Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, mindfulness, and physical activity are the cornerstones of children’s overall health and key contributors to positive child health outcomes. Equally as important is the health of youth workers as they care for children, in a variety of settings. The resources listed include promising practices and strategies for youth workers to address unique challenges and develop effective coping mechanisms.

  • Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
  • Secondary Traumatic Stress
  • Wellness and Self-Care

Find the full list of resources here.

 

This column was published in June 2020. The requests for this information continue to grow, making it helpful to revisit.  

When is the right time to talk to children about racism? Are you concerned about not having enough or the right information? Are your kids and teens asking questions about history and race that make you uncomfortable? How do you start anti-racist conversations with children and how do you sustain them over time?

It can be hard to talk with children and students about racism. Conversations about race, the history of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic, in our country and state, and current protests will likely be different for each family, school, and community. There is no one “best” or “right” way to talk with children about this important issue. At the same time, the research is clear that we can and should start teaching children about kindness, fairness and human rights at a young age.

In August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy brief outlining the health effects of racism on children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families. Racism negatively affects the environments in which people live, learn, play, and work. For the person who experiences racism, its impact has been linked to differences in such health indicators as infant and maternal mortality, birth weight, and child and adolescent mental health. Prolonged exposure to stress associated with racism leads the bodies of those affected to produce increased stress hormones, which in turn can result in their development of chronic diseases. Systemic racism has impacted access to jobs, education, healthcare, and overall upward mobility. Creating antiracist environments and systems for our children can have lasting health and economic benefits for all people.

When discussing racism with children, it is important to first, increase our personal understanding of this critical issue from a lens of equity and fairness and secondly, to understand and adjust our engagement based on the stages of child development. What follows are some age-appropriate ways and resources, many from UNICEF and the Child Mind Institute, to address racism with children and youth.

Little ones, under age 5:

  1. Be open to all questions. Babies as young as 6 months old begin noticing physical differences including skin color, and by age 5 children can show signs of inclusion or racial bias. Children in this age group commonly ask many questions, and will likely ask about people who look different from them. Encourage their curiosity, recognizing and discussing differences in appearance in positive, prosocial ways.
  2. Celebrate diversity. Introduce diverse cultures and people from different races and ethnicities to children. Early positive interactions help decrease prejudice and encourages more cross-racial group friendships.
  3. Use relatable experts. CNN and “Sesame Street” recently partnered for a special town hall special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” where Big Bird, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and others, discussed and explained concepts of protesting and racism. Kids’ direct and heartfelt questions were answered in clear and simple terms that all can understand.

 

Elementary students and pre-teens:

  1. Encourage this age group to share their feelings about race and racism. Check in, listen, and ask questions. Children are likely to have concerns or questions that they do not know how to express. They may be ambivalent or uncertain, afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones.
  2. Discuss the media. Ask what they are seeing on TV and social media. Elementary students and pre-teens are becoming more exposed to information and can easily be confused by what they are seeing and hearing. Ask broad questions such as: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
  3. Bring diversity into your home and schools. Explore food, stories, and films from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, discussing the uniqueness and similarities. Advocate for curricula that are multicultural, multilingual, and reflective of diverse communities.

 

Teenagers:

  1. Be ready for strong emotions. This age group is likely to know more than you may think and can also have strong emotional responses. Try to stay calm without hiding your feelings. Let them know that you are also sad and angry, validating that it is good to have a strong reaction to social injustice.
  2. Talk openly about historical racism and the challenges of addressing remaining inequities. This group is beginning to understand complicated and abstract concepts such as fairness, bias, and justice. Ask what they think and introduce them to different perspectives and worldviews to help expand their understanding toward global thinking and local impact.
  3. Encourage action. Many teens are looking for ways to be active in their community and on social media. Help them to act in ways that reflect a dedication to inclusion, unity and personal development.

Do your best to meet each child where they are, developmentally and emotionally. It is important to hear and validate their questions, fears, and emotions. Do not worry if you do not have all the answers. Our children are looking to us as role models and guides. Honest, open, and fact-based conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion builds lasting trust. Take every opportunity to challenge racist behaviors, practices and policies, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Karlin Tichenor, “Our minority children deserve a world where they can run, walk, protest, and achieve without fear or limits. We all deserve this world.”

A few supporting and additional resources include:

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

 

 

 

By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

The end of the school year is in sight, and Covid-19 control measures give us hope that the pandemic is waning. However, we are just starting to understand the effects this past year filled with stress, change, and uncertainty has had on the mental health of students and teachers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. Some of these conditions, such as anxiety and depression, commonly occur together. The American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that the stress, fear, grief, isolation, and uncertainty related to COVID-19 is likely to increase the number of American children that have at least one mental health disorder.    

The key to helping the large number of students with mental health disorders is to understand the scope of the issue, combat the outstanding myths, connect children with treatment, supports, and services, and work to build strong support networks for all our young people.  To effectively respond, we need to recognize the signs of student mental health issues.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the behaviors and emotions that are related to typical child development and those that require extra attention and concern. Occasional emotional distress, anxiety, stress, and depression are normal experiences for all children and youth.

Younger students may exhibit symptoms such as intense worry or fear, frequent outbursts, complaints about stomach aches or headaches with no known medical cause, and a lack of interest in playing with other children. Other common symptoms include trouble falling or staying asleep, separation anxiety, crying more easily, and themes like illness or death during play. And kids in this age group may not talk about or have descriptive words to talk about their feelings.

Symptoms in adolescents include a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, sleeping too little or too much, and engaging in risky, destructive or self-harming behaviors. One of the signs of distress with this age group is spending increasing amounts of time alone or avoiding social interactions, something that became commonplace with quarantine and remote school. Even given reduced activities and social distance parameters, signs of distress may include previously outgoing teens that suddenly show little interest in texting, playing video games, or checking social media.

Older teens and young adults have also experienced pandemic-related stressors, including the closure of universities, loss of jobs, and inability to interact with peer groups, all factors that can contribute to poor mental health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, during the pandemic, a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56%). Both adolescents and young adults often try to hide their struggles because of fear, shame, or a sense of responsibility to avoid burdening others.

Dealing with toggling  between in-person and remote learning, student absences, longer hours, efforts to engage students remotely, and technology access issues made teachers’ jobs exponentially more stressful this year. Education Weekly reports that teachers’ levels of stress and anxiety have soared, while their morale has plummeted. Districts have been challenged to increase support for educators while simultaneously striving to address the social and emotional learning needs of students traumatized by the events of the past year.

We cannot expect that all students and teachers need the same services or supports. At particular risk are our students and educators with preexisting mental illness, and those who are Black and Latinx, who were more likely to have had COVID-19 or to have lost friends or family members. We need to make sure that these historically marginalized students and educators receive a level of services are matched to their individual needs.

Efforts to understand and address social and emotional learning and behavioral and mental health needs of students started long before the pandemic hit. Yet the soaring needs of both students and teachers has put a spotlight on the importance of enhancing and expanding such supports. The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists created a resource addressing the interdependent needs of both groups. The U.S. Department of Education also developed a guidebook to help school districts support educator and staff stability and well-being while also supporting the SEL and mental health needs of their students.

This month we are celebrating the incredible resilience, adaptability, and persistence of our students and educators. By providing mental health supports and services that address the scope of post-pandemic needs, we can back our words of appreciation with needed action.

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

As adults, we all understand the benefits of being healthy and recognize the importance of vaccines and preventative care for our overall health. Preventive care can look different for many ages and genders, so what does that look like for our youth?  

Childhood vaccinations and preventive care often detect and prevent conditions and diseases in their earlier, more treatable stages, significantly reducing the risk of potential illness, disability, early death, and expensive medical care. 

IYI’s recently published Data Report: Children’s Access to Immunizations and Preventive Care, highlights state data, as well as examines barriers to obtaining vaccines and preventive care, the history of medical discrimination, and provides insight into how to leverage data on the local, state, and national level.  

To learn more, click here.

By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

Saying this has been a difficult year for educators and students is like a saying the Indianapolis 500 is a race – an immense understatement. Losses and loneliness due to COVID-19, rising levels of childhood poverty and hunger, and constant uncertainty coupled with pressure to quickly adopt and adapt to new technologies and learning modalities. Post-pandemic days grow ever closer, but what does that mean for Indiana students going forward?

Educators, mentors, and family members are concerned about learning loss resulting from the numerous educational disruptions. Early data from national testing organizations showed, on average, a 5 to 10 percentile drop in math scores for children in the critical third through eighth grades. Drops were particularly notable in the scores of Black and Hispanic students and students attending high-poverty schools, another disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our poor and non-white communities.

McKinsey & Co. has released a study that both projected estimated learning losses while also providing suggestions to address the students most impacted. Specifically looking at learning in math, McKinsey estimated that white students lost three months of academic growth while students of color lost three to five months. Suggested activities to address the learning loss, and expanding opportunity gaps, included: scaling high-intensity tutoring; creating small group academies over school breaks; protecting the neediest school districts from spending cuts; adding academics into summer camp activities; and touching base with missing students and their families weekly beyond virtual media, including in-person home visits and/or food or supply deliveries.

House Bill 1008, the student learning recovery grant program, is currently under consideration in the Indiana State Legislature. The legislation would designate funding, define eligible entities, and establish requirements for student learning acceleration plans. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately, allowing Indiana schools to quickly act to help their students.

In addition to learning loss, there is little doubt that the pandemic has elevated levels of anxiety and depression among students that had these illnesses before the outbreak. Research in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health also reported that new and/or different fears and behavioral health illnesses have emerged for many of our children and youth. As schools and activities resume, we need to acknowledge the lasting impact that stress, uncertainty, loss, and fear can have. Our task is to prioritize our kids’ mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing, finding the additional supports and services they need to feel safe and secure.

Our kids need the connections found not only in school but also in sports, afterschool programs, and the countless other activities that were scaled back or halted due to health concerns. Summer programs can be a fantastic way to transition back into group interactions. Camps, academies, and out-of-school programs offer learning and developmental growth delivered through fun and engaging models. Playworks, a nonprofit that promotes child development through play activities, recently published practical ways to keep kids active – and socially and emotionally health – this summer. A list of suggestions and resources can be found here and Playworks Indiana can be reached at www.playworks.org/indiana/.

Of course, we also must applaud the tremendous efforts made this year by our teachers, counselors, administrators, and everyone working in schools. They have adjusted to new schedules, new technologies, and often complicated new safety requirements. It is not surprising that many educators are feeling stressed and burnt out. Edsurge’s article about supporting educators in 2021, linked here, contains several recommendations and free resources to support teacher efforts, many from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

The need to address youth learning loss, child social and emotional well-being, and educator support is clear. We all benefit when all Indiana students are nourished and prepared to succeed. It will likely be several years before we fully understand the impact the pandemic has had on our kids. Yet there are local and state efforts underway and there are additional actions we can take now to build a pathway to recovery. This year has changed everyone, let’s work together to minimize and offset the negative effects on our students.

 

IYI’s recently published Data Report: Youth in the Justice Systemhighlights data indicating that historical and current school discipline practices and polices continue to disproportionately push some kids of color out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system, leading to severe long-term outcomes in education, economic well-being, and health. 

To learn more, click here! 

Homelessness creates intense challenges and barriers for children and youth, which hinders their ability to find academic, social, and financial success. Children can exhibit various academic or social difficulties that result from the trauma of homelessness, mobility, and the lack of structural consistency and security.

To learn about students experiencing homelessness in Indiana, click here!

To read the appendix, click here.

Many of us, as parents and caregivers, find ourselves now at home, juggling our children’s school requirements, our own work obligations, and the added stress of trying to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic. We want to be supportive and encouraging, but simultaneously we struggle with how best to address the dangerous realities of this virus. Now, perhaps more than ever, our kids are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. And our interactions with our kids, how we talk about and respond to the current conditions, make a tremendous difference in how they address these challenging times.

There are mountains of articles and reports to sift through offering advice. What follows are highlights of three helpful resources – one from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, one from Psychology Today, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. These, like many resources and experts, stress the importance of offering an age-appropriate response.

For young children it is important to keep your discussions of COVID-19 brief and simple. It is helpful to let young children know that adults – including their family members, teachers, and community leaders – are working to keep them safe and healthy. Within this age group, stress and anxiety may show up as loss of appetite, clinging to parents/caregivers, thumb sucking, or regression in developmental milestones.

We should anticipate more questions from later elementary and early middle schoolers. They may ask questions about COVID-19 cases in their area or school, the chances that they will get sick, and what is going to happen when they return to school. Given the uncertainty that exists around many of these questions, we can help these children by giving them the facts that we do know. Talk about how the disease is spread and what everyone can do to reduce their risk. Practice handwashing and putting on face masks. Discuss what national, state, and community leaders are doing, such as issuing stay-at-home orders, to manage the spread of the disease. Irritability, poor concentration, nightmares, and clinginess are all common signs of stress with kids in this age group.

COVID-19 issues and concerns can be discussed in greater detail with older students, such as those in grades 8-12. Again, it is important to steer them to factual information and credible sources. This group is likely to be getting information form a variety of sources, such as friends and social media. We can play an important role in helping them sort out facts from rumor, speculation, or opinion.  Sleep disruptions, loss of appetite, increased conflicts and aggression, and physical complaints are common among teens under stress.

Limiting access to screens, including television, internet, phone, and social media, is advised for all age groups. Yet, this has become increasingly challenging with stay-at-home orders, e-learning, reduced alternate activities, and time demands of parent work schedules. We can all monitor how much time our children spend watching COVID-19 updates, as too much information can increase fears, confusion, and anxiety.

We can help children and youth stay active by encouraging them to play outside, take a walk, or go for a bike ride. Even a small amount of outdoor time can significantly help mental and physical wellbeing. Taking breaks from schoolwork can increase focus and reduce fatigue. Let your child lead their movement breaks – jumping jacks, dance moves, and stretching are all easy options. We have seen countless creative ways children and families are playing together during this pandemic.

Above all, we want all children to feel supported and cared for during these unusual and uncertain times. We want them to feel safe and comfortable sharing their frustrations, fears and concerns. Lost time with friends, sports seasons, musical performances and graduations are understandable reasons for our kids to be angry, disappointed, and sad. We need to hear and validate these emotions. At the same time, we can also use this time to model flexibility, patience, creative engagement strategies, problem solving, resilience, and compassion. All caring adults have the opportunity to help our children through this crisis – and our kids are counting on us to do just that.

Sources and Resources

Students laugh and talk.

For the thousands of Hoosier children in foster care, educational success is essential to reach their full potential. But research tells us that our foster youth face educational disparities from early education to postsecondary.

We can all help Indiana’s foster students thrive by working together, addressing systemic issues and providing equitable opportunities.

Our latest spotlight, developed in partnership with Foster Success, aims to support you in making a difference in the experiences and outcomes of our foster youth.

Read the spotlight to get the latest insights on this growing population of students.

Read the spotlight!