KIDS at RISK: A North Country Forum
Sponsored by the
American Association of University Women:
Jefferson County Branch and St. Lawrence County Branch
Held on September 24, 2005 at Jefferson Community College
In Partnership With:
- Children's Home of Jefferson County
- Jefferson Community College
- Jefferson County Youth Bureau
- North Country Region, NYS-PTA
- Planned Parenthood of Northern New York
- SUNY Colleges in the North Country
- Thousand Islands Girl Scout Council
- Watertown Teen Center, Inc.
- Watertown YMCA
- Women's Studies Program, Potsdam College
The Kids at Risk Forum explored issues facing the youth in Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties. The Forum identified areas of need and created an action plan for meeting those needs.
The morning events focused on "The Problems Facing Kids at Risk." A panel discussed the educational and legal issues of at-risk kids. The panel members were:
- D. J. Munroe, Youth Advocate Program
- Marilyn Trainor, Ed.D., Watertown City School District
- Susan Sovie, Esq., Family Court Attorney
- Steve Anderson, Jefferson County Probation Department
This panel identified major issues that put kids at risk. Many of the panelists cited the same factors during their discussion.
- Lack of structure and consistency within the family; too many at risk kids are unsupervised.
- Lack of funds budgeted to work with the at-risk kids and their families.
- Lack of mental health services in the area, in particular, there are few private care providers who will take Medicaid-eligible individuals.
- Lack of structured, supervised activities that are attractive to kids at risk.
- Lack of transportation prevents access to supervised activities and needed services.
- Lack of family financial resources; poverty plays a huge role in putting families and kids at risk.
- School attendance (or lack of it) is a primary factor in success in school; there are few good alternatives to handle children who are suspended from school for disrupting the education environment.
- Drug and alcohol abuse; as a general rule, kids who use/abuse alcohol and drugs come from families with the same problems.
The general consensus is that kids at risk come from families at risk, that the problems pf these families are complex and that solutions are neither simple nor can they be applied just to children. Whole families need to be treated; many of these issues are inter- and multi-generational.
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The second panel looked at some of types of programs and services that are available to work with children. The panel members were:
- Jane Gendron, Thousand Islands Girl Scouts Council
- Ginny Harrington, Jefferson County Youth Bureau
- Tammie Miller, Watertown YMCA
This panel discussed the types of research that has been done on the factors that put kids at risk, the kinds if programs that have been developed to address these risk facts, and described some of the work that is being done locally.
Developmental Assets research indicates that there are 40 things must happen in order to ensure that a child grows up to be successful. More information is available from the website; here is a brief summary:
- Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets are concrete, common sense, positive experiences and qualities essential to raising successful young people. These assets have the power during critical adolescent years to influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible adults.
- The Developmental Asset framework is categorized into two groups of 20 assets. External assets are the positive experiences young people receive from the world around them. These 20 assets are about supporting and empowering young people, about setting boundaries and expectations, and about positive and constructive use of young people's time. External assets identify important roles that families, schools, congregations, neighborhoods, and youth organizations can play in promoting healthy development.
- The twenty internal assets identify those characteristics and behaviors that reflect positive internal growth and development of young people. These assets are about positive values and identities, social competencies, and commitment to learning. The internal Developmental Assets will help these young people make thoughtful and positive choices and, in turn, be better prepared for situations in life that challenge their inner strength and confidence.
The major issues this panel discussed were:
- Lack of responsibility, both by the family for the child and the child for his/her own behavior.
- Recognition that the definition of "at risk" needs to include more than social behavior; it must include obesity, poor health choices, etc.
- Kids at risk often lack "connection" - to the family, to the school, to peers, to society.
- Stresses on the family (economy, work, time pressure, etc.) puts stress on children within that family.
The recap of this panel indicated that the "It takes a village to raise a child" model is valid; that success for children comes from many sources and many resources. One critical need is to build resiliency in a child so that child can learn to weather the storms that may befall him or her.
The discussion also revolved around the need to look at children and families from a strength-based perspective. Find out what is going right in the child's life or the family's life; from there build on those strengths to create solutions to the problems they face. Many of the current services available are from a deficit-based model - we focus on fixing what is wrong, rather than working from what is right. This creates a failure-based assessment model.
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The morning session ended with Anita Seefried-Brown of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council, who examined some of the results from the Communities that Care Survey. This survey looked at health risk behaviors that have been surveyed in recent years by high school students in Jefferson County. (Note: similar data is available for St. Lawrence County.)
She indicated that one of the major problems is that locally young people do not have any problems getting access to alcohol, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. In particular, for those children who do use alcohol, they do so at and early age and in large quantities. And while there many children who do not, for those who do, it is a major risk factor.
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Following lunch, the group reconvened to discuss what actions steps might be taken to act on the information learned during the morning. Two breakout groups worked on possible outlines after a round table discussion that included information about AAUW's Sister-to-Sister Summit program.
Through local conferences, AAUW branches launch a dialogue among girls. AAUW's Sister-to-Sister Summits help girls build a network and strengthen their voices, sister to sister by bringing together diverse girls to address issues that schools often cannot adequately address. The AAUW Educational Foundation's Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America labeled these issues-such as sexual harassment, violence, early sexual activity, substance abuse, and body image-the "evaded curriculum." Teen girls who use drugs, fear violence, become preoccupied with their physical appearance, join gangs, or get pregnant cannot take full advantage of the educational programs available to them.
The Summits allow girls to discover their shared experiences can affirm their views and spur them to action, sister to sister. The summits give girls an opportunity to talk about their fears and frustrations, their dreams and ideas. What challenges do they face? What steps can they take to solve problems? What support do they need? Listen to their voices, then watch their self-esteem rise and, with it, their involvement and participation.
When the breakout groups reconvened, the consensus was that the two AAUW branches organize a girls' leadership conference for Spring 2006 for 24 girls, 12 from Jefferson County and 12 from St. Lawrence County. The girls will be identified by the various organizations that came to Kids at Risk, among others. The leadership conference attendees will work on organizing two Sister-to-Sister summits, one for each county, for Fall 2006. Subsequent events can be organized as co-educational.
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