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.


Boys & Girls Clubs Becoming Trauma-Informed and ACEs-Aware

November 4, 2022
For immediate release
Media contact: Cara Scarola Hansen
Center for Child Counseling Public Relations Counsel

Darla Mullenix from CFCC leads Michael Connors, Mary Freitas, Victor Rivera, and Jaene Miranda from BGCPBC in a brain game.

Boys & Girls Clubs Becoming Trauma-Informed and ACEs-Aware
Center for Child Counseling launches training and starts with the Board of Directors

As part of Center for Child Counseling’s (CFCC) mission to build trauma-informed communities, the local nonprofit recently launched a training series with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County in their effort to become a trauma-informed organization.

According to Dr. Robert Block, former president of American Academy of Pediatrics, “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”

45% of U.S. children have at least one ACE; 10% have three or more. Research indicates a strong correlation between high ACE scores and health outcomes. Adults with four or more ACEs have five times the depression risk, ten times the intravenous drug use, and 12 times the suicide rate. On average, they die 20 years younger than those with no ACEs.

Research also shows ACEs are not destiny and there are pathways to healing and wellness through buffering relationships and effective, early intervention.

Promoting a trauma-informed workforce with demonstrated knowledge and skills is an important component to comprehensively addressing ACEs in communities and improving long-term health and wellness outcomes.

“For better or worse, we all bring our childhood experiences with us into our adult relationships. Unresolved adversity and trauma can have direct impacts. Stress can overload the ability to manage emotions, not only impacting interactions with children but also with colleagues. If you care about your staff burnout, turnover, and your bottom line, you need to care about ACEs,” stated Renée Layman, CEO of Center for Child Counseling.

Through the Center’s PACEs (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences) and Trauma-Informed Care Training, CFCC’s CEO and designated leaders provide a customized training schedule to the organization being trained and begin with the CEO, Board of Directors, and leadership team. On Friday, October 28, 2022, CFCC started the training for the Boys & Girls Clubs with its 33-member Board of Directors.

A shared language and understanding from the CEO and throughout all levels of an organization promotes a culture that truly shifts mindsets–providing optimal support for staff that in turn promotes the resilience and wellbeing of children that comes from healthy child-caregiver relationships. It is critical that all adults are equipped with trauma-informed training, strategies, and skills to be able to have trauma-informed conversations with children, youth, and families about difficult things.

“We are most grateful to Renée and her amazing team for the work they are doing in our community and being a part of our recent board retreat as we laid the foundation for a better future at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County. We look forward to the continued training for all constituents of the Boys & Girls Clubs,” expressed Jaene Miranda, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.

Next, CFCC will train the Boys & Girls Clubs’ leadership team and then 400+ staff members. The 20 Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Palm Beach County serve more than 10,000 children ages 6-18.

This training is part of CFCC’s overall goal of supporting child-serving organizations in becoming trauma-informed and has been funded through a grant from the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties to promote child and adolescent resilience and equity.

For more information on Center for Child Counseling and its PACEs and Trauma-Informed Care Training for childcare centers, schools, and organizations, visit: centerforchildcounseling.org/traumainformedcare.


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

Center for Child Counseling Merges with KidSafe to Fight Sexual Abuse


October 3, 2022
For immediate release
Media contact: Cara Scarola Hansen
Center for Child Counseling Public Relations Counsel

Center for Child Counseling Merges with KidSafe to Fight Sexual Abuse 

Merger elevates kids’ safety in the fight against adverse childhood experiences, particularly preventing and treating sexual abuse.

Center for Child Counseling (CFCC) in collaboration with KidSafe Foundation announce the merger of the two not-for-profit organizations which both serve children and families with the shared goal of healthy families, schools, and communities. Effective October 1, 2022, KidSafe now operates under CFCC, knowing that the two entities will be stronger together in their education and prevention of child sexual abuse and childhood trauma.

Every nine minutes, a child is a victim of sexual abuse and assault (rainn.org). Of those children who are sexually abused, 90% are abused by someone they know and trust. Sexual abuse can have long-lasting physical and emotional effects, including: depression, eating disorders, self-blame, self-destructive behaviors, cyclical abuse, learning disabilities, drug abuse.

Since 2009, KidSafe Foundation has empowered over 60,000 children with personal safety education and has taught over 50,000 parents, guardians, teachers, and child-serving professionals how to keep kids safe. In addition to protecting children from sexual abuse, KidSafe teaches children safety tools and skills that help them make safe and smart choices in all areas as they become healthy, powerful adults.
Research has shown that unaddressed mental health problems among children can lead to lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and poor health and social outcomes overall.

Since 1999, Center for Child Counseling has supported thousands of children each year, preventing and healing the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma, while promoting resiliency and healthy relationships. CFCC launched its Fighting ACEs initiative in 2016 to promote a public health approach to preventing and healing the effects of early adversity and trauma on children to build healthier, safer, more nurturing families, schools, and communities.

As part of this initiative, CFCC CEO Renée Layman explains, “We are looking at each of the ACEs and how we can provide prevention and education to build caregiver and community capacity, in addition to treatment to help children and families heal after trauma. We don’t want to replicate what anyone is doing. When we started looking at a public health approach and prevention of sexual abuse, KidSafe already had everything perfectly in place.”

Under the leadership and direction of CEO Laura Askowitz and Co-Founder Cherie Benjoseph, KidSafe has gone from grass-roots to sustainable and has built an evidence-informed, research-based, innovative curriculum that educates and empowers children to advocate for their own personal safety–thereby preventing sexual abuse or a continuous cycle of abuse and a lifetime of health issues.

According to Askowitz, “This merger allows KidSafe programming to be even more accessible to the community. Our education absolutely reduces children’s vulnerability to exploitation, but at its core, it’s really about arming children with resiliency and preventing life-long trauma from ACEs. That’s why this was a natural fit: combining resources to serve more children and help them grow up to be healthy, powerful adults.”

The merger of the two organizations promotes continued growth of the KidSafe program under the infrastructure and support of CFCC’s larger staff. KidSafe’s six staff members will join Center for Child Counseling as key members of their 70-person staff, contributing to the continued program development of the agency’s fight against sexual abuse as well as their fight against all the other ACEs. As the new Director of Strategic Development for CFCC, Askowitz will help build sustainability for the agency and expand and grow its impact.

As members of the nonprofit sector, both Layman and Askowitz view this merger as a responsibility to their funding partners’ and the community’s limited resources–ensuring proper sustainability so that the education and care reach more children and families.

About Center for Child Counseling
Since 1999, Center for Child Counseling has been building the foundation for playful, healthful, and hopeful living for children and families in Palm Beach County. Its services focus on preventing and healing the effects of adverse experiences and toxic stress on children, promoting resiliency and healthy family, school, and community relationships.

For more information, visit centerforchildcounseling.org. Twitter: @ChildCounselPBC Facebook: @CenterforChildCounseling Instagram: @childcounselpbc

The following interviews are available related to this merger:

Renée Layman, Chief Executive Officer of Center for Child Counseling
Laura Aksowitz, Former Chief Executive Officer of KidSafe

Click here to view news release.


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.

Sign up now for news, events, and education about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and promoting resilience.

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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

Building Hope and Resilience Through Connection

Every child is filled with tremendous promise – and, as a community, we have a shared obligation to foster that potential.

The stress of the past two years has been unprecedented. The current state of the world has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, well-being, and even sense of hope for the future.

Our families and communities are struggling with overwhelming grief and loss arising from the pandemic. Economic insecurity, racism and discrimination, political unrest – and now a war are additional threats to our sense of safety. These experiences are potentially traumatic, and if unbuffered, may have long-term health consequences.

Anxiety, depression, and suicide rates in teenagers were increasing and at an all-time high before the pandemic. The cumulative impact of social isolation, loss, and stress have amplified mental health concerns. As mental health providers, we simply can’t address these issues alone.

How do we build hope and resilience when it feels like our world is burning down?

In February, Benjamin Perks was the keynote speaker at Center for Child Counseling’s (CFCC) Lead the Fight event. In his address, he explained the importance of connection, not as a luxury but part of our evolutionary biology. “We depend on adults for three things–for love, for nurture, and for protection. We have a biological need to be loved…it’s there from day one.”

Anyone who has looked into the eyes of a newborn baby knows from infancy, humans seek connection. We carry this need for connection throughout our lifetime, and from birth it provides the foundation for all relationships.

Studies show that connection can build resilience in individuals exposed to adversity and trauma. Newer research is looking at how isolation impacts adults struggling with mental illness and the importance of creating networks of support as a part of the treatment process. At varying levels, we all felt the impact of social isolation during the pandemic.

Building hope and resilience for the future means building a community where all children and families feel loved, protected, nurtured – and connected. As we continue to emerge in the aftermath of COVID-19, we need to actively work on developing positive social connections and relationships, particularly for children, families, and communities who have experienced an overabundance of adversity, stress, and trauma.

How do we go about building resilience for those who have experienced ongoing adversity and trauma? First, we must shift our concept of resilience, which is often conceptualized as an individual trait, which means it is up to the individual to fix themselves, rather than looking at systemic issues that may keep adversity and trauma firmly in place. Shifting our mindsets to view resilience as a community trait and putting our efforts into creating communities where we care for EVERY child and family must be at the forefront.

Creating opportunities for Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) through buffering relationships is the antidote to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference for a child facing adversity, whether as a teacher, coach, mentor, or attorney. For a powerful example of this in action, Juleus Ghunta, author of “Rohan Bullkin and the Shadows: A Story about ACEs and Hope” talks about his life and experiences as a survivor of about 18 adverse childhood experiences.

As a community, it is up to all of us to build hope and resilience for the future.

At the Center for Child Counseling, we focus on a public health approach to building awareness and action around addressing childhood adversity and trauma.

The science of prevention shows that we don’t have to wait for a child to fall apart emotionally before we do something, so building the capacity of caregivers and our entire community is essential. Collective efforts such as Birth to 22 and BeWellPBC are working toward creating an equitable community where all children have the opportunity to grow up feeling safe and loved.

The leadership and passion that drives this work provides us all with hope for the future.

This article was in April 2022 edition of The Well of PBC, click here to read the full issue. For more information and resources, check out our ACEs Toolkit, Fighting ACEs White Paper, and A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building Resilience.

Through grants through the Florida Blue Foundation, Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, and the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, there is no cost for the A Way of Being with Children manual and training for childcare centers, schools, and organizations in Palm Beach County. Learn more about our mission and impact: A message from our CEO.

The Power of Relationships

Building healthy relationships or ‘relational health’ provides a strong foundation for life-long well-being, including boosting self-esteem, functioning better under stress, and even having better overall physical health.

On the other hand, poor relational health increases our risk for psychological distress.

Early relational health (ERH) is a term describing positive child development as a result of nurturing, warm, and responsive parent/caregiver child relationships – and safe communities defined by trust and social connectedness.

Maintaining healthy relationships takes time and attention, even under the best of times. Building or maintaining strong relationships in times of intense stress is far more challenging. Think about the stress that most of us have experienced because of the pandemic. The stress and resulting emotional fallout, particularly for children who were already facing adversity, call for immediate action and a public health approach that supports prevention and early intervention strategies.

Julie Fisher Cummings, Chair of the Board for the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties and Trustee of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation states, “EARLY MATTERS! Research shows that 80% of brain development occurs by age 3. Recognizing this and acknowledging that social determinants of health constitute public health imperatives. Fisher Foundation has funded or is currently funding initiatives and programs as an embedded funder in Detroit to improve conditions and outcomes for children.”

Over the past few years, Mrs. Fisher Cummings has partnered with Center for Child Counseling to advocate and raise awareness across systems that make decisions on behalf of our children about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Adverse Community Environments. Utilizing a public health approach allows us the greatest opportunity to create systemic change because it addresses the causes, consequences, and potential cures for the impact on our youngest and most vulnerable children – and promoting relational health between children and their caregivers is at the heart of this work.

We must work toward having a society where all children grow up feeling safe and loved. Societal issues such as racism and poverty are complex but can be defeated. Science shows that many of the answers rest in early childhood.

The need has never been more urgent. There has been overwhelming grief and loss due to the pandemic. According to a recent study more than 140,000 children, primarily in communities of color, have lost a parent or caregiving grandparent to COVID-19. The death of a parent or caregiver in childhood is a significant trauma which may result in profound long-term consequences for health and well-being.

It is vital that parents and caregivers have the core capabilities - executive functioning and self-regulation skills - needed to support children’s mental health and resilience through safe, nurturing relationships. The call to action is creating a system that nurtures our most vulnerable children and families, fighting against inequities that keep intergenerational trauma firmly in place.

Mrs. Fisher Cummings states, “All are needed to create a world where every child has a chance to succeed by receiving the same support and care as my own grandchildren.”


Center for Child Counseling

Center on the Developing Child-Harvard University


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