. The VACS findings show an urgent need for violence prevention measures.

VACS data released earlier this year focused on lifetime childhood sexual violence (before age 18 years) among females and males aged 18-24 in seven countries (Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti, and Cambodia) between 2007 and 2013. The data showed that:

  • At least 1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males have experienced some form of childhood sexual violence in the majority of countries surveyed.
  • Among victims of childhood sexual violence, few received healthcare, legal/security aid, or counseling support.

Further, HIV is an epidemic in many of the VACS countries. Sadly, the VACS data show that most children who have experienced sexual abuse have never been tested for HIV. Adding HIV testing to the VACS will allow HIV positive children to receive life-saving care, treatment, and support.

The most recent VACS data[16.7 MB] were released in Nigeria on September 15th. This data release was accompanied by a year-long action plan dedicated to reducing violence against children. The Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, showed his full support by saying, "This is a historic day. A day when Nigeria stands up and says to our children—we commit to protecting you from violence." The United Nations Secretary General commended Nigeria for being the first country in West Africa to complete the survey.


The VACS data draw attention to the tragic realities of violence against children, but the story doesn't end there. As an offered solution linking VACS data to sustainable action, CDC has published a technical package of core prevention strategies called THRIVES. THRIVES strategies cross health, social services, education finance, and justice sectors to provide the best available evidence to prevent violence against children:

  • Training in parenting,
  • Household economic strengthening,
  • Reduced violence through protective policies,
  • Improved services,
  • Values and norms that protect children,
  • Education and life skills, and
  • Surveillance and evaluation.

THRIVES will require coordination and cooperation from everyone. The International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse provides a time for people all over the world to join together to advance the call-to-action proposed in the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals—to end all forms of violence against children.

CDC's Division of Violence Prevention works to prevent violence and its adverse health consequences. For more information about the Violence Against Children Survey, please visit Towards a Violence-Free Generation.

For more information on THRIVES, visit VACS Reports and Publications.

Teens: This is how social media affects your brain

CNN | By Susie East

August 1, 2016 - Whether you're on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, What's App or Twitter, the way you communicate with friends today is changing.

Keeping in touch is no longer about face to face, but instead screen to screen, highlighted by the fact that more than 1 billion people are using Facebook every day.

    Social media has become second nature -- but what impact is this having on our brain?

    Reward circuitry

    In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a bespoke social media app resembling Instagram. By watching the activity inside different regions of the brain as the teens used the app, the team found certain regions became activated by "likes", with the brain's reward center becoming especially active.

    "When teens learn that their own pictures have supposedly received a lot of likes, they show significantly greater activation in parts of the brain's reward circuitry," says lead author Lauren Sherman. "This is the same group of regions responding when we see pictures of a person we love or when we win money."

    The teenagers were shown more than 140 images where 'likes' were believed to from their peers, but were in fact assigned by the research team.

    Scans revealed that the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain's reward circuitry, was especially active when teens saw a large number of likes on their own photos, which could inspire them to use social media more often.

    Peer influence

    As part of the experiment, participants were also shown a range of "neutral" photos showing things like food and friends, and "risky" photos depicting cigarettes and alcohol. But the type of image had no impact on the number of "likes" given by the teens. they were instead more likely to 'like' the more popular photos, regardless of what they showed. This could lead to both a positive and negative influence from peers online.

    Sherman believes these results could have important implications among this age group.

    "Reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive in adolescence," says Sherman, "It could be explaining, at least in part, why teens are such avid social media users."

    Read: What parents need to know when kids are on social media

    Social learning

    Adolescence is a period that is very important for social learning, which could explain why teens are often more tuned in to what's going on in their respective cultures. With the rise of social media, Sherman thinks we may even be learning to read likes and shares instead of facial expressions.

    "Before, if you were having a face to face interaction everything is qualitative. You use someone's gestures or facial expressions, that sort of thing, to see how effective your message is," she says.

    "Now if you go online, one of the ways that you gauge the effectiveness of your message is in the number of likes, favorites or retweets, and this is something that's really different and unique about online interaction."

    However, the study may not be applicable to everyone, according to Dr. Iroise Dumontheil, at Birkbeck University.

    "[The study] only has adolescents and so they can't really claim anything specific about whether it's adolescents who react to this differently compared to adults."

    Read: Teens spend nine hours a day using media, report says

    Changing the brain

    Dumontheil does, however, concur that social media is affecting our brain, particularly its plasticity, which is the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.

    "Whenever you learn something new or you experience something, it's encoded in your brain, and it's encoded by subtle changes in the strength of connections between neurons," says Dumontheil.

    For example, one study showed that the white matter in an adults' brains changed as they learned how to juggle over a period of several months. "They found that if you scan [the brains of] adults before they learn how to juggle, and then three months later, you can see changes in the brain structure," says Dumontheil.

    Time spent on social media could, therefore, also cause the brain to change and grow.

    "We might be a bit less good at reading subtle expressions on faces that are moving, but we might be much quicker at monitoring what's going on in a whole group of our friends," says Dumontheil.

    So are these new skills a good or a bad thing? Neither, she says. "It's just a way we have of adapting to our environment."

    To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents


    IN 1986, in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, Jamaica, a team of researchers from the University of the West Indies embarked on an experiment that has done a great deal, over time, to change our thinking about how to help children succeed, especially those living in poverty. Its message: Help children by supporting and coaching their parents.

    The researchers divided the families of 129 infants and toddlers into groups. The first group received hour long home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. A second group of children received a kilogram of a milk-based nutritional supplement each week. A control group received nothing. The interventions themselves ended after two years, but the researchers have followed the children ever since.

    The intervention that made the big difference in the children’s lives, as it turned out, wasn’t the added nutrition; it was the encouragement to the parents to play. The children whose parents were counseled to play more with them did better, throughout childhood, on tests of I.Q., aggressive behavior and self-control. Today, as adults, they earn an average of 25 percent more per year than the subjects whose parents didn’t receive home visits.

    The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.

    More recent research has helped to uncover exactly how that change can take place. Psychologists including Mary Dozier at the University of Delaware and Philip Fisher at the University of Oregon have studied home-visiting interventions in which parents of infants and young children are provided with supportive, personalized coaching that identifies and reinforces the small moments — such as the face-to-face exchanges sometimes called “serve and return” interactions — that encourage attachment, warmth and trust between parent and child.

    The impact of this coaching can be powerful. In one series of experiments, infants and toddlers whose foster parents received just 10 home visits showed fewer behavior problems than a control group and significantly higher rates of “secure attachment” (a close, stable connection with the adults in their lives). The children’s ability to process stress improved, too. In fact, the daily patterns in their levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, came to resemble those of typical, well-functioning, non-foster-care children.

    These positive influences in children’s early lives can have a profound effect on the development of what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. In our current education debates, these skills are often talked about in morally freighted terms: as expressions of deep-rooted character, of grit and fortitude. But in practice, non-cognitive capacities are simply a set of emotional and psychological habits and mind-sets that enable children to negotiate life effectively inside and outside of school: the ability to understand and follow directions; to focus on a single activity for an extended period; to interact calmly with other students; to cope with disappointment and persevere through frustration.

    These capacities may be harder to measure on tests of kindergarten readiness than skills like number and letter recognition, but they are inordinately valuable in school, beginning on the first day of kindergarten. Unlike reading and math skills, though, they aren’t primarily developed through deliberate practice and explicit training. Instead, researchers have found, they are mostly shaped by children’s daily experience of their environment. And they have their roots in the first few years of life. When children spend their early years in communities and homes where life is unstable and chaotic — which is true of a disproportionate number of children growing up in poverty — the intense and chronic stress they often experience as a result can seriously disrupt, on a neurobiological level, their development of these important capacities.

    This is why interventions such as home visits with parents can be so effective. When parents get the support they need to create a warm, stable, nurturing environment at home, their children’s stress levels often go down, while their emotional stability and psychological resilience improve.

    Though interventions in the homes of infants and toddlers are especially effective, the principle that intervening with adults can help children seems to hold true in schools, as well. The Chicago School Readiness Project, a program developed by Cybele Raver, a psychologist at New York University, trains prekindergarten teachers in high-poverty neighborhoods in techniques intended to create a calm, consistent classroom experience for children: setting clear routines, redirecting negative behavior, helping students manage strong emotions. Mental-health professionals are also assigned to work in each classroom, but they are concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher as with that of the students.

    Dr. Raver calls this approach “the bidirectional model of self-regulation,” by which she means a kind of virtuous cycle. If from the beginning of the year the classroom is stable and reliable, with clear rules, consistent discipline, and greater emphasis on recognizing good behavior than on punishing bad, Dr. Raver believes that stressed-out students will be less likely to feel threatened and better able to regulate their less constructive impulses. That improved behavior, combined with the support and counsel of the mental-health professional assigned to the class, helps teachers stay calm and balanced in the face of the inevitable frustrations of teaching a group of high-energy 4-year-olds.

    The evidence from Dr. Raver’s experiments indicates that the program’s effects go well beyond classroom climate. The results of a recent randomized trial showed that children who spent their prekindergarten year in a Head Start classroom of the Chicago School Readiness Project had, at the end of the school year, substantially better attention skills, impulse control and performance on memory tasks than did children in a control group. They also had stronger vocabulary, letter-naming and math skills, despite the fact that the training provided to teachers included no academic content at all.

    The students improved academically for the simple reason that they were able to concentrate on what was being taught, without their attention being swept away by conflicts and anxieties. Changing the environment in the classroom made it easier for them to learn. Nurturing the healthy development of infants and children, whether in the home or in the classroom, is hard and often stressful work. What we now understand is that the stress that parents and teachers feel can in turn elevate the stress levels of the children in their care, in ways that can undermine the children’s mental health and intellectual development. The good news is that the process can be reversed, often with relatively simple and low-cost interventions. To help children living in poverty succeed, our best strategy may be to first help the adults in their lives.


    To the Lady at the Pool Who Spoke Up During One of My Lowest Parenting Moments

    THE MIGHTY I Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

    I’ll never forget that summer.

    It was hot, I was 9-months pregnant with our third child and supposed to be on rest. My OB had instructed me not to lift more than 10 pounds.

    The concept of rest is laughable to any mother, let alone a 9-month-pregnant one with a 19-month-old and 3-year-old, who would later be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

    I neglected to tell my doctor that I spent most days underarming my 3-year-old out of public places, with a diaper bag slung on one shoulder, my daughter’s hand in one of my own and tears in my eyes. Every public meltdown, every set of eyes on me, made me feel deflated. At that time, I felt my son’s behavior was a reflection of my parenting skills.

    That summer my husband got us a pool membership. The plan was to have the kids wear themselves out in the kiddie pool and water tables. I could plunk my pregnant self in the kiddie pool with them and “rest.”

    In reality, I’d manage to wrangle my toddlers and all our pool gear into the car, drive to the facility, lug everyone through the building and out back to where the pool is located only to have my oldest melt down, after which we’d get him out of there, all the way back through the facility and home.

    The other moms would look away in an attempt to be polite. They would rifle through their diaper bags or start up a quiet conversation with their children, pretending not to notice us. It was impossible not to notice us.

    We arrived at the pool one excruciatingly hot and humid morning. My son immediately melted down, and all the moms did their pretending-not-to-see-it thing. I tried to talk him down, but it wasn’t working. Cheeks flushed, heart pounding, I tried to calm myself down. Defeated but determined not to convey it, I set my jaw and collected our belongings. My son continued melting down. I was moving as quickly as I could for an extremely pregnant woman.

    The pool moms continued to look away as I struggled to lower my 9-month-pregnant-body down to his level to pick him up. Once I had him, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and our bags.

    “Excuse me!” I heard a female voice from the opposite side of the pool call out. I hesitated. I was trying not to cry. Reluctantly, I looked up and met her eyes. The woman was walking toward us with gusto, arms swinging.

    “Bravo, mama! Bra-vo! No one here will say this to you,” she said, as she gestured toward my silent audience with one hand, “but you are doing the right thing. You’ve got this! Good job, Mom!” And then, she started to clap her hands. She applauded my parenting at one of my lowest parenting moments to date.

    I thanked her. She had validated my parenting when I was questioning it and feeling small.

    “Thank you,” I mouthed again, for my words were now gone. She nodded and turned on her heels and walked away.

    When I finally made it back to my car and managed to get the kids clipped into their car seats, I put my head to the steering wheel and did the ugly pregnancy cry thing. I realized I had been feeling quite alone with this spirited, strong-willed 3-year-old. On this day, I felt supported and was extremely grateful for that woman’s words. I wanted to go back to thank her properly, but my son was still melting down in his seat and I was far too emotional to be coherent.

    Do you know how often I think of that stranger and her kindness? It has been five years, but I think of her all the time.

    I think of her when I’m in Target and someone’s kid is “acting up.”

    I think of her when I am checking out at the grocery store and the mom with four “whiny” kids in tow is behind me; I see that look in the mom’s eyes and I know she’s struggling to hold it all together.

    I think of her every single time I see a pregnant woman managing toddlers.

    I think of her when the frazzled looking mom in the minivan cuts me off and then apologizes with a wave. I can see the ruckus going on in her backseat. I know how loud it must be in her car, how difficult it must be to think, let alone drive.

    I think of her when I see a mom whisking her crying child out of mass on Sundays.

    I think of her every time I see a child “pitching a fit” or a mother who looks exhausted.

    We have all been there, haven’t we? And some of us have been there more than others.

    Do you know what? I always say something now. Always. And, if I can’t say something due to distance or whatnot, I make eye contact and send that mom a genuine you’ve got this smile. I know how much a kind word can mean in a dark moment, and I know kind words are contagious. They can alter behavior.

    I don’t know where the woman from the pool is today. I wish I could thank her. I wish I could let her know the words she spoke to me on that day changed me and my behavior, forever. Thanks to her, I am not fumbling with my purse, trying not to notice the elephant in the room. Now, I know better.

    As kids, we were taught if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. I’d like to add an addendum to that saying for all the mamas out there:

    If you are thinking kind thoughts, always share them. If you have something nice you could say, say it.

    Think about how lovely this world would be if everyone poured forth all the kind thoughts and observations that they keep in the silence of their minds.

    Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not 'Just Get Over It'


    Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, and horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspires survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).

    In fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.

    If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.

    If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this is not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on over drive and senses threat everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.

    Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart racing, breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only lasts for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.

    Then stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old? How will you cope if your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?

    As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.

    The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:


    Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose

    Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant

    Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt how babies get more kindness and attention or have some inbuilt ‘memory’ of this. However, ‘acting like a baby’ can be negatively viewed as regression, yet it is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them. These behaviors need to be handled gently until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch, but you were driven to seek it out which requires real courage.

    Dramatic reactions

    When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over

    The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously over used, it will be fight

    Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use

    They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’


    Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body copes with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults

    Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.

    How long until they do ‘get over it?’

    It’s a fair question as why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?

    Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!

    Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy. As practitioners, it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far.

    Keeping Kids Safe Online

    July 27, 2015 - If your child is surfing the Web, you need to be paddling right alongside him — or at least observing him carefully from the shore. While the Internet offers goodies galore (educational materials, fun games, and connections with people all over the world), it can also pose risks to your child's physical safety and emotional well-being. 

    Here's what is appealing — and what's dangerous — about several popular ways kids use the Internet, along with suggested rules to keeping kids safe online. The bottom line: Communicate with your child. Discuss what she's doing online and why. Set rules, and talk about them. Then keep talking, since your child can earn more rights and responsibilities as she grows. If she feels comfortable with these conversations, she will be more likely to let you know when she runs into an online bully or stumbles upon inappropriate content. While keeping kids safe, be a role model with your own Internet habits, since your child is likely to emulate your behavior.

    Safety Standards:

    These basic rules apply to keeping kids safe online; visit for age-by-age tips.

    • Limit usage. Permit your child have free online time for, say, 30 minutes right after school to instant-message friends, play games, or visit social networking sites, but make it a rule that family time starts with dinner. After that the computer is used for homework and it's an IM-free zone.
    • Keep kids in sight. Have the computer centrally located. Your child is less likely to browse questionable content if she knows Mom or Dad (or her brother or sister) might walk by at any second. This helps you monitor time spent online, chosen activities, and resultant behavior.
    • Do your homework. Check his browser history to know where your child goes online, and check the sites regularly. Use security tools and privacy features — whether offered by your browser or Internet service provider, or purchased separately — for extra protection. GetNetWise has more information about these safety features.

    Kids' Favorites:

    Use this overview to understand what kids love to do online — and what risks go along with the rewards.

    Communicating and social networking: Online communication consists primarily of email, instant messaging (IMs), chat rooms, and journals or Web logs (blogs). On networking sites such as Facebook, kids can create Web profiles, and then invite others to view and become online buddies. Your child may use these media to share gossip, exchange photos, make weekend plans, find out about missed assignments, connect over common interests, and express opinions.

    What to know: One out of every five kids gets sexual solicitations online. Strangers, predators, and cyber-bullies all target children, and their work is simplified when screen names reveal age, gender, or hometown. If posts aren't marked as private, personal information can be displayed to an unrestricted audience of readers.

    What to do:  

    • Know who your child talks to online. Review her buddy list: does she really know everyone, or are some buddies "friends of friends"? Have her remove anyone whom she hasn't met in person.
    • Tell him not to exchange personal information like a phone number, address, best friend's name, or picture. No party invitations, revealing details, or meeting in person — ever.

    Web surfing: Kids can explore new interests, check to see if a library book is available, or find a recipe for the class party in valuable resources, such as online encyclopedias, newspapers, and periodicals.

    What to know: Surfing the Web without restrictions can mean encountering pop-up ads, viruses, erroneous information, and inappropriate content. The ease of cutting and pasting means that plagiarism is a real concern. And time flies online! Kids can click from one site to another until bedtime (or beyond), if you let them.

    What to do:

    • Set a code of conduct and time limits. Keeping kids safe means setting guidelines about suitable language, content, and behavior. While it's important to direct your child to suitable websites, it's even more valuable to help her recognize the redeeming qualities of those sites, so she can surf safely on her own.
    • Critique content. Help your child think critically about the content he reads and sees. Encourage him to check facts with multiple sources before including them in a school report. Try to distinguish between user-generated content and reputable institutions.