Minimizing the damage

Minimizing the damage

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2017
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
Volunteers (and sisters) Dana Taylor Garrett and Deana Wheeler deliver Kids in Transition backpacks and bags to the Lincoln Trail Elementary Family Resource Center. (Photo courtesy of Hardin County Schools) Kids in Transition, Hardin County Schools

Janelle Mason, coordinator of the family resource center at Lincoln Trail Elementary, calls this program for children being moved to an alternative housing situation – many times due to parental drug abuse – “a community collaboration at its finest.”

The idea for the program was triggered several years ago when Mason was helping siblings at her school who were being removed from their home and placed in foster care. She had gone back to their home and packed each a plastic grocery sack with some belongings, including a favorite stuffed animal.

Their reaction made a big impression on her and a couple weeks later when two parents – one who worked at United Way – inquired about volunteer opportunities at the family resource center, the Kids in Transition project was born.
Volunteers (and sisters) Dana Taylor Garrett and Deana Wheeler deliver Kids in Transition
backpacks and bags to the Lincoln Trail Elementary Family Resource Center. In one month
alone, the center distributed five of the packs, four for reasons related to family drug abuse.
(Photo courtesy of Hardin County Schools)
Now the program is operated mostly by volunteers who stuff duffel bags and backpacks with age-appropriate supplies for the affected children. Churches are involved and some donors make quilts for the kids. Mason’s family resource center acts as a collection point and distributes the bags and backpacks as needed to the other 18 district family resource centers.

“We want them to have something that lets them know somebody loves them and has cared enough to prepare this,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where I kind of disassemble mine a little bit so I can really change it to meet that particular child – I try to find out something about them before I take it over to them. It’s a chance to meet them face to face and to say, ‘I’m Miss Mason. I’m a safe person for you to come to if you need anything.’”

Building resilience, statewide

Melissa Goins, who heads the state’s Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, said when the centers work to support children who have been affected by drug abuse, they try to “tie back” to ways to build resilience in them to offset their circumstances. The concept of resilience is founded on six protective factors, as outlined by the Kentucky Strengthening Families partnership, a group of 20 national, state and local, and public and private organizations. Their goal is to embed six research-based protective factors into services and supports for children and their families, reducing the likelihood of abuse.

“We can’t always remove the circumstances from their shoulders.” said Goins. “But what we can do is try to balance out the other side with as much protective factors and as much of the good that we can. So getting them connected to someone, anyone, that can say to them ‘How did that test go?’ There’s an expectation that you’re going to graduate, there’s an expectation that you’re going to complete the third grade, there’s an expectation that you’re going to move on past this and do that, is really important.”

The six protective factors are:

1. Parental Resilience – families bounce back.

2. Social Connections – families have friends they can count on.

3. Knowledge of Child Development – families learn how their children grow and develop.

4. Concrete Support in Times of Need – families get assistance to meet basic needs.

5. Social and Emotional Competence of Children – families teach children how to have healthy relationships.

6. Nurturing and Attachment – families ensure children feel loved and safe.

Peer mentors, McCreary County

Educators at McCreary County Middle School have found that a long-established program there can extend a lifeline to students whose home lives have been ripped apart by opioid abuse. Guidance counselor Jeffrey Clark said the peer mentoring “buddy” program has been there as long as he has – 27 years.

The program is especially useful with the increase in students being settled into foster care locally, he said. A new student at McCreary Middle is paired up with an established student in the same classes to show the new student the ropes. “They’re with them all day, making sure they know where to go, what classes, where things are and everything like that,” Clark said.

Any child coming into a new school building is anxious about the new settings and worried about not knowing where to go, he said. “The buddy program helps in the stability of the day,” he said. “But also if they’ve, say, lost their jacket, the peer mentor will say, ‘Here’s where the lost and found is.’”

Teachers also are made aware of the situation and of the new child’s needs, he said.

“When a child is pulled from the home and then they have that to deal with, plus a new school and leaving old friends,” Clark said. “It’s just one thing we’ve always done that actually helps them.”

Compounding counselors, Bellevue Independent

Grandview Elementary in Bellevue Independent has had to add another counselor and also is using one on site from an area mental-health services provider, said Janis Winbigler, the district’s director of support services and Grandview’s interim principal. The needs began to increase about three years ago.

“Unfortunately, due to the opioid use, parents are lacking in parental skills and the students are suffering in terms of having a nurturing environment and when they come to school,” she said. “They’re tired because they’ve been up, they’re unprepared and it’s causing the school to have to do a lot more counseling and meeting their basic needs because of the use.”

The students receive both group and one-on-one counseling. “It’s a lot of emotional counseling,” Winbigler added. “We have more children who I would say have depressed attitudes and we’re counseling them in terms of that.”

Many of the issues stem from children being transitioned from living with parents to living with grandparents or others who are raising them, she said. “Once the child can adjust and we can work with the guardians, I feel like the children really are resilient and as long as they have the support in place, I think we’ll see great success and improvement in our students.”

Winbigler also sees the situation in her role as a school board member in Campbell County Schools. That district similarly has had to increase the number of counselors to meet the needs of students. A grant has provided some funding for this, but she said the Campbell County board is committed to keeping them even after the grant ends

Groups for all needs, Jefferson County

Kenwood Elementary family resource center coordinator Sallye Pence reached out to community partners in establishing a group for students with incarcerated parents, a grief group for students whose parents have died, and a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The program Kenwood established for students with incarcerated parents has changed formats a couple of times and is now working in partnership with the YMCA, which received a federal grant. This year, the group of Kenwood students – about 16 of them – has attended a full-blown workshop at the Y. Two groups segregated by age meet after school for eight weeks.

“What the kids learned in that program is there are ways to express their feelings, ways to tell their story if they felt like telling their story,” Pence said. “We gave them information on how to express their feelings in a positive way and not bottle things in too much until they explode.”

For the grief group, Pence turned to the Hosparus Grief Counseling Center, which had already created a curriculum called “Good Grief” for elementary-age children. Her group of eight students range in age from first grade to fifth grade – the majority of them have lost a parent or guardian for drug-related reasons. They meet for eight weeks; the organization sends a therapist to lead the discussions.

Despite their situation, these students are still going to class and doing their work, Pence said. “So if we can give them some resources to help them get through this other stuff then they can hopefully be kids who can learn and play and do all of the things that kids are supposed to do, instead of dealing with all these heavy, hard issues.”

The center also worked with the area development district, which provides aging services, in setting up a grandparent group that meets monthly. “We’ve also done some workshops where we bring in a speaker and talk about a specific topic, something that they’ve got problems with or want more information on,” Pence said.
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