Keeping Kids Safe at Camp


Camp Safety Tips

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

If you could go back to any age what would it be? The first thing that comes to my mind is my amazing summers at sleep-away camp, starting at age 8 (yep, you read that right). Many who know me might be surprised that I am a huge supporter of sending kids to overnight camp. But yes, I am – provided that camp is properly vetted for safety. That’s where you come in.

The KidSafe philosophy is to empower children and families with skills for a lifetime, so that kids can spread their wings and fly and parents can feel confident their kids can manage whatever comes their way. This includes not missing out on the benefits of attending camp (day or overnight).

So, are you contemplating the big step of sending your child off to camp for a week, a month, even two months? Will you send them to a camp you went to as a child? To a camp you found online? To one a friend or neighbor raved about? So many questions. How to get the answers you need?

As you make these decisions, we ask that you take a step back and consider how best to choose a camp for your child. We ask that you look beyond the glossy website photos and consider whether a camp makes safety their number one priority. And not just water and recreation safety.

Often when researching a camp, we focus only on a child’s special interests, say sports, or theater, or horses, or IT, or culinary arts. Or perhaps the camp is located in a preferred part of the country or has a specific religious affiliation that feels right to you. All of these items are important – but don’t forget to ask the tough questions about safety. Questions similar to those you would ask when vetting a potential new hire. Don’t assume that the camp you are considering is doing the same level of screening you would expect or want.

As you research camps, consider the following:

Meet the camp director. Your child will be in that person’s care. Do this in person or by video. Ask direct questions, such as:

  1. How and from where is your staff recruited? What is your screening process? (Does the camp check employment histories? Seek references? Retain employees from one season to the next vs constant staff turnover? Conduct in-person or video interviews with individuals seeking employment)?
  2. Confirm that the camp does a national criminal fingerprint background check. (If a camp only provides a background check without detailed screening, that signals lack of due diligence in their hiring practice).
  3. Is each staff member screened through the National Sex Offender Registry? (This includes all counselors, admin, dining, maintenance, and anyone else on camp premises).
  4. Ask if the camp has a Child Protection Policy. This is a policy that all staff sign which includes codes of conduct, clear policy on sexual misconduct, and procedures to be followed in response to reports of abuse. It is always a good idea to request a copy of a camp’s Child Protection Policy.
  5. Ask what type of training the staff receive regarding:
    • Sexual abuse intervention, prevention, and reporting
    • Bullying intervention and response
    • Child abuse, both physical and emotional
  6. What type of supervision do you provide to the staff who are minding your campers?
  7. If camper or staff member wishes to report a concern, what are your procedures for facilitating such reports and for appropriate follow-up?
  8. Are you licensed by the state? If so, may I obtain a copy of your license?
  9. Are you accredited by the American Camp Association? If so, may I obtain a copy of ACA certification?

Having this kind of conversation with a camp director will help you determine whether a camp not only offers awesome activities and food but is also built on a solid foundation of professionalism and thoughtful camp philosophy.

Center for Child Counseling specializes in training adults working with children at camp. If you have a specific camp in mind, ask if it is CampSafe® Trained. If you would like to share information about CampSafe® training with a particular camp, you can do so by providing that camp with this link: www.centerforchildcounseling.com/campsafe.

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Child Trafficking is Happening in Your Community

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

People often dismiss human trafficking as either something that occurs in other countries or as too big an issue to battle. Or they tell themselves, “This couldn’t happen in my community, and especially not in my family.” Sadly, they are wrong. Each of us needs to recognize that children of all ages, wherever they live, are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, especially children who already have a history of child sexual abuse and other trauma.

Listed below are the primary risk factors that make some children more vulnerable to trafficking:

  • lack of personal safety
  • isolation
  • emotional distress
  • homelessness
  • poverty
  • family dysfunction
  • substance abuse
  • mental illness
  • learning disabilities
  • developmental delays
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • promotion of sexual exploitation by family members or peers
  • lack of social supports

How to protect our kids? Simply put, we can protect our children by becoming more knowledgeable about child sex trafficking and child sexual abuse.

What’s the difference between the two?

  • Traffickers groom children both online and in person, just like child sex offenders who target children for abuse. The difference is that a child sex offender molests the child themselves, for their own gratification, while the child trafficker sets the child up to be sexually assaulted by others, for monetary gain.
  • Horrific to comprehend – but child sex offenders abuse children as young as newborns and on up from there. It is also horrific (and important) to recognize that children can be sex trafficked by their own families, from inside their own homes, while appearing like a typical family. For children recruited by sex traffickers from outside the family the average age of entry into trafficking is 12 to 14.
  • The grooming process employed by a child sex trafficker and the grooming process used by a child sex offender have many similarities. Each works to build a “trusting” relationship with the child. When offenders and traffickers target very young children they often build a similar relationship with the child’s family. The grooming relationship might appear like a friendship, mentorship, or, for teens, it might look like a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. (Remember that 90% of the time, a child is harmed by someone they and/or their family know and trust.) For children who are trafficked, the traffickers themselves and other people who recruit for them are hiding in plain sight, and could even be another student in your child’s school.

Watch for the following signs that a child might be being groomed for sex trafficking (or for a child already being trafficked):

  • New possessions, of unexplained origin. Clothing, excess money, technology.
  • New friends. As our kids get older, we often take a step back from day to day involvement with those they hang with. This puts our children at increased risk (and vulnerability) of connecting to the wrong group of friends. If you notice new friends, ask questions. Meet them. Be vigilant.
  • New behaviors. More often late for curfew?, Missing school? These are red flags that something has changed for our children.
  • New moods and demeanor. Children and teens who are trafficked (and those being sexually abused) often show changes in mood and demeanor. Has your child become angry, withdrawn, anxious, depressed? Has he lost interest in school, activities, or family? Has her eating habits, sleep habits or hygiene habits changed in anyway? These can be signs that a child is struggling with something (including being the object of abuse and/or trafficking) and may need parental and professional intervention.
  • Unusual items. If you find your child has items such as hotel room keys, fake IDs, new tattoos, etc., those may be red flags, signs that she or he is being groomed or trafficked.

Child sex trafficking is horrific to consider, which can cause parents to shy away from looking for signs or talking with children when signs are evident. Don’t make that mistake.

If you suspect a child is being trafficked: call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip or to get help.

If you suspect a child is being sexually abused: call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

For more info on sex trafficking visit www.A21.org and the www.polarisproject.org

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How do we talk about touch with our kids?

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

It is much easier to talk about all sorts of touch with our kids if we have a name for it. Let’s start with Safe Touch.

Mom! Bryan hit me! Dad! Abby pushed Baby Joey down! Is an example of everyday touching. Cuddling on the couch with your child while reading a story or holding hands while going for a walk are also great examples of touching.

We don’t realize how often we touch each other throughout the day.

Some touches make us feel comfortable and safe while others do not. In our society we do not talk much about touching in general. We either say “Don’t touch your Brother” or “Use nice hands.” (From my daughter’s preschool days.) Let’s dive a little deeper as human touch is an important part of wellness and healthy development.

Many people assume because I teach sexual abuse prevention that to keep kids safe we shouldn’t be touching kids. That could not be further from the truth. Children need to be physically nurtured and held from the day they are born. This type of healthy, safe touch provides children with a strong sense of self, belonging, being valued and safe. Children, for example, who are raised in an understaffed orphanage and do not get picked up and held often have a number of long-term issues, particularly failure to thrive and attachment issues. My point is that positive touch is important. Healthy modeling of Safe Touch helps a child understand what an appropriate touch should feel like.

A  SAFE TOUCH feels: comfortable, loving, relaxed, protective, happy, warm, cozy.

Safe touch examples: A group of kids playing tag, a person while conversing with a friend reaching out and touching their arm for a moment, holding hands in the movie theater, kissing your child goodnight, cuddling on the couch, buckling a child into seat, doing someone’s hair.

Explain to your child that the difference between a safe and an unsafe touch is the way it makes you feel.

An UNSAFE TOUCH makes you feel: uncomfortable, confused, scared, embarrassed, weird, hurt, betrayed, angry.

Unsafe touches happen every day. Examples: Siblings shoving each other, a grown-up grabbing an arm of a child in frustration, a child being physically harmed by another student at school (bullying), someone touching a child’s private parts, or forcing a child to touch their private parts.

If you ask a child for examples of an unsafe touch the list will sound like: getting hit, pinched, pushed, shoved, kicked, hair pulled, by either a peer or adult.

If you have more than one child in your home, there is bound to be various ‘unsafe touches’ throughout a day. Much of this interaction, is how children learn to navigate in our society. With parents’ guidance, setting of healthy boundaries, some rough housing is good to let the kids problem solve on their own. What we suggest is to define those limits. Start labeling touch at a young age as Safe Touch or Unsafe Touch by how a touch makes them feel. Ask: “Emma, when you fell down, and Sammi came over and put her arm on your back and checked on you – was that a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch for you?” Ask: “How did it make you feel?” Teaching children to recognize their emotions is an important life skill. If they can recognize the positive it will impact how they treat others. If they can recognize the negative it becomes a protective factor – all part of teaching your child personal safety. We often say this is a skill for a life time –this builds resilience.

We teach safe touch and unsafe touch for many reasons – but for our purposes in this blog let’s focus on body boundaries. If a child has learned that they have private parts and that no one should be touching their private parts, and they get a confusing touch and they are not sure if it was a Safe Touch or an Unsafe touch, they can recognize the feeling and know, because they have been taught, that this is the type of touch that they should Report to a person in their Circle of Safe Adults to talk about it. It is so important at this point that the adult be an approachable caregiver. (Parent, relative, teacher, etc). Preparing yourself in advance for how you might respond to a child disclosing is a key factor in preventing and putting a stop to child sexual abuse.


1. Discuss with children how various touches make them feel. Explain to them that if they receive a touch, even from someone they know and love, and it makes them feel confused, they should report it to another adult.

2. Ask your child if the following examples would be a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch:

  • Holding hands with a close friend
  • High fiving their coach
  • Being kissed good night by an aunt
  • Getting shoved by a schoolmate
  • Add a few more of your own examples

3. Play a game called “Safe and unsafe touches I had today”.
Ask your child to think of some examples to share with you. Examples:

  • I hugged nana when I got off the bus.
  • My friend pushed me on the playground.

These conversations will provide you with an opening for a more in-depth discussion about what may have happened during your child’s day and how particular touches made them feel.

Children who have learned that their bodies belong to them and that there are boundaries regarding their private parts understand when a line has been crossed.

Emphasize to your child that no one should be touching or looking at their private parts and they should not be touching or looking at anyone else’s private parts because everyone’s body is special and belongs to them.

Click here to learn more about our KidSafe Program, which is focused on preventing child sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.


90% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know and trust. This makes it even more difficult for a child to tell – they often feel betrayed, confused, and are afraid to report. Empower children from a young age about the difference between Safe and Unsafe Touch, and when they should come to you with questions – even if they are scared.

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How do I start talking with my kids about their body boundaries and consent?

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

Don’t Force Your Child to Hug or Kiss People

Let your child know that they have the right to decide when and whom they want to hug. This is a healthy body boundary.

Give them permission to politely say no if they don’t want to hug or kiss someone. Their decision should be accepted and respected.

This is a great opportunity to teach your child about body boundaries and consent. Forcing your child to hug or kiss someone sends the message that the wants and needs of others are more important than respecting their own feelings or body boundaries.

Of course, in the right situations, hugging and kissing are natural, loving ways for people to show affection to one another. What is “normal” in this regard differs from culture to culture and family to family, but it is never normal or right to force your child to hug or kiss someone.

If your child wants to hug close family friends or relatives, that is great, provided it is in a safe place and under your watch. Once your child knows the difference between safe and unsafe touches, their desire to hug and kiss certain people is probably a good indicator that they feel safe and happy with that person.

Many people are afraid that their child might seem rude or “standoffish” if they refuse to hug or kiss someone, especially when the person is a close family friend or relative. But that concern is not nearly as important as the powerful message you are sending to your child that their body is special and belongs to them.

Many families share that this is an issue with a particular relative. If you know this in advance, we suggest that you speak with the relative directly and let them know you are teaching your child about their personal safety. And one of the things you are teaching is that they do not have to hug and kiss anyone, even people they know and love, unless they want to. Often it is hard for relatives to not take offense or to feel that you as a parent are being insensitive or teaching your child to be disrespectful. Empowering your child at a young age with the concept that their body belongs to them is a valuable lifelong lesson.

Learning consent, and ‘practicing’ saying No, no Thank you, when you are young empowers children to be more in control of their bodies when they grow into their tweens and teens. These are lessons for a life time.

You can teach your child some easy alternatives to hugging or kissing that do not invade their body boundaries:

  • a happy wave
  • a cool hand shake
  • a fun fist bump
  • an awesome high five

Always allow your child to engage with people on their own terms.

Click here to learn more about our KidSafe Program, which is focused on preventing child sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.


Tell your child that it is okay if they don’t want to hug or kiss someone. Help them learn a polite way to decline. This empowers your child and may help you feel more at ease when the situation arises. You might teach your child to say: “No, thanks. How about a high-five?” or “I don’t feel like hugging today. Maybe later.

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Tackling Child Sexual Abuse in Palm Beach County

By Caitlen Macias, student at the Columbia School of Social Work and Center for Child Counseling Intern

“We are preventing child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and child maltreatment by giving children the tools to access help from trusted adults.”- Laura Askowitz, Director of Strategic Development at Center for Child Counseling, former CEO of KidSafe Foundation.

In our community, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) impact people of all races, backgrounds, and income levels. According to the CDC, 61% of adults had at least one ACE and 16% had 4 or more types of ACEs. Child sexual abuse is among one of the most common ACEs and a significant public health issue. About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. Of those who are abused, 91% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know and trust.

We need to partner to fight, prevent, and address this problem. KidSafe, now a program of Center for Child Counseling (CFCC), is working to address and prevent child sexual abuse. The merger of the two nonprofit organizations is a strategic partnership to increase prevention education and funding streams to decrease child sexual abuse in Palm Beach County.

KidSafe has focused on providing a public health approach that maximizes impact while emphasizing health and safety. To prevent child sexual abuse, students, teachers, and families need to be knowledgeable and aware of the tactics and grooming techniques that are used to exploit and abuse children in-person and online. KidSafe provides age-appropriate lessons and skill building for children, training for educators, healthcare professionals, camp staff, and resources for families.

Through Stay KidSafe!, a teacher-led educational program, children develop an inner voice and speak out when physical and emotional boundaries are crossed. Empowering children to be confident and self-aware encourages communication with their trusted adults regarding personal safety. “Teachers spend extended periods of time with their students and know them well. We are providing teachers with the tools to be KidSafe ambassadors in the classroom to educate and inspire students”, says Cherie Benjoseph, LCSW.

The curriculum explores a variety of topics depending on the age of the children. In Kindergarten, children learn about their Inner Safety Voice, an internal voice that helps them make safe and smart choices. Children also are introduced to body safety and the Circle of Safe Adults, trusted adults that can help children access help. In 1st and 2nd grade, students continue to develop their Safety Voice while exploring digital safety and learning about boundaries, consent, and bad secrets. In 3rd and 4th grade, students do an in-depth exploration into consent and how to get help if their boundaries are violated. Children use the skills they have learned about personal safety to understand how to navigate the online world that might expose them to cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content.

By 5th grade, students study how to recognize Red Flag warning signs in interpersonal relationships. The entire program repeats important concepts and builds on the previous year’s concepts to make sure children are able to apply the lessons they learn. Stay KidSafe!, is “a kid friendly program that is chunked into digestible bites. The program allows kids to listen, think, reflect on and practice what is taught. The animations and books are engaging and discuss appropriate content”, explains Cori, an Elementary School Teacher.

KidSafe has had reverberating success in the community since 2009! Laura Askowitz recounts a recent success story from the program that changed a child’s outlook. In a 5th grade class, the guidance counselor said that David was a quiet kid who rarely spoke. After receiving the KidSafe programming, he started speaking up and interacting more with the adults and children. David was given a voice and can now speak out if his boundaries are crossed. The program is teaching kids how to identify when their personal, physical, and emotional boundaries are disrespected by anyone. This inspires kids to be their own advocates and access help when peers or adults attempt to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Looking to the future, "we are excited about this merger. It allows for us to work together to increase funding, education, and prevention around child sexual abuse. Through an array of prevention, early intervention, and treatment we aim to not only provide healing after sexual abuse but also create schools and a community equipped to keep children safe”, states Renée Layman, CEO of the Center for Child Counseling.

For more information on the KidSafe’s programming visit: https://learn.kidsafefoundation.org/

Support the KidSafe Campaign in Palm Beach County.


Bridging the Healthcare Gap for Kids in Palm Beach County

By Caitlen Macias, student at the Columbia School of Social Work and Center for Child Counseling Intern

The Center for Child Counseling is paving a healthy future for children in Palm Beach County through its integrative and holistic healthcare approach. We understand that mental and physical health is vital to the well-being of the child and their life outcomes. Pediatricians are on the front lines, observing, interacting, and serving children; they are often the first to notice the impact of mental health and behavioral concerns. 75% of children are seen in primary care settings and pediatricians are the trusted experts for much of a child's life. CFCC’s innovative Pediatric Integration Program is now collaborating with Palm Beach Pediatrics to provide counseling services and care coordination support to children and families in our community.

The Need:
According to the CDC, poor mental health among children continues to be a substantial public health concern. ADHD and anxiety for all ages and depression among adolescents continue to be the most common concerns displayed by children. Locally in 2021, Palm Beach County focus groups were conducted with 299 PBC residents who mentioned that diabetes, cancer, asthma, substance use, heart disease, and poor mental health were among the top health issues with which they, their families, or their community struggle.

In Palm Beach County alone there are six mental health professional shortage areas. “The need is so great in our area, we are in dire need of more therapists. Our team is receiving overwhelming amounts of referrals from pediatricians, unfortunately, we don’t have enough therapists to satisfy the demand” says CEO Renée Layman." We provide families the resources they need while they await services, many of their needs are met through care coordination and consultations”.

The Solution:
Our model has been implemented using the recommendations of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for integrated care. The program administers care at the Level 5 benchmark, the second highest level which emphasizes close collaboration between care coordinators, pediatricians, and therapists to serve clients and families.

CFCC’s Pediatric Integration Program is intertwining and prioritizing the mental and behavioral health of children in our area by allowing pediatricians to make referrals for services to the Center for Child Counseling and other mental health providers.

Furthermore, our expert care coordinators (pictured to the left) assist families with other kinds of resources to satisfy their basic and home needs. This might include connecting families with housing, helping them apply for SNAP benefits, or coordinating child care. “Clients and families are on a spectrum of need, our team is seeking to meet the basic needs of our families to help them overcome adversity,” says Kelly Benavidez an Intake Care Coordinator for the Pediatric Integration Program.

Our Progress:
Our Pediatric Integration Program just celebrated its first birthday! October 1st of this year officially marks the start of year 2 of the program. Over the last year, we have collected data to track our progress and impact. Almost 90% of clients in the program demonstrated an improvement in overall social-emotional functioning during the last 3 months as measured by a decrease in the client’s Children's Functional Assessment Rating Scale, CFARS scores. 86.9% of clients enrolled in the program experienced a decrease in CFARS scores across the past year since the program was implemented.

Clients in the program have also reported success and improvement in their overall mental health. An 18-year-old male sought services to address symptoms of anxiety and depression and had previously planned to participate in college virtually and remain at home due to social anxiety. After learning how to cope more adaptively and communicate his feelings, he recently reported his decision to attend college in person as a part of his journey toward overcoming feelings of anxiety and depression. This client demonstrated improvement in functioning across domains as evidenced by a decrease in overall CFARS score. He has been successfully discharged from services and has been able to maintain progress made in treatment.

Improving and Expanding:
To expand the program, we have recently hired a new full-time therapist who has already begun building her caseload and improving the lives of clients. Our team continues to collaborate with Care Coordination who can facilitate a warm handoff to clinicians both inside and outside of the program. To serve families in need, our Intake Care Coordinator has continued to engage with new referrals to provide psychoeducational and community resources to clients and families who are currently awaiting services.

In a group setting, the Pediatric Integration Program has implemented a psychoeducational group for teen girls experiencing symptoms of anxiety. As a result of this prevention strategy, all group participants no longer felt that their symptoms rose to the level of requiring mental health therapy services. At the individual level, a 7-year-old client was able to participate in a psychoeducational group about anxiety in which she was able to learn adaptive coping skills, how to reframe negative thoughts, and the impact of self-talk on feelings of anxiety.

Looking ahead, “we are excited to continue to expand the program by hiring more staff and collaborating with partners to fill the growing need for mental health services in our community”, says Mackenzie Halley, Director of Pediatric Integration. In the future, we hope our model can be replicated across Florida and the United States to unite healthcare sectors and connect children and families with the support and services they need.

A special thank you to Palm Beach County Community Services Department, Quantum Foundation, and the Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation for providing funding to support this program.

Dr. Shannon Fox-Levine, President of Palm Beach Pediatrics

How to Answer Kids’ Tough Questions

Trauma-Informed Ways to Talk to Children

Stress and loss is impacting our children's mental health and well-being. We get the calls every day from parents and caregivers, needing support to help children cope and heal.

Developed by our experts in child mental health and trauma, we are pleased to offer Ways to Talk to Children resources, at no cost, for parents, teachers, and caregivers across Florida and the nation.

It is important to talk to your child about real situations that may be impacting their mental health and well-being. The workshops, videos, and resources were created to help you have these tough conversations, in developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed ways.

We encourage you to share these resources with the parents, caregivers, and teachers in your life.

Ways to Talk to Children about Grief

Grief is the intense emotional reaction and distress in response to loss, usually associated with death but it can include separation or the ending of a close relationship.

The thought of having to explain grief to a child can leave us feeling uncertain about the best way to approach the topic to avoid causing unnecessary distress for the child, especially when we may be grieving also.

Learn more or register for our free, 80-minute workshop here. Visit our Ways to Talk to Children page for more videos, tip sheets, and free workshops.

Our passionate Education and Prevention Services team is dedicated to bringing you relevant, best practice content to support your child and family. Let us know if there are topics you'd like us to address.

This work is possible through funding from the Florida Blue Foundation, Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, and the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County - thank you for your commitment to children and families in our community.

CFCC Featured by Education Week!

Using Play Therapy to Help Children Heal and Build Resilience

We are grateful to Education Week for the national recognition of our work. These two videos highlight our use of Play Therapy to help children heal after trauma and our partnership with The Fuller Center, where our CCSEW Program provides on-site prevention, early intervention, and mental health services for children, their caregivers, and families.

One Family's Story Using Play Therapy to Address Trauma

The Hughes’ family fostered their daughters for three years before adopting them in 2020. With their adoption came stability, but also loss, the recognition that they wouldn’t be going back to their biological family.

To help them work through their many emotions, and the trauma they’ve experienced, the girls have received services through Center for Child Counseling, where they’ve learned through play therapy how to talk about and work through difficult emotions.

Thank you Aria, Asia, and Bailey for sharing your story. To advocate for children in our community, Bailey is a member of our Board of Directors and has developed a nonprofit, The Hands and Feet, to support children and families coming into foster care.

A special thank you to Anne-Marie, Kayla, Tray, and all of our staff who are on the frontlines supporting children in our community every day. We are grateful for your passion!

Building Child Resilience During Times of Stress

The Impact of Loss and Stress on our Children's Mental Health

Research shows that an estimated 160,000 children lost a parent or caregiver during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death among Americans in 2021, so many children also lost extended family members or close family friends.

Death is not the only form of loss that children have faced over the past three years. They have experienced the loss of friendships through physical separation. They have lost out on rites of passage like starting a new school, attending dances and big games, playdates, proms, and being celebrated at graduation.

Many children also lost their sense of safety and security. Families have been shaken by uncertainty, stress, and financial hardship, that continues to grow in a climate of political conflict and divisiveness in our country. We see images of war and school shootings on the news. These experiences have hit children and teenagers hard and we are experiencing a youth mental health crisis, already a concern before the pandemic. A new two-part Ken Burns PBS documentary, Hiding in Plain Sight, highlights the crisis.

“We have so much work to do to help our children heal,” says First Lady Jill Biden. “It’s impossible not to be moved by the pain that these young people and their families share,” she said. “But there was so much hope there, too. Because they had all found a way from that darkness towards the light.” Comments after watching "In Plain Sight" at the White House Screening.

With all of the turmoil and stress we feel, we must remember that there are concrete ways to build child resilience. These seven tips, shared by Kerry Jamieson in our Fighting ACEs Blog: Building Family Resilience in Troubled Times, are a great reminder:

Seven Ways to Build Resilience

Is it any wonder our children are struggling? Even though our reserves may be depleted, and many family relationships are burdened by the cumulative effects of fatigue and added hardship, now is the time to work on building resilience – in or children and for our families.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma. While scientists believe that resilience may have a genetic component, it's not generally a quality that a child either has or doesn’t have; it's really more of a skill that a child develops as they grow. Like a muscle that needs to be exercised, children can be helped to practice their resilience skills.

Talk. Talk. Talk.
The old adage is true: Keep the lines of communication open to strengthen your relationships. You can use the technique of asking open-ended questions in order to draw out your children's true feelings on different subjects.

This means asking questions that require more than a simple yes or no answer. You can ask your child how certain situations make them feel. You can ask them if they're experiencing anxiety or trepidation about going back to school. Asking “why” questions tends to get to the root cause of issues rather than asking questions that simply require factual answers. Open communication develops trust.

Children who believe they can speak to their parents openly and honestly feel as if they have someone to rely on, someone who won't automatically judge them, and these positive adult influences help buffer the effects of stress.

If you are having trouble tackling tough topics with your child, check out our Ways to Talk to Children free resources, including workshops, tip sheets, and videos.

Allow Children to Learn and Fail
As adults, particularly as parents, we sometimes try to jump in to prevent our children from failing. It is difficult to watch them struggle when we know we could help. But children need to take risks and push themselves outside their comfort zone to build resilience. Trying something new and succeeding at it gives a child a sense of achievement and the knowledge that they can do new things and do them well. However, trying and failing is equally valuable. Taking a risk with something new that does not work out teaches children that they can survive setbacks. Rather than helping our children avoid risks, we should encourage them to take safe risks and then talk through the meaning of success and failure.

Teach Problem-Solving; Don’t Give Answers
Adults often have the answers to small problems and issues, but we learned those solutions from years of living our lives. Children do not have the benefits of this wisdom. They are still learning. They don’t have the perspective of time and experience. Rather than providing your child with the answer to every question, it's more beneficial to let them reason it out with you. You can ask skillful questions to lead them along the right path, but the lesson is better learned when they reach the conclusion on their own.

Help Identify Emotions
Children who are "acting out" are often behaving that way because they lack the language to describe the frustration they are feeling. They lack the ability to adequately express themselves. You can work with your child to identify the emotions they're experiencing and help them reason out why they are experiencing them. For example, you might say to a child who cannot master a game and has started crying: “You feel frustrated because the game is hard and you can’t seem to get it right.” This is called reflection because you are simply mirroring back to your child what they are feeling and helping them identify and name the emotion. You can let them know that the emotion is normal and that it will pass.

Labeling emotions and teaching children how to manage them is a large part of good parenting. You can learn more about childhood development, reflective listening, and limit setting in our manual for parents, teachers, and caregivers entitled: “A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Resilience.”

Acknowledge Mistakes
It is not a weakness to acknowledge our mistakes. We all make them! The most honest and resilient people are happy to accept this fact. They share their failures openly and, more importantly, they share what they learned from them. You can share your mistakes with your children and let them know why you made the mistake and how you will do things differently next time. This is a key component of resilience. We will all face challenges in our lives and whether we succeed or fail, we should not miss the lessons that can be learned.

Coping Skills and Modeling Self-Care
Children learn through imitation. They look to the adults in their lives to learn how to respond and behave. So, it's essential that we model positive behaviors that they can copy. As adults, we can demonstrate calming ourselves down when we are irritated or angry, practicing deep breathing, and focusing on positivity and a firm belief in a brighter future. You can learn some fun and useful breathing techniques for adults and children on our resources page. You can also model self-care, demonstrating to your children that it is okay to take time for yourself when we're feeling overwhelmed. In fact, it is essential to practice kindness and self-love.

Bring Positives Into Your Life
There are activities that make all of us feel better. Scientific research shows the benefits of exercise and spending time in nature. Encourage your children to take part in outdoor activities. Play is one of the ways children express themselves and it is essential to healthy development. You can also encourage your children to develop an interest in crafts, art projects, music, drama, writing, and any other positive activity that allows them to express their individuality.

The more a child understands his or her uniqueness (and the more you can accept and appreciate them for who they really are), the more they will understand that they are equipped to face any adversity that may come their way...and that good times, positivity, and happiness lie ahead for them and their family.

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A Message From Our CEO

Grieving. Let Your Voice be Heard 1,400 miles Away.

Our hearts are broken for the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. The unimaginable terror that the innocent children faced at their school–a place where safety should be expected and guaranteed–is unacceptable. The potential of future change-makers was grotesquely robbed by the use of an assault weapon breaching the walls of a fourth-grade classroom. The survivors will carry that trauma with them for the rest of their lives. Their families, community, and our country carry the grief and loss with us: hopefully not turning numb but taking action to prevent another senseless act of violence that can be prevented.

As a nation, as a community, as individuals within that community and nation, we must take action now! It is time we rip off the band-aid approaches that fail to address the heart of issues, like mass shootings, and create a system that cares for our most vulnerable children. School shootings won't be solved with more armed police officers or guards or by arming our school teachers. Easy access to guns, whether at home or purchasing, is contributing to the problem. We need solutions!

The school shooters in Uvalde, Parkland, Santa Fe, Newton, and Columbine were all under the age of 21; so, let's use the science of what we know. The human brain is not fully developed at 18 or even 21, and sometimes not at age 25. 18 year-olds are impulsive and should not be permitted to go out and purchase guns. It is not a matter of taking away our Second Amendment right to bear arms but refining gun laws to prohibit young civilians from purchasing assault weapons that result in senseless mass shootings.

In addition to looking at our gun laws, we must address our policies around and access to mental health care, particularly prevention and early intervention for children experiencing adverse childhood experiences. In a report by the Secret Service, they found that nearly all school shooters experienced negative home life factors, most had been bullied or had a history of school disciplinary issues, and all exhibited concerning behaviors. There are costly, long-term consequences when we ignore the impact of these experiences. At what point is the price too high?

We must ensure that EVERY child has a sense of safety, connectedness, and belonging. We must tackle things like bullying and help children develop the skills to promote self-regulation, conflict resolution, stress management, empathy, and resilience.

Currently, most mental health supports wait until a child is experiencing a crisis or behavioral concern. We must be able to actively identify kids not only with externalizing behaviors, but those with internalizing behaviors–those silent children who are often missed and may be the victims of abuse, domestic violence, or bullying. Equipping our schools to take a widespread approach with prevention, including training and support, is also key to stopping these tragedies.

As our broken hearts bleed with sadness, anger, and grief, let's take action. Our nation, our communities, our children deserve more. Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and loved–especially in school.

At the Center for Child Counseling, we focus on a public health approach to building awareness and action around addressing childhood adversity and trauma. We were founded with the vision that every child will grow up feeling safe and nurtured in communities where they can thrive. We will continue to bring awareness to system leaders around fighting childhood adversity with advocacy and action. We invite you to join us. Take action and let your voice be heard!

Renée Layman, President and CEO

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