Good news on teen pregnancies

Years ago, I remember walking into the den while my daughter was watching the reality TV show “16 and Pregnant.” I was initially shocked. MTV was pretty much a “no-no” in my house, and she was still pretty young to be watching it, in my opinion.

Instead of freaking out, I decided to watch an episode with her and let it launch a conversation that I’ve tried to keep open since then. Trust me, the episode was wrought with all kinds of teen drama, giving us plenty of things to talk about.

At that time, I would have never believed that reality TV shows like this one would be credited, in part, for a nationwide drop in teen pregnancy. In 2014, a study estimated that teen births dropped 6 percent in the 18 months following the show’s release.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the news that teen pregnancy is on the decline in the nation. The same holds true here in Henderson County, and we at the Children & Family Resource Center couldn’t be more relieved.

Our work with teen parents has long had us aware of the need for better access to information for teenagers and for support for parents to help them gain knowledge and confidence to talk to their teens about sex.

Obviously, the reason for the decline in teen pregnancy is about much more than reality TV shows. A 2014 study by the Guttmacher Policy Review identifies two reasons that are at the opposite sides of the arguments about what to do about sex education. Those reasons:

• Fewer teens are having sex. Over the past two decades, there has been a shift in social norms that encourages teens to remain abstinent or delay sex.

• Today’s teenagers have better access to information about sex, and teens who decide to have sex have better access to contraception and are using it more often than in the past.

The newly released numbers show that birthrates among females ages 15-19 have declined 38.5 percent nationwide from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. The largest drops have occurred among Hispanic (47.8 percent) and black (40.3 percent) teens.

North Carolina is seeing a 43.3 percent drop in birthrates for females ages 15-19, and here locally we’ve also seen numbers drop significantly with a 28.3 percent decline from 2013 to 2014.

Even though we are celebrating a decline in teen pregnancy nationwide, CDC Director Tom Frieden is correct in stating, “The reality is, too many American teens are still having babies.”

Obviously, teen parents need a lot of support. The odds are against them, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable. The statistics say that teen parents are less likely to complete high school, much less go to college. They are more likely to become pregnant again while still a teenager (22.3 percent of teen pregnancies in North Carolina last year were repeat teen pregnancies). We also know that children of teen parents are also at greater risks for health complications, academic challenges and social problems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Over the past 15 years, we have proudly helped hundreds of teen parents successfully beat the statistics and graduate from high school, go to college, land jobs and go on to lead successful lives. Teens enrolled in the Children & Family Resource Center’s Adolescent Parenting Program receive individualized, targeted support aimed toward the goal of helping them graduate from high school and make choices to delay a second pregnancy.

We work to help them overcome life’s obstacles, develop solid parenting skills and knowledge of child development, and transition into adulthood by furthering their education and job training.

A trend we’ve noticed locally is the increasing involvement of teen dads. Through the years, I’ve often been asked, “What about the teen dads? What happens to them?” Teen fathers have always been welcome to participate in our program, but historically they have been hard to keep engaged. This year, we are about to enroll our fifth teen father in the program.

I recently read a great quote from a teen mom that appeared in a 2004 article in Parents Magazine about teen parenting. The 15-year-old mother said, “I’d like the world to know that teenage moms can be every bit as caring, loving and perfect or imperfect as any other mother. We’re parents, too, and we’re just like other parents — only a little bit younger and with a little bit more to learn.”

It is our privilege to work with parents to help them improve the lives of their children, no matter their age or circumstance. For more information about our programs, please visit our website, www.childrenandfamily.org, or contact us at 698-0674.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center.

This article originally appeared on here.

Going Upstream for Crisis Prevention

Imagine you and I are taking a walk together. We’re strolling through the woods on a sunny, warm day when we hear water and people in the distance.

We walk toward the sound and come up to a river rushing fast from recent rain. We are alarmed to see people in the water being swept away by the current. We also see a crowd of people standing on the banks, working furiously to pull them to safety.

We rush to join the crowd on the banks and begin working alongside them, pulling people out as quickly as we can. It seems the harder we work, the more people there are to be rescued.

In the intensity of the rescue work, someone steps back and says, “Has anyone bothered to go upstream and see how all of these people are getting here to begin with?”

Perhaps you’ve heard this story before. It is one of prevention, and we’ve been telling it forever at the Children & Family Resource Center. At its core, it describes who we are in this community.

Our intent is to be an agency that is working upstream to keep people out of the crisis. To do that, we focus our work on children in their earliest years of life — believing we can have the greatest impact on their future, and our future, by intervening in those earliest years.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Last month, I talked to you about foster care and the wonderful opportunity we have to love children in our community. There are 153 children in foster care in Henderson County, but only 58 foster homes.

I am incredibly thankful for the loving families who are willing to open their homes to children in great need of love and support. But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need them at all?

According to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect, 127,515 child abuse and neglect reports were made in North Carolina between July 2014 and June 2015, costing North Carolinians more than $2 billion in medical and mental health services, juvenile delinquency interventions and lost worker productivity.

Here at home, there were 1,200 child abuse and neglect reports made during that period. Of those, 1,003 cases were opened for investigation and 256 were substantiated or found in need of services.

Child abuse and neglect can occur in any type of family with no regard to socioeconomic level, gender or race, and has many forms, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and medical neglect.

Children who are abused suffer greatly and are more likely to experience low self-esteem, lack of self-control, higher levels of aggression and violence, academic and vocational problems, depression, alcoholism and interpersonal problems, and they are more likely to abuse their own children.

Sadly, our youngest children are at greatest risk. More than half (52.1 percent) of the nation’s child abuse and neglect cases involve children under age 7, with children under age 1 being the most likely victims.

Neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment, making up nearly two-thirds of all child abuse cases. Neglect ranges from failure to provide for the basic needs (like food) of a child to failing to properly supervise a child. Some 41 percent of deaths to children from abuse were due to neglect.

Somehow we have to work together to keep children out of these situations to begin with. Knowing our youngest children are most at risk, we can make that difference when we are able to work with new families to help them build protective factors like parental resilience and the ability to regulate emotion and respond to stress in a healthy manner.

We can also help create strong systems of support and connection for the family, help parents gain knowledge of child development and appropriate parenting strategies, and help children grow socially and emotionally competent.

The Children & Family Resource Center offers several programs and services that are considered best practices in preventing child abuse and neglect, and that help build these protective factors for children in our community. Fortunately, most parents do a good job caring for their children, but there are situations where some parents need extra help and support in caring for their children appropriately.

As adults, the responsibility lies with all of us to protect children. In fact, North Carolina law requires all adults to report possible child maltreatment if there is reasonable cause to suspect it.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you can make a report by contacting the Henderson County Department of Social Services at 697-5572 or, after hours, at 697-4911. You do not need proof or permission to make a report, and your report can remain anonymous.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center (www.childrenandfamily.org; 828-698-0674).

Article was seen originally here.

Building Brains Takes All of Us

Last spring I sat with a group of volunteers in a classroom at Hendersonville High School getting ready to judge senior project presentations.  A young woman walked in and I mistook her for a teacher.  My interest was piqued when I realized she was one of the students I’d be judging because her poise and demeanor suggested a more mature person.  When all the students had gathered, we went around the room introducing ourselves, trying to create a friendly environment and encouraging them to relax so they could do their best.  All of the presentations were excellent.  The students were well-prepared and did a great job, reinforcing my hope in this generation.  When the young woman finished with her presentation, I sat amazed at what I learned, the scope of the project she took on, the quality of her work, her powerful delivery, and the meaningfulness of the project itself to improving the life of another person.  In response, I couldn’t help but ask her if she was going to law school.  She responded no, but said she had plans to study sonography at AB Tech.  I was convinced that no matter what she did, she would excel.

After the students left and we were debriefing with the teacher, I learned that she was an honor student, which did not surprise me.  I also learned she is a teen mom and that did surprise me.  The next day, I was happy to learn she was already enrolled in our Adolescent Parenting Program and had been receiving the support and help she needed from our team to balance being the mother of a new baby while also being a superior high school student.   She graduated from high school this past June and in July received the NC Valedictorian Award, because she had the highest GPA among high school students enrolled in this program across the state of NC.  She is the third teen mom from Henderson County to win this award.

Today, she has completed the Adolescent Parenting Program and is now enrolled in our Parents as Teachers program where she’ll continue to get much-needed support to help her transition into adulthood and achieve self-sufficiency.  She has also been awarded one of our Scholarships for Single Mothers to help her pay for school.

While I’ve written mainly about this teen mom, this story is every bit as much about her son.  The moment he was born, he had most of the brain cells he would need for his entire life.  What began to happen, almost immediately, was that his little brain began building connections.  In fact, he is building 700 new neural connections per second in the first years of life.  This process of “brain building” is directly impacted by his environment and life experiences.   Because we know the environment of a child during the first years of life can have lasting effects, we focus our work and interventions in the first years of life.  Through our program, a trained parent educator will work with this young mother to help her create a stable, nurturing and stimulating home environment and to develop her parenting skills.   We’ll be in her home at least twice a month teaching her about what is happening with her son at each stage of his development so she can become the best mother and teacher for him.  We’ll teach her how to make play meaningful and how to help him gain the skills he’ll need later in life.   We’ll be giving him developmental screenings along the way, because we know it is important to catch them early and address them quickly.

The larger community will have a role in encouraging his growth as well.  He is going to need safe places to be, caring adults to love and help him, a healthy start with good health care and nutritious foods to eat and experiences that will encourage his learning.  We all have a role to play.

Families like this one are supported by a strong network we’ve been able to build in this community.  Our local United Way has kicked off their new annual campaign and your support helps in part to fund the programs that have helped this family.  Our other community partners join with us to make sure families have what they need for success, whether its medical care, safe and affordable housing or food. We communicate regularly, under the leadership of our local Community Foundation, gathering every other month to ensure we’re meeting needs and not duplicating services.

When all is said and done, our journey with this family will end in the weeks after he enters Kindergarten.  We will work with his mother and his teacher to transition him into school successfully.  In that time, mom will have finished school and will be employed and able to support herself and her son and he’ll be ready to learn all the things Kindergarten has in store for him.  With the support of this community we’ll have made a very smart investment in both of their educations and will have helped shaped a better future.

Mental Health Services Lacking for Local Children

By Elisha Freeman, Executive Director, Children & Family Resource Center

I’ve heard two comments in the past week that are disturbing. One was from a local pediatrician who lamented that there was only one pediatric psychiatrist (a different level of training than a psychiatrist who treats adults) in WNC who accepts Medicaid, leaving many of the children in her care without quick access to the help they need.

A few days later I listened as a local Kindergarten teacher talked of a student who, at age five, suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how it affects his young life in the classroom, as a learner and a peer.  I shudder to think of what must have happened to him.

To some extent, I’ve avoided writing about this critical need for children because I’m certainly no expert.  The issues are complex and layered and, while a whole lot of people are talking about them, the solutions seem elusive.

The American Psychological Association reports that “an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.”  The NC Infant Mental Health Association notes that social and emotional problems impair up to 10-14% of children nationally and in North Carolina, that equates to 91,000 children.  As stated in their annual report, social and emotional health is the foundation for everything that is critical to well-being in life, from physical health to our ability to learn, to connect with others, to thrive.  And it must be cultivated from the very beginning through nurturing relationships, positive experiences and supportive environments.

Improving access to mental health care services for children was identified as a priority back in 2007 when the local citizens came together to set our community’s priorities for our children at the United Agenda for Children’s Speak Out for Kids event.  As a result, two area providers, Blue Ridge Community Health Services and Family Preservation Services, are providing onsite mental health services to students in nine of our local schools.  They both accept Medicaid and NC Health Choice, they both accept sliding scale fees based on family income, and they both provide individual, group and family services.  At least one utilizes telemedicine to access a Psychiatrist when needed.  Although headway has been made, the problem hasn’t been solved.  In fact, it continues to grow as a critical need for people of all ages.

Among human service providers, there is frustration over lack of appropriate services and the wait times it takes to get much needed help.  Local parents have few choices for their children and children suffer without interventions.   The impact carries into the home, into schools and into our community.

Changes to how mental health services are delivered were implemented in 2001 (what we refer to as mental healthcare reform) with the establishments of Local Management Entities.  The intent was to privatize mental health service because the government was running everything.  On the surface, that sounded great, but private providers could not financially stay afloat. Unfortunately, lack of clear guidelines and reduced reimbursement rates led to frustration among providers and many experienced mental health professionals left the field.  Additionally, access to services was confusing; services became unavailable to clients, and the numbers of people with mental illness that ended up in emergency rooms and jails significantly increased.

Recognizing this growing crisis, the State made changes in 2012 (shifting to Managed Care Organizations) with the goal of reducing costs and improving the quality of care.  “The risks are high and if successful, NC would become a national leader in solving the problem of Medicaid financing for mental health services,” says Rose Hoban, health reporter for North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, states in a five part series on NC’s mental health reform. “If it fails, it could cost billions to fix.”

Our General Assembly provides the infrastructure and funding that make things work through our state’s budget.  To work as its intended, the money side and the policy side need to match.  Jack Register with the National Association of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) of North Carolina reminds, “the intent was that all “savings” accrued by the Local Management Entity (LME) –Managed Care Organization (MCO) system were to be reinvested into creating and broadening innovative services.”

Currently, the Senate version of the budget proposes more funding cuts to the LME-MCO systems (in the millions).  Mental Health advocates are speaking out against these cuts saying they will simply hold us in a steady-state of current services (which remain confusing and inadequate) and not allow reinvestment into those innovative solutions.

I’m still not sure what all the answers are, I just know they are needed and I think we can learn something from our friends who are coming together in great quantities to oppose Duke Energy’s transmission lines project.  Until we get mad enough to demand something better, nothing is likely to change.  Improving mental health access for children (and adults as well), is something we all need to get a little more noisy about.

If you are the parent or care provider of a child with mental illness, NAMI of WNC can help you navigate the system of care and provide support services for your entire family.  Their number is (828) 505-7353 or email info@namiwnc.org.  If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact our local Managed Care Organization, Smoky Mountain Center at (800) 849-6127 for 24/7 crisis response.    

 

Building an Asset-Rich Community for our Children

By: Elisha Freeman, Executive Director, Children & Family Resource Center

Think back to when you were a child.  Can you think of an adult outside of your immediate family (not your parents or grandparents) who had a positive influence on your life?  What are three things about that person that stood out to you?

I sat in a training session with my coworkers recently and we were asked to go through this exercise.  Here are the things we said out these special people in our lives:  authentic, real, consistent, vulnerable, relatable, willing to fight for me (literally), advocate, honest, they showed up, they were nonjudgmental, they affirmed me, they had high expectations of me, they valued me, they validated me, they invested time in me, they ‘recognized’ me, they modeled their values and beliefs (they walked their talk), and the most often repeated sentiment is that the person was there for them, present in their young life.

In a group of professional, on-the-top-of-their-game women, tears flowed as stories about these special people were shared.  It’s my guess, that many of the adults who had so significantly shaped our lives, had absolutely no idea what impact they had (I know I never told mine) and that led me to think, outside of my own children, what other children am I influencing?  Who are you influencing?

Our training was on something called the “40 Developmental Assets” for children.   Years and years of research have identified some forty “assets” that, ideally, a child should have a good number of (an ambitious goal would be 31) present in his life to develop to full potential.  While you may not have heard the term before, you would recognize the work because many of the assets are the cultural and community values we hold dear.

Assets are both external (rooted in the community or provided by others) and internal (values from within the child that are developed and influenced by those external inputs), and they are divided into eight asset categories:

  • Support: young people need to be surrounded by people who love, care for, appreciate and accept them.
  • Empowerment: Young people need to feel valued and valuable.   This happens when youth feel safe and respected.
  • Boundaries and Expectations: Young people need clear rules, consistent consequences for breaking rules, and encouragement to do their best.
  • Constructive Use of Time: Young people need opportunities, outside of school, to learn and develop new skills and interests with other youth and adults.
  • Commitment to Learning: Young people need a sense of lasting importance of learning and a belief in their own abilities.
  • Positive Values: Young people need to develop strong guiding values to help them make healthy life choices.
  • Social Competencies: Young people need the skills to interact effectively with others, to make difficult decisions and to cope with new situations.
  • Positive Identity: Young people need to believe in their own self-worth and to feel they have control over the things that happen to them.

Each of these categories has a list of assets that contribute to children growing up healthy. The assets reflect common wisdom about the kinds of things we already know young people need and deserve.

Research shows that the more assets a child has present in his/her life, the less likely they are to make harmful or unhealthy choices.  Of over 89,000 teenagers (in grades 6-12, ages approximately 11-18) surveyed those with more assets were far less likely to develop problem alcohol use, engage in violent behavior, illicit drug use or engage in sexual activity.  Furthermore, the research showed that the assets work without regard to gender, ethnicity, socio-economic condition, or geography.

Nationwide, 59% of the young people surveyed have fewer than 20 of the assets identified.

Ideally, a community would work together to be an ‘asset-rich community’ full of systems in place that build those assets and full of individuals (like the adults I mentioned above) who are called ‘asset builders.”   YOU are an asset builder, by the way.

A caring adult (the asset builder) provides the gateway to the ‘promises’ or the ‘assets’ children need to succeed.  The CEO of America’s Promise says, “Too many young people don’t have enough access to relationships with stable, caring adults who can help them get what they need to stay on track toward graduation and career.  Relationship poverty is not a lack of love or family, but a lack of access to additional sources of support that can lead to a more promising future.”

While we may not be calling it “asset building” I see that we are a community working hard to make sure our kids have these assets in place.   Our schools, churches (especially youth groups), civic organizations, agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club, Children & Family Resource Center,  The Healing Place and armies of individual volunteers are investing in local youth to make a difference.  I encourage you to read more and get involved.

To learn more about what each of these means and some ideas about how you can influence each asset, visit the Search Institute’s website at:  http://www.gotassets.net/developmental-assets.html

What Growing Up in Henderson County Does for Future Income

IMG_7348My 19 year old son dreams of living in Alaska one day and my 16 year old daughter wants to be living in New York City in her 20’s. I have this whole dialogue in my mind that goes something like, “But what about me seeing my grandkids?” and “Don’t you realize I’d miss you?” To be honest, that dialogue has slipped right out of my head and through my lips. I can remember aching to get out of this tiny town and be off to bigger-city things. I made it as far as three hours away from here and it only took me seven years to move right back, just in time for my oldest to be born. The truth is, as much as I love our town, I think this would be a pretty tough place to be a 20-something year old and it all centers around ‘opportunity’ and the ability to start a career and earn an income that can equal to what could be earned in other places.

Earlier this year the NY Times released a fascinating study on income mobility. Income mobility measures the odds that a child of poor parents will be able to move up the income ladder. Income mobility for the US has remained steady over the past decades and, as North Carolinians, we are in a geographic region where income mobility is about the lowest it can be compared to other places (a child has the best chances growing up in the Midwest). The data drills right down to the county level where I learned that Henderson County is described as “below average” (even if only slightly so) in helping poor children up the income ladder and that it is relatively worse for poor girls than it is for poor boys. According to the study, here is what a childhood in Henderson County does for future income:

• For poor kids – If a child in a poor family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $20 less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For average income kids – If a child in an average-income family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $420 less (1%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For rich kids – If a child in a rich family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $800 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For the top 1% – If a child in a family earning in the top 1% for wealth were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $1,040 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.

Note: for a family with a parent in his/her 40s, the 25th percentile corresponds to an annual income of about $30,000; the 50th percentile to about $60,000; the 75th percentile to about $100,000; and the top 1% to more than $500,000.

I know I, like my parents did, hope for better for my kids. Basically, we seem to be fairly close to being considered “an average place” even though we are slightly below. The data is fascinating and you can even take a look at it by a child’s gender and see that poor girls do much worse than poor boys, but as family income rises, girls from higher income brackets do better than boys.

Location matters. The study also outlines what it considers to be five key factors for a community to have in place to improve income mobility for its children:

1. Less segregation by income and race
2. Lower levels of income inequality
3. Better schools
4. Lower rates of violent crime
5. Large share of two-parent households

Each one of us may have a different opinion of how we’re doing as a county in each of those factors. I personally have all kinds of thoughts about the influence of family dynamics and the culture of socio-economic class (the whole psychology of poverty) and their impact on all of this. I do encourage you to research for yourself and learn a little more and make investments in community efforts that improve these factors for children. You can start by googling the New York Times article on “The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up How Your Area Compares.” The research links are available below.

I often get asked about what the biggest needs of kids are in our community. I immediately can rattle off the things I seem to continually talk about: affordable housing for families; child homelessness; child hunger; access to affordable, quality child care; access to mental health services for children. It all points back to poverty and I don’t have a quick answer on this. Many of the families we serve at the Children & Family Resource Center are in poverty. They are also employed and working to make ends meet. They do not want to be in poverty. Wouldn’t it be great if we (this community) made investments into those five factors helped change the future for our kids? I think it would be pretty incredible.

Research links :

You can start by googling the New York Times “The Best and Worst Places to Grow up How Your Area Compares” or link here to go straight to an interactive database where you can look at counties all over the US.

This is an interactive map that shows poverty in the US. You can drill all the way down to State and County and see where concentrations of poverty are in Henderson County.

Disturbing Hunger Trends in Henderson County

I was recently saddened to learn that the number of Henderson county students who qualify for the schools’ free and reduced meals program grew from 55% in the 2013-2014 school year to 59% in the current, 2014-2015, school year!  This equates to 7,965 children! 

Good nutrition is essential to a child’s proper physical growth, health and development.  Children who experience chronic, unsatisfied hunger will not get the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to reach developmental milestones.  The result is, children who are malnourished and vulnerable to childhood diseases and often have low immunity and poor overall health.  Lack of proper nutrition and adequate food can also lead to the development of mental health problems, academic achievement and future economic productivity for a child.

One in four children in Henderson County is living in poverty.   Poverty guidelines vary by household size, but in 2013, families with three people lived in poverty if their income was $19,530 or below.   Families in poverty struggle to cover basic needs including food.  Perhaps, in recent years, you’ve heard terms like “food insecurity.”  When a family or person is “food insecure,” the availability and quality of food to which they have access is not adequate for an active, healthy life.  National data shows that in 2012, more than one in seven US households (18 million) experienced food insecurity at some time during the year.  All these households experienced limited or uncertain access to adequate food, including reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet.  About 7 million of these households had members who went hungry or skipped meals, an indication of very low food security. 

In Henderson County, two of our 23 local schools, Sugarloaf Elementary School and Balfour Education Center, participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, meaning the program offers school lunch and breakfast at no charge to all students enrolled in those schools.  A school becomes an eligible CEP site based on the percentage of students in poverty in those schools.

To combat this problem for children, communities invest in several ways.  Our local backpack programs and feeding programs are ways we, as community members, can get involved to make sure children in Henderson County have access to at least one healthy, nutritious meal each day. 

During the summer of 2015, the schools are partnering with our community to offer a Summer Food Service Program to provide healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas at no charge primarily during the summer months when school is not in session.  In Henderson County there will be three locations where children, ages 2-18, can receive a free meal during the day.  They need our help as volunteers to make the program successful.

Meals, prepared by the Henderson County Public Schools’ Child Nutrition Department will be delivered to the sites and served to children Monday through Friday beginning June 22, 2015 – August 14, 2015 from 12:00 noon until 2:00 pm.  Volunteers are needed to serve food, maintain record and clean up afterwards.  The proposed sites (pending approval) are the Edneyville Community Center, located at 15 Ida Rogers Road in Edneyville (off of Hwy 64E), the Crosswalk located at the corner of 6th Ave and Buncombe Street in Hendersonville (operated by First Baptist Church) and King Creek Commons, behind Boyd Chevrolet on Spartanburg Highway.

Organizers are requesting volunteer helpers from our community to help serve meals and to provide books, activities and crafts for children to enjoy during the meal time.  Volunteers will need to complete a simple training and will need to provide a Driver’s License for a background check.  To volunteer, contact Amanda Stansbury at the Henderson County Public Schools Child Nutrition Program at (828) 891-6310 or by email at arstansbury@hcpsnc.org

I’m planning to challenge my staff members to get involved this summer and hope you’ll join us.  This is a great volunteer activity for work teams and groups of friends and families.  For more information about the program you can contact Amanda Stansbury at Henderson County Public Schools; Matt Gruebmeyer, Director of Title 1 Services at (828) 697-4514 or Todd McCullogh, Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church at (828) 697-6846. 

I was recently saddened to learn that the number of Henderson county students who qualify for the schools’ free and reduced meals program grew from 55% in the 2013-2014 school year to 59% in the current, 2014-2015, school year!  This equates to 7,965 children!  Good nutrition is essential to a child’s proper physical growth, health and development.  Children who experience chronic, unsatisfied hunger will not get the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to reach developmental milestones.  The result is, children who are malnourished and vulnerable to childhood diseases and often have low immunity and poor overall health.  Lack of proper nutrition and adequate food can also lead to the development of mental health problems, academic achievement and future economic productivity for a child. One in four children in Henderson County is living in poverty.   Poverty guidelines vary by household size, but in 2013, families with three people lived in poverty if their income was $19,530 or below.   Families in poverty struggle to cover basic needs including food.  Perhaps, in recent years, you’ve heard terms like “food insecurity.”  When a family or person is “food insecure,” the availability and quality of food to which they have access is not adequate for an active, healthy life.  National data shows that in 2012, more than one in seven US households (18 million) experienced food insecurity at some time during the year.  All these households experienced limited or uncertain access to adequate food, including reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet.  About 7 million of these households had members who went hungry or skipped meals, an indication of very low food security.  In Henderson County, two of our 23 local schools, Sugarloaf Elementary School and Balfour Education Center, participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, meaning the program offers school lunch and breakfast at no charge to all students enrolled in those schools.  A school becomes an eligible CEP site based on the percentage of students in poverty in those schools. To combat this problem for children, communities invest in several ways.  Our local backpack programs and feeding programs are ways we, as community members, can get involved to make sure children in Henderson County have access to at least one healthy, nutritious meal each day.  During the summer of 2015, the schools are partnering with our community to offer a Summer Food Service Program to provide healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas at no charge primarily during the summer months when school is not in session.  In Henderson County there will be three locations where children, ages 2-18, can receive a free meal during the day.  They need our help as volunteers to make the program successful.Meals, prepared by the Henderson County Public Schools’ Child Nutrition Department will be delivered to the sites and served to children Monday through Friday beginning June 22, 2015 – August 14, 2015 from 12:00 noon until 2:00 pm.  Volunteers are needed to serve food, maintain record and clean up afterwards.  The proposed sites (pending approval) are the Edneyville Community Center, located at 15 Ida Rogers Road in Edneyville (off of Hwy 64E), the Crosswalk located at the corner of 6th Ave and Buncombe Street in Hendersonville (operated by First Baptist Church) and King Creek Commons, behind Boyd Chevrolet on Spartanburg Highway.Organizers are requesting volunteer helpers from our community to help serve meals and to provide books, activities and crafts for children to enjoy during the meal time.  Volunteers will need to complete a simple training and will need to provide a Driver’s License for a background check.  To volunteer, contact Amanda Stansbury at the Henderson County Public Schools Child Nutrition Program at (828) 891-6310 or by email at arstansbury@hcpsnc.org.  I’m planning to challenge my staff members to get involved this summer and hope you’ll join us.  This is a great volunteer activity for work teams and groups of friends and families.  For more information about the program you can contact Amanda Stansbury at Henderson County Public Schools; Matt Gruebmeyer, Director of Title 1 Services at (828) 697-4514 or Todd McCullogh, Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church at (828) 697-6846.

 

Contradictions for Kids

Elisha 9-13

I learned the definition of the word contradictory when I was the wise age of “9 going on 10.”  At that time, my family lived in Beaufort, NC.   I was in the fourth grade and once a week I would go to work with my dad after school before we would walk down the street to my piano lesson.  Do you remember when you got to go to work with your parents?  How all those “older” people would make a big fuss over you.  One day, I was at his office and one of the ladies that worked with him had a niece who was in my class.  I was working on a project she heard about and she said something about the assignment that wasn’t true.  I can’t remember what she said, maybe it was the due date or some part of the work she had heard her niece talk about, but I corrected her.  She responded back in disagreement and in my full pre-adolescent mouthy little know-it-all fashion, I argued back.  I must have been indignant (I mean seriously, how would my friend’s aunt possibly know more about our project than I did?) and rude.

It came time to walk to my piano class and my father didn’t waste the opportunity to correct me.  I remember him saying that when I spoke to adults, he wanted me to do so without being contradictory.  He had to define the word for me.  I was surprised to know that’s how I sounded.  In my mind, I was stating facts and was unaware of my ‘delivery.’

Life is full of contradictions, especially in dealing with kids.  You’ve probably heard yourself say things like “Be yourself…but, not like that” or  “Don’t talk to strangers, but be polite when they speak to you” or, my personal favorite, “Don’t be a tattle-tale but if someone is mean to you, you need to tell me.”  I can feel the hairs on my neck rising now when I just think of that long, whiny drawn out, “Moooommmmm, he’s…(you fill in the blank, she has a big brother).”

There’s sometimes a pretty big gap between what we say we value for our children and how we act on their behalf.  Ouch.  I doubt anyone one would disagree that we want our community to be a safe and nurturing place for children, all children – even the ones that irritate us.   That’s the right thing to say, the right value to have.  But, are we acting in ways that make that true?  Are we, the adults, setting rules and policies to ensure those things? Do we pay attention to laws and actions that harm segments of people in our community? Or, are we too caught up in our own child’s life, our own careers, our own mobile devices, and our own little circle of peers that we’re missing the bigger picture of a better life for all of us?

Click here  to read more at BlueRidgeNow.com.

How Did My Nest Get So Full?

My almost-empty-nest lasted all of seven months. Many of you followed along while I mourned my first-born taking flight and leaving for college. Fall came, and my daughter and I were in a rhythm. The house stayed clean, meals were easy and healthy, and the toilets were always flushed. She would come home from school, practice piano and study; I would come home from work, exercise and twiddle my thumbs. So, I applied to graduate school. I had time on my hands, and I’d put this dream off for far too long. I could hardly wait to get started.

Whoa! I was not prepared for two things: the amount of homework I suddenly had (goodbye thumb twiddling) and the fact that my son would call me, barely into his spring semester, to say he needed to come home. I warned him that coming home after he’d been away and on his own for even a short time, would not be the same. He came back. The adjustment has been hard for him, but I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for me. Parenting an adult child may be my most difficult challenge yet. Of course, I am writing this after we’ve been snowed in for three days together and after I’ve just learned that on the night we had an ice storm, while I was sound asleep and thinking he was safe in his bed, he got up at 2:00 am and walked to a friend’s house to hang out for a few hours. He did this in an ice storm. Be still my heart. I really liked not knowing everything his 19-year-old self did. I didn’t worry.

Stress. Life is full of it. How we, as adults, handle it sets the tone of our home. You know this. Some stress is good and can have a positive impact on our lives. Some stress is bad, but most of it is temporary and manageable, and we quickly move on from it. If you’re like me, even this kind of everyday stress can make you edgy. When I’m overloaded and feel stressed, I am less patient and far more likely to snap at my kids. They think I’m mad, I call it ‘frustrated.’ I’m not the best parent in these times. Admit it or not, I know you understand.

The type of stress I’m most concerned about is ‘toxic stress.’ It refers to negative stress in an environment that is intense and long-lasting. Toxic stress is a familiar term in the world of pediatrics, education and child psychology. A simple internet search on toxic stress and the developing brain will take you to bodies of research that show that environments of toxic stress are particularly damaging to young children. Toxic stress might be caused by child abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse, mental illness of caregivers, or exposure to violence. It can also occur in long-lasting, constant stress felt by families who experience economic hardship. For little ones in the home, constant, high levels of stress, in the absence of adequate protection and support from adults, can change their brain’s architecture. This impacts how it develops and has long-term consequences for learning, behavior, physical and mental health, and chronic impairment in the adult years.
When we experience stressful situations, our body’s stress response system activates and our brain and body both go into an ‘alert’ state. Physically, there is a rush of adrenaline, our heart rates increase, and the levels of stress hormones increase. These are all healthy responses that will help us deal with the situation at hand. Children in toxic stress environments, who have no adult helping to buffer them from the stressful situation(s), stay in this heightened alert state. The elevated stress levels impact the areas of learning and reasoning. The brain’s ability to make meaningful connections at a time when it should be doing so at its most rapid rate is hindered. This ‘window of time’ closes quickly in brain development and cannot be recaptured.

The good news for these children is that supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults as early in life as possible are critical in preventing and reversing the damage caused by toxic stress. According to Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D. of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, childhood stress becomes harmful when it is prolonged and when adults do not interact in ways that make children feel safe and emotionally connected. The research clearly shows that children can be protected from the most damaging effects of stress when parents are taught how to respond appropriately to their needs. In times that parents are not able to provide that response, other adults in that child’s life are vital.

This means you and I have a role to play in the lives of children we know. The impact of toxic stress on a child can be avoided when their environments are nurturing, stable and engaging. Our community can provide these places where positive adult support is available– outside of our homes, places like child care centers, schools, churches and after-school programs play an essential role in providing this support. The Children & Family Resource Center is part of a community-wide network of human service providers that are working with families to address the stressors and to help them create loving and nurturing environments for children.

Originally posted at BlueRidgeNow.com on March 4, 2015.

Child Care Costs Surpass College

By Elisha Freeman, Executive Director, Children & Family Resource Center

The average cost of child care here in North Carolina is $9,135 per year for infant care and $7,774 for a 4-year-old. This is more than the tuition at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, where tuition alone equals $6,392 per year, or Western Carolina University, where tuition alone equals $4,067.50 per year.

It’s shocking, isn’t it?

Yes, there are other fees related to college that drive the price higher, but we don’t often stop and think that, at a base level, child care is more expensive.

Child care is a major expense in family budgets. Parents are rarely prepared for the cost, which hits at a time in life when they are likely at their lowest earning potential. Research shows that the cost of child care is, on average, at least 10 percent of a dual-income family’s budget and 34 percent of a single parent’s budget.

I took a little poll around my office to see what two real-life scenarios looked like.

One employee is married and both she and her husband work. They are young professionals with master’s degrees. Child care for their child takes 12 percent of their annual budget. They feel the pinch, but they have things under control.

Another employee is a single mother, also a young professional with her master’s degree. Child care for her son takes 40 percent of her annual budget! This leaves very little to manage for housing, food, medical expenses, clothing, automobile or other basic living expenses.

Like many parents in our community, she receives a child care social service subsidy to help her pay for child care. This subsidy covers 58 percent of her bill and she covers the remaining 42 percent, which is about 10 percent of her salary, making child care more affordable and more in line with the percentage paid by the two-income family.