Taking Your Child to the ER

Taking your child to the ER can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s hard to be rational and calm when your child is injured or experiencing frightening symptoms. The first thing to think about is which emergency room to choose. If you live in a city with a choice of emergency rooms, pick an ER you know to be child-friendly. Or call the doctor’s office for advice on the best ER for your child.

The ideal time to study up on the right ER for your child is actually before there is an emergency. Ask friends about their children’s ER experiences to get recommendations. At your child’s regular check-up ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on the most child-friendly, area ER.

Another way to prepare in advance for emergencies is for parents to keep and maintain a notebook with all the child’s health information. In the notebook, you can list all past and present illnesses, vaccinations, allergies, current medications, and the time of your child’s most recent dose of medicine. These are things the ER staff will want to know. Keep the notebook in your bag so you never lose it and will always have it close at hand, even (and especially) when you’re running out the door to the emergency room.

By the same token, always keep your child’s health-insurance card or information in the same space in your wallet. That way you’ll never have to waste precious time searching for the card during an emergency. It will be one less thing to think about.

Not sure whether your child should go to the ER at all? It could be a call to the doctor can help you decide. For more on this topic, read When to Take a Child to the ER.

Expect a Long Wait

Two kids and a dad (from waist down) in ER waiting room

Once you decide to go to the ER, be aware that a visit to the emergency room may mean a wait of many hours. Make sure you bring change with you, as cell phones are sometimes banned in hospitals. Change is also handy when you want something from the vending machine. Bring toys or activities, and something to eat and drink (check with hospital staff before offering a child food and drink).

Unless your child is three months old or younger, you can feel free to treat a child’s fever before you leave for the ER. It helps the child feel better and can make the wait easier. Bring some more fever-reducing medication along with you to the hospital, in case the wait is many hours long. Your child may need another dose before he is seen.

Try not to bring brothers and sisters to the ER. If you can find a sitter or someone to watch your child’s siblings, it’s best not to bring them along to the ER. Your child needs your full attention. Also, why expose children unnecessarily to diseases that are floating around the hospital?

Review the Facts

As you make your way to the ER, mentally review the facts of your child’s illness or injury, and write them down in your child’s health notebook if your hands are free. That way you’ll be ready to tell the nurse or doctor what has happened and how you’ve treated your child until now. Think back to when your child became ill or injured and make a note of the day and time. If your child has swallowed poison, bring the bottle with you to the ER.

Think over the progression of your child’s illness or injury: how has it changed over time? Has your child had a fever or a rash? Has your child gone to the bathroom? How many times a day? What medications, if any, has your child taken? Does your child have any allergies? These are all things the ER staff will want to know.

Prepare your child on the way to the ER. Tell the child that a doctor (not the pediatrician he knows) will be examining him. At each step of the ER experience, explain the truth about what will happen next. A clear, honest explanation makes your child less anxious. Anxiety over the unknown worsens pain and fear. Knowing what will happen next, even if it’s going to hurt, relieves that anxiety, and helps your child feel better.

Eating and Drinking

On arriving at the ER, ask if your child is allowed to eat and drink. Sometimes you’ll be asked not to give your child food and drink. Some procedures, for instance some CT scans and blood tests, have to be done while fasting. It can be difficult to ignore a child’s pleas to drink and eat, but remember it’s in her own best interests. Reassure her as much as possible.

Remember that a long wait is a good sign. It means your child’s condition isn’t so serious that it cannot wait a bit for treatment. Try to be patient and calm. If your child seems to be getting worse, ask that he be reassessed.

ER waiting room animation

Never lie to a child. Don’t say, “It won’t hurt,” if you know it will. If you know something will hurt, say so, but add something to give the child hope. You might say, “It will hurt, but only for as long as it takes to blink your eye.”

Your Child’s Advocate

If your child needs stitches, a shot, or a blood test, ask if numbing cream can be applied to the area, first. The cream takes about 20 minutes to kick in. If your child’s pain medication is wearing off, let the staff know. Remember that you are your child’s advocate, if you don’t speak up, no one else will.

Do what you can to comfort your child and ease her fears. Hold her, talk to her. Try to keep her from seeing anything scary, such as a tray of instruments or a bloody patient. Read to your child or play a game like “I Spy” to take her mind off of her pain and fear.

Stay by your child’s side as much as possible. Ask if you can stay with your child for procedures like blood tests and x-rays. But if you feel like you’re going to pass out from seeing blood, for instance, make sure you inform the staff.

Your ER Questions

Doctors and nurses seem so busy parents may be afraid to disturb them with their questions. But it’s a parent’s right to ask questions and receive answers. If you want to know why this or that test has been ordered, go ahead and ask. Just be polite.

Make sure you understand the discharge instructions. Are you sure you know when the bandage can be taken off? How to clean your child’s wound? Do you know what to do if your child’s symptoms don’t get better or he feels worse? Do you know how to give your child his medication?

The hospital often recommends a follow-up visit with the child’s pediatrician. Bring your child’s discharge papers with you to the visit. Even if your child needs no follow up visit, drop off a copy of the child’s discharge papers at the doctor’s office. That way, a record of the visit will be included in your child’s medical history.

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After the Florida Mass Shooting: PTSD in Teens

Can just listening to the news and viewing disturbing images cause PTSD in teens? This is a question some parents are asking in the wake of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High school, in Parkland Florida. These parents wonder if their teenagers’ sleeplessness, nightmares, and frightening thoughts are more than just strong but temporary reactions to the news. The answer is a definite yes: if your teen is experiencing such symptoms, it could be posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and your child should be seen by a mental health professional.

Florida Mass Shooting

Perhaps thought you’d done as good a job as any parent might do in explaining the awful news coming out of Florida to your teen, but here it is, two weeks later, and your child still can’t get through the night without waking up drenched in sweat and shaking. Is this a genuine mental health issue or is it something that will pass with the healing qualities of time? What should you be doing to support your teen?

Dr. Robin Goodman of A Caring Hand, a nonprofit that specializes in helping children cope with bereavement, confirms that even teens outside of Florida can experience posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the mass shooting, “We do know that direct physical exposure (witnessing the event or being there) or emotional exposure (knowing someone who was injured or who died) as well as indirect exposure (seeing and reading about the event in the news and on social media) can impact teens and lead to trauma reactions,” says Goodman.

Knowing that teens even far from Parkland can suffer emotional trauma from the fallout of the mass shooting is one thing. But what are the symptoms of PTSD in teens? What should parents be watching for?

Jessica Tappana, of the Aspiring trauma counseling center, says that teens can be impacted by PTSD every bit as much as adults. The difference is that teens may hesitate to reach out to the adults in their lives for help. That means that their parents may not even know their children are struggling. And not all of the complicated feelings teens may experience after a mass shooting like the one in Florida can be labeled as posttraumatic stress disorder.

Healthy Response

“In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic shooting, it is normal to expect youth to be shaken and more anxious. Certainly students returning to Stoneman Douglas this week are going to feel anxious, but youth across the country who have watched the news coverage of Stoneman Douglas and the many “copycat” threats since are experiencing anxiety as well. Some of this nervousness is a normal response to the trauma.

“In the weeks following the trauma, you can expect teens to be processing this anxiety and talking about the trauma; their personal experiences; and their reactions. This is their way of trying to make sense of the experience, and facing their emotions about the situation is actually a healthy response,” says Tappana.

Teens protest the Parkland, Florida mass shooting in TallahasseeSo when does a teenager’s reaction to the traumatic school shooting become an issue of concern?  When do you seek professional help? “If time goes on and your child’s anxiety about the shooting is impacting his or her ability to function, you may want to seek professional help. PTSD develops when the brain doesn’t heal from the trauma and instead sees danger around every corner,” explains Tappana.

“Teens developing PTSD might be avoiding situations that remind them of the school shooting (i.e. school, the news, etc). They may be thinking about the shooting constantly or even having nightmares.

“For teens who were at Stoneman Douglas or who have attended another school where there was a threat, there may be ‘flashbacks’ where it feels like they’re experiencing the threat all over again.  Withdrawing or reacting to everyday situations in an extreme manner can also indicate a problem.

Wait Three Months?

“Traditionally, mental health professionals wait until about three months after a trauma to diagnose PTSD. That said, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Speak to a mental health professional regarding whether counseling might help children process their reactions to the shooting. This is especially true if children’s concerns are interfering with their ability to feel safe at school, interact with peers, or otherwise function on a day-to-day basis,” says Tappana.

Dr. Sal Raichbach of the Ambrosia Treatment Center cautions parents that PTSD isn’t just something that happens to soldiers, “When we think of PTSD, we often think of active soldiers or veterans who have seen wartime and are plagued with flashbacks from the battlefield. But PTSD is a lot closer to home than we think. Any traumatic event can trigger PTSD, from abuse in the household to a school shooting, like the one we’ve witnessed in Florida,” says Raichbach.

But that doesn’t mean that teens are going to experience PTSD the same way as those in the military, or war veterans. “PTSD in children usually differs from that seen in adults, and teens fall somewhere in the middle. Kids tend to reenact their trauma during play or watch for signs that the trauma will recur and try to prevent that from happening. Teens, on the other hand, will often show more aggressive behavior and potentially engage in self-harm or use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms.”

Unprocessed Trauma

Why do teens experience symptoms of PTSD after incidents like the mass shooting in Florida? “PTSD is the body and mind’s response to unprocessed trauma. When trauma is processed properly, with enough expression either through shaking in the body, through crying, or through the expression of rage and fear, it becomes ‘resolved.’ This means the body and mind won’t be haunted by the experience forever, which might lead to nightmares, chronic and constant fear, and the feeling of being perpetually unsafe,” says psychoanalyst Claudia Luiz.

Why do teens outside of Florida experience PTSD? It may be because of the extensive and inescapable media coverage of the event. “Research from 9/11 has shown that people can develop PTSD just from watching a traumatic event on television over and over again. Teens have been fascinated by this school shooting more than others because the distressed students have continued to speak out,” explains Dr. Carole Lieberman, author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How To Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, who adds that the most important thing parents can do to help kids with PTSD is to acknowledge their reactions to the event as understandable. “It is important to talk about what happened and to get them to express their feelings about what happened. Ask them if they’re worried that this will happen at their school. Ask if they know anyone who they think has angry feelings and might be ready to explode like Nikolas Cruz. Ask if they know any classmate who has guns. Ask if they themselves sometimes get angry feelings that make them fantasize about hurting people or hurting themselves.

“If they have feelings about hurting others or themselves, get them into therapy. Also, if their symptoms of PTSD don’t resolve on their own in a month, get them into therapy,” says Lieberman.

Practical Tips

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV offers the following practical tips for parents:

  • Before injecting too much information into your teen, first ask “What did you hear?”
  • Listen not only to what your teens say, but also pay attention to what they do.
  • Emphasize to your teen “You are safe.” Explain details of the measures schools have already taken to reinforce safety, for instance locking school doors and practicing emergency lockdown drills.
  • A senseless school shooting at their school or anywhere else can make teens (and adults) feel powerless. Give your teen a sense of control by suggesting she write a letter send it to a surviving child or family affected by a school shooting. Or offer to help your teen have a bake sale so she might send the proceeds to the families. These actions are proactive and also offer your teen an opportunity to feel helpful and giving.
  • Limit exposure to TV news, online broadcasts, and social media. Repeated exposure to the violent stories and graphic pictures can re-traumatize your teen.

What if you can’t tell whether your teen is experiencing PTSD or just normal teenage angst? “In my opinion, parents are the first line of defense against mental illness in children. They interact with their children more than anyone else, so they are usually the first to observe signs and symptoms. If you know your child or teen has experienced a traumatic event, talk to them and keep an eye out for any further signs of PTSD,” says Raichbach.

Dr. Goodman adds that teens aren’t the only ones affected by the mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida. “Parents must take care of themselves and get their own support so they can best support their teens.”

Spanking? The Jury is in: It’s BAD

Spanking was never proven to be a bad thing, at least not scientifically. That is until now. University of Michigan researchers have looked at the data and finally and absolutely concluded that being spanked as a child may lead to an assortment of mental health issues in adulthood.

This new study was undertaken by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both assistant professors of social work at the University of Michigan. The work they did in tandem with their colleagues points to spanking in childhood as a form of violence, which leads to mental health issues such as depression, attempts at suicide, and moderate-to-heavy levels of substance abuse, such as alcohol or illegal drug use, later in life.

“Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” says Grogan-Kaylor.

Spanking and Physical Abuse

The researchers noted the similarities between spanking and physical abuse: both involve using force and inflicting pain. Both are linked to similar mental health outcomes. These similarities caused the researchers to wonder whether spanking should be categorized as an “adverse childhood experience.” That would place spanking in the same basket with, for instance, abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Household dysfunction would include, among other things, divorce, or a parent in prison.

To a layman, the questions that comes to mind are: are the scientists looking to label spanking as abuse? Could it be that parents who are likely to spank their children are also more likely to use physical abuse, neglect their children, or run dysfunctional households? Just how big a study was this?

Also: can we finally lay this to rest and rule, unequivocally, that spanking is bad? Or is this just some psychobabble being spouted? Must we, as parents, pay attention?

It bears noting here that the study is based on data pulled from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study. “ACE” stands for “adverse childhood experiences.” The ACE study definitely represents a large enough sample to be statistically relevant. The number of participants stands at over 8,300, with an age range of 19-97 years. As for the methodology, the data was gathered by having people answer questionnaires when visiting an outpatient clinic for routine checkups.

Clinic patients were asked how often they were spanked during the first 18 years of life. They were also asked to describe their childhood households and whether an adult had abused them. Physical abuse was defined for the participants as pushing, grabbing, slapping, or shoving. Emotional abuse was described as being insulted or cursed.

Almost 55 percent of those who filled out the questionnaires reported having been spanked as children. Men were more likely to have been spanked compared to women. Minorities, except for Asians, were more likely, compared to whites, to say they’d been spanked.

Spanking and mental health connection according to gender and color
(photo credit: Michigan News)

Participants who reported being spanked as children, were more likely to be suffering from depression and other mental health problems.

What constitutes “spanking” in this study? Is spanking any time the hand is applied to the bottom, whether or not the parent is angry at the time? The researchers came up with this definition: “spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior.”

A fair enough definition. But how do we know it’s spanking that is causing the mental health issues later in life and not some other factor? This author put the question to researcher Grogan-Kaylor, who responded as follows: “The question is a great one. The key question is whether we are comparing children who are otherwise alike. That is to say, are we comparing families and children that are otherwise alike with the exception of spanking? Statistical techniques allow us to ensure that we are comparing like to like, and to rule out a number of other alternative factors as possible causes.”

Spanking as “Adverse Childhood Reaction”

Grogan-Kaylor shared with this author two other papers he’d co-authored, The Case Against Physical Punishment, and, Unpacking the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental health. Both papers lend evidence to the theory that spanking can be seen as an “adverse childhood experience,” and therefore causes harm to the child, which may manifest only in adulthood, in the form of mental health issues. The former study illustrates this harm to the child through three theories: the attachment theory, the social learning theory, and finally, the coercion theory.

The attachment theory suggests that a child needs to feel absolutely sure of a parent’s love and care in order to flower. This sense of secure attachment to the parent is founded on parental empathy and sensitivity to children. Spanking then, is a way of responding to a child’s need for attention that erodes the child’s secure attachment to the parent by making the child feel degraded and rejected. Such children can develop feelings of being unworthy, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety.

The social learning theory has children learning from example. The theory here is that when parents punish children for bad behavior by spanking them, children learn that violence is an acceptable method for correcting the misbehavior of others. Further complicating the message, is the fact that spanking stops the poor behavior, so that children learn that violence is an effective way to control and cope with interpersonal relations and for dealing with social interactions in general. In other words: violence is the way to work things out with people/relationships.

Coercion theory describes a cycle that occurs when the child rebels against the parent’s punishment. The parent may say, “If you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to spank you.”

Spanking: Vicious Cycle

The child may react with hostility to this situation, which causes the parent to “step up his game.” The intensification of the parent’s response comes with anger from the parent, which makes the child more rebellious. This “coercive cycle” continues to worsen until one side gives in. The parent may give up disciplining the child or the child may give in to his fear and pain and do as the parent wishes. In any event, one side “loses” and feels defeated. Defeated, one might emphasize, as opposed to feeling as though a problem has been resolved, or a lesson learned.

The latter paper shared with this author by Grogan-Kaylor does a fairly good job of showing that spanking in childhood is a risk factor for later mental illness independent of such adverse childhood experiences such as neglect; a parent in jail; or divorce. This suggests that spanking should also be included in an expanded understanding of the “adverse childhood experience.” This idea led to the current study, which concludes that spanking is absolutely an adverse childhood experience.

In terms of real life examples of how spanking is or isn’t used as a parent-rearing method, this author has often heard one mother say, “I don’t need to hit my children.”

The implication here is that there are other ways to make children behave, and they don’t involve violence.

Spanking as negative association

Another friend said she spanked her child just once, when her child ran out into traffic. This mother spanked her child out of equal measures of love and fear, out of a desire to preserve her child’s safety. It was a protective, knee-jerk reaction. In spanking her child this one single time, this mother meant to create an association: run into traffic=receive an unpleasant smack on the butt.

That child is today, what seems to be, to this author’s eyes, a well-adjusted adult, with no apparent mental illness. Also, that child never again ran into traffic. Thus, at least on a basic level, the parent achieved her aim: to create a negative association so the child would never repeat the behavior. Would that lesson have been driven home as effectively in any other manner?

There may be a generational factor in parents who did spank and parents who never do. Today, there is a greater awareness of abuse in all its forms. A parent may be reluctant to spank due to the perceived association between spanking and physical abuse. Back in the 1980’s, however, there was much less awareness of abuse and its effects. Even today, this is study is groundbreaking in that it suggests that spanking actually hurts children in terms of their future mental health.

Lead author of this study, Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, suggests we too often think about child abuse and its prevention, but not so much about harsh parenting. Afifi believes we need to put thought and effort into preventing this sort of parenting before it occurs. “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” says co-author Shawna Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

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13 Reasons Why Your Teen Should Not See This Show

Think of this as a sort of companion piece to last week’s blog piece, How to Prevent Teen Suicide. That piece was meant as a resource for parents. This piece has a different focus. It’s about the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. I just watched the first season of this compelling drama and I had to (somewhat) concur with my teenage son, “Don’t watch it. You’ll just want to kill yourself.”

It’s not that I want to kill myself after watching the series. It’s that I think teens will want to kill themselves after they watch this show, or at least some teens, many teens (thankfully, my son is still with us).

I think a lot of us forget how intense it felt to be a teen.

13 Reasons Why captures that intensity and makes the case that it just feels like too much sometimes and that the only way to get away from it—from all that stress and pain—is to end your life.

See, I remember that and even if I didn’t, this show was going to bring it back to me. It’s brilliant. The kids, though they’re from a more modern era, aren’t all that different from the kids with whom I went to school. The dynamic is exactly the same. The kinds of things that happened then, those are the same things that happen now, if the show is to be believed.

And the show is utterly believable.

Experts are warning people not to let their children watch 13 Reasons Why. They say that teen suicide is “contagious.” They say they’ve known for more than three decades that when kids watch TV shows that depict suicides, it makes them kill themselves.

They say the show makes suicide glamorous.

I agree. I watched all those shiny, pretty teens, and I felt like I knew them. I felt totally involved in their drama. It was like I was one of them. I kind of wanted to be one of them.

Now imagine a kid watching that, instead of yours truly, a woman of 55 years and counting.

The problem with 13 Reasons Why is that it shows us, shows our kids, that there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go to get away from stress, abuse, rape, drugs, and alcohol. That suicide is really the only way out, the only option. Otherwise, you’ve just got to go through it, deal with it, live with it, cope. And it’s just too much to bear.

Is that really the message we want to give our teens?

Now, the actor that plays one of the main characters in this story, Dylan Minette (Clay Jensen), told Ellen Degeneres, that the show is about starting the conversation on a very difficult topic.

But I don’t buy it. Minette is not a psychiatrist or someone in the mental health profession who works with teens. He’s an actor and this is his bread and butter. Of course he doesn’t want to admit that the show may be dangerous to teens. He’s suddenly famous and he wants that to continue.

The thing is, Minette as Clay Jensen, the good guy/nice teen in this series, seems credible That means we’ll be sure to take his word for it when he says the show is safe. That it’s just a conversation starter. Right?

Wrong. He’s an actor. We must NOT take his word for anything that impacts on the safety of our children.

And truthfully? No matter what Selena Gomez, the co-producer of 13 Reasons Why says about teen suicide being a difficult discussion that has “to come no matter what,” no matter what Dylan Minette says on Ellen, it’s not possible for either of them to assure any parent that it is safe to watch this show, that there is absolutely no danger that kids will watch this and follow suit. Because that’s absolutely the opposite of what this study found:

We examined the relation between 38 nationally televised news or feature stories about suicide from 1973 to 1979 and the fluctuation of the rate of suicide among American teenagers before and after these stories. The observed number of suicides by teenagers from zero to seven days after these broadcasts (1666) was significantly greater than the number expected (1555; P = 0.008). The more networks that carried a story about suicide, the greater was the increase in suicides thereafter (P = 0.0004).

These findings persisted after correction for the effects of the day of the week, the month, holidays, and yearly trends. Teenage suicides increased more than adult suicides after stories about suicide (6.87 vs. 0.45 percent). Suicides increased as much after general-information or feature stories about suicide as after news stories about a particular suicide. Six alternative explanations of these findings were assessed, including the possibility that the results were due to misclassification or were statistical artifacts. We conclude that the best available explanation is that television stories about suicide trigger additional suicides, perhaps because of imitation.

And it’s also the opposite of what this, newer study, found:

Increasing evidence suggest that imitative behavior may have a role in suicide among teenagers. We studied the variation in the numbers of suicides and attempted suicides by teenagers in the greater New York area two weeks before and two weeks after four fictional films were broadcast on television in the fall and winter of 1984-1985. The mean number of attempts in the two-week periods after the broadcasts (22) was significantly greater than the mean number of attempts before the broadcasts (14; P less than 0.05), and a significant excess in completed suicides, when compared with the number predicted, was found after three of the broadcasts (P less than 0.05).

We conclude that the results are consistent with the hypothesis that some teenage suicides are imitative and that alternative explanations for the findings, such as increased referrals to hospitals or increased sensitivity to adolescent suicidal behavior on the part of medical examiners or hospital personnel, are unlikely to account for the increase in attempted and completed suicides.

Now if you think about the quality of television shows in the 70’s, at the time of the first study cited above, and even during the mid-80’s when the second study was performed, and compare it to the quality of a Netflix series, you know there’s just no comparison. Today the acting and the videography is so much more real and compelling. A series from the 80’s looks wooden, stilted, by comparison.

Imagine your child watching a true-to-life depiction of Hannah Baker in a bathtub with running water, scared but determined, slitting her wrists (deeply—the blood gushes). Then think of Hannah panting from the effort as she settles in and closes her eyes, waiting for the end. Because that is what your child will see in this series.

I went to the experts to see what they had to say.

A specialist in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), Nechama Finkelstein sees suicide as the result of depression and hopelessness, in tandem with deficits in problem solving.

“The show exacerbates and feeds this issue—faulty problem solving—by portraying suicide as a logical solution to Hannah’s troubles. In fact while this show seems to be about the 13 reasons that explain Hannah’s suicide, the true reason she committed suicide is 1) depression and 2) her lack of reaching out for proper help when the school counselor failed her. Hannah spent more energy and time on her revenge tapes then trying to get help.

“Viewers find themselves nodding along with Hannah and getting pulled into this sick and twisted logic,” says Finkelstein.

“I can see some benefits and yet I can see even more dangers that teens can have from watching this show. A struggling teen viewing this show is in danger of being influenced by the lack of any problem solving or a more proactive search for help. The message to stop teen bullying and prevent suicide is lost through Hannah’s sensationalized revenge,” explains Finkelstein. “Hannah’s choice, to teen viewers, seems empowering, and she is presented as a winner instead of a loser.

“I would recommend any teen battling depression, bullying, or any form of emotional instability to stay far away from the show.”

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says that if teens are going to watch the show, parents should be watching it with them. “Suggest watching this show, or others that address the complexities of adolescence, together with your teen. If not literally together, then at least watch it at the same time and decide upon a shared meal to talk about the latest episode. If your teen is too embarrassed to talk about it with you, then he/she may not be developmentally ready to watch it,” says Walfish, who refers parents to talking points from the National Association of School Psychologists, for having that conversation about suicide with their teens.

Walfish feels that parents need to fill in the gaps left by the writers of 13 Reasons Why, “Mental health issues and their effects on teens are only minimally addressed in this show. Instead, the very premise of the show is the idea that other teens ‘caused’ the main character’s suicide. By downplaying the character’s depression and lack of appropriate intervention, this show fails to address the complexity of mental illness,” says Walfish, who suggests parents visit the website on the National Alliance on Mental Illness to read up on teens and mental health. “Genetic history, self-concept, biochemistry, coping strategies and access to support systems are just a few of the many factors that play into mental illness and suicidal ideation. This is why there is a critical need to help teens understand mental health more completely.”

As a response to complaints by mental health professionals, Netflix has added a warning to the beginning of most episodes of 13 Reasons Why. But from my purview as a parent, you know what Netflix doesn’t give you? Any place to turn to if you feel you or your teen need help after watching the show. There should be hotline information on that final screen of each episode—a way for parents and teens to get help if they feel triggered or hopeless after watching the show.

Instead there is nothing of the sort.

13 Reasons Why Classified in New Zealand

New Zealand, a country with the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world, has banned teens from watching the show without their parents. The show was given a new classification, RP18. The New Zealand Classification Office issued a long explanation on its predicament with the show. Here is an excerpt:

The most immediate concern for the Classification Office is how teen suicide is discussed and shown in 13 Reasons Why. Hannah’s suicide is presented fatalistically. Her death is represented at times as not only a logical, but an unavoidable outcome of the events that follow. Suicide should not be presented to anyone as being the result of clear headed thinking. Suicide is preventable, and most people who experience suicidal thoughts are not thinking rationally and therefore cannot make logical decisions.

Which gets us to the next big issue. The show ignores the relationship between suicide and the mental illness that often accompanies it. People often commit suicide because they are unwell, not simply because people have been cruel to them. It is also extremely damaging to present rape as a ‘good enough’ reason for someone to commit suicide. This sends the wrong message to survivors of sexual violence about their futures and their worth.

13 Reasons Why does not follow international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide. The scene depicting Hannah’s suicide is graphic, and explicit about the method of suicide she uses, to the point where it could be considered instructional. As The Mental Health Foundation New Zealand notes of the scene in which Hannah dies, “It was detailed and lengthy, and is likely to have caused distress and an increased risk of suicide in people who are vulnerable. Research has demonstrated an increased use of particular methods of suicide when they are portrayed in popular media.

Reading this statement I can’t help but wonder why the United States has not followed New Zealand’s good example. Suicide is the second highest cause of death in U.S. teens. We should be doing everything in our power to keep our children safe.

The upshot? If your child has already watched this show, sit down and have a talk together (or two or three). Make sure your child isn’t thinking about suicide. If s/he is, get your teen to a mental health professional immediately.

Don’t blow this off as no big deal. You really don’t want that on your conscience.

Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, in my opinion, fails teens utterly, by making suicide attractive and by failing to offer teens the resources to seek help. The bottom line for me, as a parent, is that Netflix may have found a good draw to bring in the big bucks, but the television programming monolith has done so at the expense of our children’s safety. I find that completely unforgiveable.

As should you.

Science is Sheepish: Spirituality Makes Us Healthier, Happier People

All along, the majority position of Psychiatry has been that Psychiatry has nothing to do with religion and spirituality. Religious beliefs and practices have long been thought to have a pathological basis, and psychiatrists over a century have understood them in this light. Religion was considered as a symptom of mental illness. Jean Charcot and Sigmund Freud linked religion with neurosis. DSM3 portrayed religion negatively by suggesting that religious and spiritual experiences are examples of psychopathology. But recent research reports strongly suggest that to many patients, religion and spirituality are resources that help them to cope with the stresses in life, including those of their illness. Many psychiatrists now believe that religion and spirituality are important in the life of their patients.

The above is the introduction to a study published in 2008 on the subject of Spirituality and Mental Health. The semi-apologetic nature of this lead in to a rigorous scientific study underscores the irony of scientists encountering the spirit and religion as therapeutic and beneficial to their patients.

Here is the thing: science doesn’t like to acknowledge the existence of a higher power. Science likes to acknowledge nice, hard, provable facts. Which is why it may be an irksome thing for scientists to acknowledge the absolute fact that spirituality and religion can have a positive impact on health, both physical and mental.

And so, when forced to acknowledge the benefits of belief, they, the scientists, must remain detached and apologetic, explaining that while religion is a crock, if it helps their patients, it’s no skin off their teeth. But for the rest of us, those of us who are regular people, we are quite happy to acknowledge that striving to be spiritual people makes us better. We don’t care who says we’re being silly or imagining things. We believe what we believe.

And it makes us well. Makes us better people.

Yes. Everyone knows, for instance, that 12 step programs help people get sober. One of the reasons these programs work is that acknowledging a Higher Power is at the core of all of these programs, beginning with the mother of them all: Alcoholics Anonymous. That is what really sets apart 12-step programs from other types of substance abuse treatments and makes them work.

And this can be proven. In a study of teens aged 14-18, for instance, increased spirituality concurrent with receiving treatment for substance abuse was found to improve the likelihood that the participants would achieve abstinence, increase positive social behaviors, and lessen narcissistic behavior. One-third of the teens in this particular study entered this program for substance abuse as self-declared agnostics or atheists. Two-thirds of them were subsequently discharged claiming a spiritual identity.

What about mental health, quality of life, happiness? There too, it can be proven that having a spiritual side makes everything better. Scientists studied 320 children and found that strong spiritual beliefs were a strong predictor of greater happiness. In fact, the researchers found that it was possible to attribute up to 27% of the difference in happiness levels to spirituality.

But here’s a study that will really make your head spin: scientists found that people with a family history of deep spiritual ties were at a lower risk for depression. The reason? They had a relatively thicker cortex, the region of the brain found to be thinner in those with depression. In other words, if your mom believes in God (and maybe your grandmother before her), you’re less likely to become depressed. A family history of spirituality actually changes the physical contours of the brain! Mind-blowing (well, let’s hope not!).

By Patric Hagmann et.al. [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The funny thing is, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what you believe in. It’s all good from the standpoint of your mental health. Dan Cohen, an assistant teaching professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri says that’s because it’s more about spirituality acting as a personality trait. In the study he authored, no matter what faith the participants: Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant, the more spiritual they were, the better their mental health. The more spiritual participants had lower levels of neuroticism and tended to be more outgoing.

“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions,” said Cohen. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.

Cohen thinks that being a spiritual person aids mental health by reducing self-centeredness and by helping people see they are a part of a much larger whole. Forgiveness is also part of the dynamic, as it is a central theme for all the major religions. Being able to forgive means being able to let go of blame and recrimination after an accident or during serious illness.

With all of this evidence that having a spiritual life is healthy, there’s a tendency to sneer at the religious, to see them as immature or even a bit weird. Those who embrace spirituality, however, couldn’t care less what others think. Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, spoke about her spiritual life in a 2012 interview with Marie Claire, “In the South it’s very normal. It would be weird for me to go to sleep without praying,” said Lawrence.

Meanwhile, Jim Gaffigan, of Comedy Central, expressed the belief that, “When we were kids it didn’t matter if someone was religious, it just mattered if they were annoying.

Could it be Gaffigan longs to return to that time when no one cared what you believed as long as you didn’t foist it on others? It’s not difficult to empathize. No one likes to have a belief foisted on them.

Oprah Winfrey said it well in a talk she gave at Stanford University on spiritual practice, “I’m not telling you what to believe or who to believe, or what to call it,” said Winfrey. “But there is no full life, no fulfilled or meaningful, sustainably joyful life without a connection to the spirit.”

Rabbi Avi Davidowitz is Camp Rabbi at TheZone, Oorah’s summer camp facility. Oorah, of course, is a Kars4Kids affiliate charity, with the latter funding many of Oorah’s programs. At TheZone, Rabbi  D., as he is known to the campers, sees daily evidence of the power of spirituality and the interplay between religious development and personal growth.

Spirituality: Elisheva E.

One day, Rabbi D. was approached by a girl at the beginning of his lesson. She asked if she could tell her personal story to the assembled campers and Rabbi D., of course, gave his consent. “We were spellbound as Elisheva E. spoke about her reading disability and how she pined to pray the shmoneh esrei prayer, also known as the Silent Benediction just once in her life. This young girl said it took her 45 minutes to say shmoneh esrei. She wanted to stop when almost all the other campers had already gone on to their activities, but her camper partner, Alana L. who also struggles with reading from the prayer book, stood there next to her as if she too were still praying, and with this friendship and encouragement, Elisheva kept going until she finished.”

The two of them stayed at it until they both were able to read through the entire prayer.  Rabbi D. remarked that, “They spoke to us about never giving up: if we keep trying, Hashem (God) will help us out.”

This aptly illustrates the power of belief and spirituality: the idea that a difficulty can be conquered if you believe in God and if you try hard enough. It also shows how belief in God led to empathy between two individuals, both struggling with difficulties, one in the past, one in the present.

Spirituality: The Donation

Another striking Oorah story that shows how belief helps children strive to be better comes from Rabbi Avraham Krawiec, who served as Director of TheZone for many years.  “A girl just back from a camp outing walked over to me, telling me that she had to speak with me. She became emotional and said, ‘I just won some money in a raffle and I want to give back to Oorah knowing how much you do for my family.'”

Rabbi Krawiec was torn. On the one hand, he didn’t want to take her money, at the same time, he didn’t want to take away her right to a good deed, either, and that is what made him accept her modest donation of $15

As Rabbi Krawiec put it, “It was only $15 but it was the best $15 donation I ever received.”

Here a child has learned the value of charity, a central belief of Judaism. Her spiritual development has led her to the concept of paying it forward and helping others. As a result, the girl is growing up to be a kind person—someone who will surely be an asset to any community lucky enough to include her as a future adult!

Spirituality: Delayed Gratification

Belief in the tenets of religion can also teach us about self-control and delaying gratification for a higher purpose. Aryeh, a TeenZone division head at TheZone, kept in touch with one camper calling him just after the Rosh Hashana holiday to see how he was doing. As it turns out, the boy was not doing well at all.

He’d wanted to observe the holiday with orthodox rigor, but could not stop himself from using his mobile phone, a no-no for the orthodox. The camper begged Aryeh to help him come up with a plan so he wouldn’t repeat the error on the upcoming Yom Kippur holiday, when phones are similarly off-limits for the very religious.

The boy intuited that his phone was coming between him and his relationship to the Divine. The phone was not in the spirit of the Ten Days of Repentance when we look back over the year past, to see where and when we failed to stop ourselves from doing things we wanted to do in the moment, instead of pushing to come closer to God. After discussing with Aryeh various ways he might keep himself from using the phone on the holiday, he got a brainstorm idea: he’d mail his phone to Aryeh!

Well, this plan certainly worked. Aryeh’s phone rang right after the holiday, and the boy’s voice was filled with joy. He’d done it. Observed Yom Kippur from start to finish, as it was meant to be observed. He’d felt nothing but holiness all that day.

Is it any wonder that the following summer, on the very last day of camp at TheZone, as the buses were already beginning to leave, that the boy went over to Aryeh and asked him to remind him to mail his phone to him for safe-keeping over the Rosh Hashana holiday?

Here was a boy who had learned that contrary to everything he’d always thought, it is quite possible to delay gratification, to patiently endure whatever trials and tribulations come our way, and come out all the stronger for it! Here was a boy who had learned that being a believing Jew on Rosh Hashanah meant putting away the phone and looking into his own heart instead of a screen.

The scientists may not like it, but there it is: being in touch with our spiritual side makes us better, healthier people, kids or adults.

And that’s a fact.

It makes us strive to achieve the seemingly unachievable and well, it makes us happier, too

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

Rise Above: We Try to Say Yes

Rise Above is an organization that tries to make up for what it is most foster children have never had. Children, you see, should be protected and cherished, and most are. But when a child enters the foster care system, it’s usually because of neglect or abuse. And that’s as much an abuse of trust as much as of body and soul. It’s damaging to the psyche.

This is where Rise Above comes in, granting kids wishes beyond their needs. It’s one way of telling these children what they so need to hear: “We love you enough to spoil you a little. We think you’re worth it.”

And it’s why Rise Above tries never to say no to a foster child who fills out a request form for a prom dress, a hockey stick, ballet classes, or a family vacation to Disneyland. These children have heard the word “no” way too many times. Rise Above is about saying, “Yes!”

Rise Above Logo


It’s a mission Kars4Kids can get behind. We believe in giving children what they need to get ahead. We believe in making them feel special. That’s why we were pleased to help Rise Above in a small way with a $500 small grant.

Beyond the grant, we thought to help spread word of the work Rise Above is doing. That’s why we spoke to Co-founder & Executive Director of the Rise Above Foundation, Sarah Baldiga. We think you’ll enjoy hearing about this organization that’s helping kids rise above neglect and abuse to grow up to be the best they can be.

Just like any other kids.

Kars4Kids: You co-founded Rise Above in 2009 and have created “2000 smiles.” What made you embark on this project?

Sarah Baldiga: Rise Above began in 2009 to fill the need of providing foster youth with extracurricular activities and experiences that most of their peers are able to participate in. As social workers for the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families, Rise Above’s founders witnessed first-hand the powerful effect providing everyday childhood experiences could have on foster children’s physical, mental and social health and the great need that existed to give more children these opportunities.


Kars4Kids: Watching the clip we found on the Rise Above’s website, we discovered there are 9,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts. How does this compare to other states?

Sarah Baldiga: There are about 500,000 children in foster care across the U.S.  and 9,000 here in Massachusetts alone. HERE is a link to KIDS COUNT data, which shows the full breakdown of children in foster care by state.

Kars4Kids: Your website explains how little money foster parents receive to care for their foster children, around $23 a day. But that doesn’t explain why foster parents aren’t able to provide their foster children with guitar lessons, laptops, and prom dresses, for instance. Are most foster parents in it for the money?

Sarah Baldiga: Foster parents receive about $700 per month, which really isn’t too much when you think about that covering a youth’s food, housing and other basic needs. There is very little left over for extracurricular activities. Sports fees and equipment, dance classes and recital costumes, musical instruments and prom can costs thousands per youth each year.

In our experience, foster parents are loving adults who are truly committed to supporting youth who are experiencing foster care through the daunting challenges they are facing in their young lives. In Massachusetts and across the country, we are in desperate need of more caring adults who want to make an immeasurable difference in the life of a child by becoming a foster parent!

F. Dec

Kars4Kids: What was the most moving response ever received by Rise Above from a foster child?

Sarah Baldiga: We’ve received so many beautiful thank you notes from youth , foster parents and social workers. One of our favorites was from 17-year old Salena. She wrote us:

“Dear Rise Above: Thank you soo much for giving me money to buy my prom dress. I had one of the nicest dresses at prom. I stood out and this time it was in a good way, which I was worried about because I thought I would get an old borrowed dress, but that was not the case this time thank to you. Prom night was one of the best nights of my life. I had fund and wasn’t worried about people looking at me and judging me because I felt beautiful, just like every girl should, even girls in foster care. I can’t thank you enough or explain how happy you made me because it can’t be explained in words. Thank you!”

Desirae DC trip

Kars4Kids: The Rise Above website mentions that the organization, in addition to children, assists college students and young adults. What are the upper and lower limits, age-wise, of Rise Above recipients?Anya horseback riding_for FB

Sarah Baldiga: Rise Above serves any child in the Massachusetts foster care system, from age 1 to age 23.

Kars4Kids: Under  “Examples of what we fund” we noted that family vacations are among the items that have been requested and granted by Rise Above. Is this a vacation for the foster child with the foster family? That is probably a much-needed item!

Sarah Baldiga: Rise Above has helped lots of kids be able to go on vacation with their foster parents and siblings. We love helping kids to travel near and far to see new sights, and we’ve helped lots of kids with museum passes and Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and other theme park passes.

Kars4Kids: It was upsetting to read that fewer than 3% of foster youth go to college. It’s so nice that Rise Above  tries to encourage these students with care packages of college essentials. How many care packages do you give out in an average year?

Sarah Baldiga: Nationally, less than 3% of foster youth go to college and those who do- approximately 600 in Massachusetts- face daunting challenges. Without families, they miss out on the emotional and financial support that their peers rely on. Rise Above’s college care package project applauds these youth’s accomplishments will a box filled with study snacks, school supplies, hygiene items, laundry detergent pods and other dorm essentials. The content of the boxes is donated by Rise Above supporters and generous local businesses.

This year, our goal is send out least 250 college care packages to youth like 21-year old Oumaima:

“This is my fourth year in college… and for the past few years I’ve watched my roommates and friends from college receive care packages from families members during holidays and finals week and I’ve always wanted to receive one myself so thank you so making that happen. The note inside the package put a smile on my face.”

Emma dance

Kars4Kids: We’ve tried to imagine the highs and lows of your job. It must be amazing when you can put a smile on a foster child’s face. But there must be times that Rise Above must say no or times you have encountered a truly tragic circumstance. What was the most difficult or frustrating situation you encountered as the Executive Director of Rise Above?prom kid thank you

Sarah Baldiga: Thankfully, we are almost always able to say “yes!” to an activity request we receive for a child. However, sometimes we can’t afford to fulfill the whole amount being asked for. For example, a child might want to try taking tap and ballet dance classes, but we might only be able to help pay for the tap dance classes. That’s tough! Kids in foster care hear “no” a lot, and so we try very, very hard to say “yes!” every time we can! We’re determined to grow Rise Above so that we never have to say no.


Kars4Kids: What was the most amazing request Rise Above was able to grant?

Sarah Baldiga: One of my favorite requests happened last summer when Rise Above helped a teen, Juliette, participate in a summer music program. Juliette is an exceptionally talented vocalist and she was accepted into the prestigious Boston University Tanglewood Institute. It was an incredible opportunity for her, but the price was over $7,000. The Institute gave her a generous scholarship, Rise Above was able to contribute about $3,0000, and we worked with several agencies to help come up with the balance. It was truly a collaborative effort. Juliette had an amazing experience at the Institute, learning about posture, composition, music theory and diction, and studying under world-renown musician and composers.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Sarah Baldiga and Rise Above?

Sarah Baldiga: Rise Above’s vision is for all youth in Massachusetts who experience foster care as part of their childhood to have the same opportunities as their peers. Our goal is to continue to grow as quickly as possible and in the next year or two to be serving 1,000 children annually. Our long-term goal is be able to give each of the 9,000 kids in our state who are experiencing foster care the opportunities to participate in whatever extracurricular activities they’d like!

Summer bike2

Save Your Baby’s Life With Infant CPR

Maybe you know how to perform CPR, but do you know how to perform infant CPR?

Most parents knows that babies, being small, need smaller amounts of nearly everything, ranging from food to shampoo to toothpaste to doses of medicine. With regard to medical care, however, it’s important to understand that infants and children are not simply small adults. Children of varying weights and ages, for example, require varying amounts of medication which must be carefully calculated and administered.

By the same token, when a baby requires emergency medical care, it’s important to tailor that care to the age of the patient. Babies have smaller, more delicate bodies. As such, you wouldn’t perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as you would for an adult, by pushing down hard on the chest with the heel of your hand. Such a technique would actually prove dangerous to a baby, and might crush the child’s chest.

Yet most people know that CPR saves lives. You use CPR when someone isn’t breathing or his heart stops beating. The CPR technique involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Here’s why CPR is important: when the heartbeat and breathing stop, blood can no longer circulate to bring oxygen to the brain. Without blood flow to the brain, permanent brain damage or death can occur in under 8 minutes. CPR helps provide much-needed oxygen in the event of an accident or other medical emergency. The emergency medical technique may also stimulate the patient’s heart to begin beating once more, and the patient’s lungs to begin inhaling and exhaling on their own.

Infant CPR Is Different

While infant CPR is quite different from adult CPR, the principle is the same. In both cases, the sooner lifesaving methods are taken, the more likely it is that the patient will survive and with little or no permanent damage. For this reason, parents should learn how to do infant CPR, as CPR will greatly enhance a child’s chances of survival in the event of an accident or other life-threatening situation.

How likely is it that, as a parent, you will need to perform CPR on your infant or child? It’s difficult to say, but if you’re a parent, you know that kids will be kids and accidents can happen. CPR can be useful in all sorts of emergencies, from car accidents, to drowning, poisoning, suffocation, electrocution, smoke inhalation, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A good resource to have on hand in case of emergency is a step-by-step infant CPR chart, such as this one from Carrington College.

How to Save Your Baby's Life With Infant CPR

It’s a good idea to print out several copies of this chart. That way you can store copies of the infant CPR chart where you might need them most. Stick one on your fridge with a magnet; put one in your first aid kit, keep one in your purse, wallet, or diaper bag; and store one in the glove compartment of your car for easy reference should the need arise.

Assess Baby’s Condition

Before beginning CPR you will want to assess the baby’s situation. Look the child over to see if he has injuries or bleeding. Put your face close to the baby’s mouth and nose. Do you see the baby’s chest rising and falling? Do you feel his breath on your face? Talk to the baby or flick his feet to see if you can get a response. If the baby cries, that’s good. It means he can breathe.

Begin Chest Compressions

If the infant is not moving or breathing, call out for help. Ask someone to call 911, but don’t leave the baby. It’s crucial to begin CPR as soon as possible. CPR administered within the first few minutes can double or even triple the chances of survival.

Lay the baby on his back. If, however, you suspect a neck injury, roll the baby’s body over, moving his entire body at once.

Locate the baby’s breastbone, just below the nipples on the baby’s chest. Use two fingers to push down by about an inch to an inch and a half. Each push is called a “compression.” For a baby, you want to give 2 compressions per second, or 120 compressions a minute.

Do 30 chest compressions and then check for breathing by placing your ear above the baby’s mouth for no more than ten seconds. Watch that you don’t block the baby’s airway. While you do this, watch the baby’s chest for movement that might indicate breathing.

Open The Airway

Next, check that the baby’s airway is not blocked. To do this, tilt the baby’s head back and lift his chin. Sometimes, tilting the head back is enough to open up the baby’s airway and allow for breathing to begin again. Be aware that a baby who is gasping for air is not really breathing; only coughing or steady breathing indicates that breathing has returned to normal and CPR can be discontinued.

Look inside the baby’s mouth. If the baby is choking on a visible object, you may be able to remove it with your little finger.

If, after a few seconds (no more than 10 seconds), the baby is still not breathing, offer two rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). A baby’s lungs are small so two gentle puffs of air of about one second each, are just right. Make sure that the baby’s neck is straight, the head tilted back, as you blow into the child’s mouth. That way, you ensure your rescue breaths make their way through the baby’s airways into his lungs. If the baby begins to breathe, you should see his chest clearly rise and fall.

Continuing CPR

If the baby doesn’t respond, continue CPR in cycles of 30 compressions followed by two rescue breaths. If you are alone, yell for help after each cycle of 30 compressions and 2 breaths, and request anyone in the area to dial 911. If there is no one to hear you, continue doing compressions and breaths, calling for help and checking the baby’s status every 30 compressions. After 2 minutes (4 rounds of 30 compressions/checks), if the baby is still unresponsive and there is still no one to make the call, make the call to 911 yourself, but keep the baby with you and continue to do compressions and breaths, as much as possible.

Once the call to 911 is made, the dispatcher will be able to guide you through the best way to help your child until emergency medical personnel arrive. It is likely you will need to continue to give CPR (30 compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths) until the baby breathes on his own or help arrives.

Risk Prevention

Some emergency situations such as car accidents may be unavoidable. Most incidents that require infant CPR, however, are preventable. Store chemicals and cleaning products out of baby’s reach. Offer your baby only age-appropriate toys to prevent choking risks. Babies are curious and active, so it is our duty as parents to provide a safe environment in which they can explore.

Better Safe Than Sorry

At the same time, knowing CPR may save your baby’s life, or the life of someone else’s child. Go over the steps and practice on a doll, so you’re all ready should the worst occur. You may never need to use infant CPR, but it’s better to learn the skill than be caught not knowing what to do in a time of dire emergency.

May all our babies stay safe!

Talking to Kids About the Orlando Pulse Massacre

Talking to kids about the Orlando Pulse Massacre—and yes, that’s what I call it, a massacre—is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do. And talk about it, you will. You’ll have no choice. Because it’s been plastered all over the news. It’s what people are talking about. Unless you blindfold your child and stick earplugs in his/her ears, there’s no getting around it.

Why don’t we want to talk about the Orlando Pulse Massacre with our kids? Let me count the ways. For one thing: there’s the problem of intolerance. We don’t want to teach our children to be bigots, and Radical Islamic terror is at the heart of what happened in Orlando.

Then there’s the fact that it, the Orlando Pulse Massacre, happened in a gay bar. The murderer, Omar Mateen, purposely targeted homosexuals. At what age do we want to speak with our children about matters sexual? How much do we need tell them? Do we use euphemisms, talking about love when we really mean “sexual preference?”

Orlando Pulse Massacre: Innocent Victims

And of course, there’s the violence: the brutal murder of innocent people, just out having a good time, by someone who didn’t know them. Someone who didn’t know, for instance, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, there to celebrate her victory over cancer and to support her openly gay son, and who ended up shielding him from gunfire with her own body. How do we explain how someone brave and nurturing like that, a mom, gets shot to death in a case of mistaken identity?

How does God and/or society allow something like that to happen to a mom?

How do we explain violence and evil? How do we explain the pros and cons of gun control in a fair manner, so they can learn to use their critical thinking skills? How do we discuss a passionate issue with both compassion and logic?

These are just some of the challenges we have as parents when we begin to talk about Orlando. (Remember when “Orlando” was just a reference to a fun time at an amusement park?)

The most important piece of advice I have for parents is to let your children be your guide. Listen to their questions. Answer their questions with honesty, giving them the facts they’ve requested and no more. Your children’s questions tell you what they are ready to hear. In fact, they may want to hear more than you feel comfortable discussing. Nonetheless, a child’s questions are your best guide in choosing what to share and what to keep to yourself.

If that question and your response bring further questions, continue to provide factual information, keeping your responses to the point. The point being to answer the question and not give a long, drawn out lecture. Keep it short and sweet. If they want to know more, they’ll ask, but only so long as you prove to them you’re not going to drown them in data or tell them things they’re not ready to hear.

What does it mean to give factual information? It means that if your child asks why the murderer did what he did, you tell them the truth: Omar Mateen believed in killing those who were different from him in some way.

Because that is the truth.

If your child then asks why Mateen believed as he did, you can add a fact: Omar Mateen believed that God wanted him to kill people who were different from him.

The next why can be answered with, “Some Muslims believe that they are supposed to kill people different from them.”

The next probably question will be: “Do all Muslims believe this?” to which you can truthfully answer, “No.” (For more about discussing Islam with children, see: http://www.kars4kids.org/blog/talk-to-children-about-islam-world-gone-mad/)

At some point, your values system may dictate how the conversation goes, and that’s fine. But remember to preface any statement of belief with, “I believe that,” or “I feel that” or “Our religion says  such and such.”

There may be gaps between questions as your child thinks things over. Be ready for questions to come out of the blue. And always serve the truth straight up.

If you sense your child is distressed, try to offer your child an outlet for his/her feelings. For instance, ask the child how s/he feels. If it is difficult for your child to express emotions, give the child paper and crayons and let them draw how they feel. Then look at the picture together and let your child explain what the drawing is about. Try not to freak if there’s blood or violence in your child’s drawing. It’s there because your child is upset about that, about the blood and violence that are part and parcel of the Orlando Pulse Massacre.

If your child has trouble sleeping at night or has his or her sleep disturbed by nightmares, try to include some calming rituals before bedtime to soothe your child’s troubled thoughts. A warm bath scented with chamomile flowers, some soft music, a cuddle: all these things are very concrete ways to help your child find comfort and a way to sweeter dreams.

As part of your conversation about the Orlando Pulse Massacre, you’ll want to discuss how to prevent such a thing from ever happening. You may also want to help your child do something kind to counteract the cruelty. Perhaps your child could write a letter to the survivors and remaining family members, expressing condolences. You might suggest your child might give charity, or do an act of kindness for a neighbor, and dedicate these acts to the memory of the victims. There are many creative and proactive ways your child can memorialize the massacre and this can’t help but be healing, both for your child, and for the world at large.

If your child remains disturbed about the Orlando Pulse Massacre for a lengthy period of time, or continues to ask questions every day, often, remember that grief and loss have no set time frame or expiration date. People need to wrestle with things for as long as they need to wrestle with things, and children are no exception for the rule. It’s all a process and it’s how we arrive at acceptance.

As parents, we might wish this subject would go away. But we don’t always get what we wish for. This is one of those times that parenting just really seems to suck eggs. Because we feel like we’re destroying our children’s’ innocence, like we’re robbing them of their childhood.

But actually, that would be Omar Mateen doing that to them.

In fact, when your children grow up, they’re going to remember how you helped them understand the Orlando Pulse Massacre, forthrightly, but with compassion. They are going to love you so much for getting it right. Because it’s times like this that build your legacy as a parent. Times like the Orlando Pulse Massacre.

What kinds of questions has your child asked regarding the Orlando Pulse Massacre. How have you answered your child’s questions? What have you done to soothe your child’s fears and concerns?

Bullies: The Names They Call Us And How The Hurt Can Change Us

Bullies: The Names They Call Us And How The Hurt Can Change UsBullies were a fact of life for me growing up. I was different. I read a lot, I used big words.

So I got picked on.

This piece is my personal story.

It was bad. There was a girl who beat me up at recess and a different girl who waited for me each day after school to beat me up. I was terrified to go to school and I was terrified to come home.

Because of the bullies.

Growing up, I played sick a lot. And the truth is, I wasn’t playing. There was this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every morning of the week that was a school day. I was sick to my stomach and sick at heart.

Because of the bullies.

I remembered this when years later, during a parent teacher meeting, the teacher asked me, “Does he have a smile on his face when he leaves the house for school each morning?

“Because that’s the most important thing. More important than his school work. More important than anything.”

She was right. I was so afraid to go to school. School was the monster in the closet. School was the scariest thing in my life at that time.

Because of the bullies

Getting beaten up was bad, but not as bad as my hurt feelings, somehow. The pain of not fitting in. The pain of being made fun of, of being called ugly nicknames instead of my real name. Bucky Beaver, because of my teeth; BM, because these were my initials at that time; Miss Encyclopedia, because I used big words; and some other names I hesitate to mention here for fear of offending my readers.

Wasan Ritthawon / Shutterstock.com
We shared initials. Wasan Ritthawon / Shutterstock.com



One day, it hit me. Batman, a new concept at that time, had my very same initials. I was all ready for the name callers the next day. “BM stands for BATMAN,” I told those bullies proudly. “You better treat me good or he’s gonna beat you up!”


But they, the bullies, just laughed. Which took all the air out of my most temporary sails.






The name calling and how it shaped me is the reason this clip by Shane Koyczan resonated with me so deeply:

But back then, I didn’t think of the future. I could only think of my miserable now. My mom tried to help. She came to the school. Talked with my teacher. Named names. And the abuse continued. There was nothing anyone could do about it—could do about the bullies. I had to live with it, had to live with the bullying.

So I struggled and got poor grades and developed a complete aversion toward all schools, all classrooms. Never went to college.

Some schools weren’t so bad. And occasionally I’d do something brave like that Batman stunt, intended to change my lot and make me popular. It never worked. It would always be more fodder for their teasing.

Like the time I did some sleight of hand with a snack at camp, and made it appear as if I was eating a worm along with my graham cracker. I was convincing.

Too convincing.

And so on top of everything else, I became the girl who ate a worm, for the entire rest of camp.

Yeah. School pretty much sucked for me. So did camp. Bullies know no seasons.

That teacher who said that my son leaving for school with a smile on his face was so right. Because those experiences I had colored everything for me. I made life choices to escape having to go on to get a higher education. I turned into a recluse.

Today, I am still mostly a recluse. When I do come out for some reason or other, I am always shocked at being warmly received. I expect to be disliked. I’m surprise when anyone laughs at my jokes.

The funny thing is, today I am actually popular, if social media is any indication (which it may not be at all, actually). I can’t keep up with friend requests. Today, the number of friends I have on Facebook stands at 1750 and I am constantly receiving new requests (many of which I reject because it’s just too overwhelming).

Sometimes I wonder if it would be different today. Are bullies dealt with more effectively today? I really don’t know. I only know that our awareness of bullying is much greater than in the past. Is there really anything anyone can do about bullies?

I remain unconvinced.

Bullies Don’t Care About Your Advice

Take for instance, this advice on What to Do if You’re Bullied section from the government website stopbullying.gov:

  • Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
  • If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.

These are all things I tried to do when I was bullied. None of these tactics worked for me.

Tell them to stop in a clear voice? They, the bullies, would say, “Who’s gonna stop me? You and who else?”

Laugh it off? The bullies would say, “You think it’s funny? How about this? Is this funny?” and they’d punch me. “How about that? Is that funny?” and they’d punch me somewhere else.

Walk away? The bullies would chase me down and trap me somewhere and beat me up. They, the bullies, were always faster and stronger than I.

As for enlisting the help of an adult, well, bullies don’t bully when adults are around. They make sure of that. Should an adult appear, all bullying stops right then and there. To be resumed later. When the coast is clear.

Now I like to think that we grow from our experiences, even bad ones. Our experiences shape us in all sorts of ways, some of them bad, like my aversion to school, but some of them good, like the way I developed empathy for new kids, immigrant kids, and took them under my wing. Like my writing, which developed as a way for me to express pent up emotion, and fit in well with my addiction to reading, which fit in well with me being a recluse and hiding away from life (and bullies).

I thought of all this last night when I watched this amazing TED clip of Monica Lewinsky who received a standing ovation for detailing her public humiliation and emphasizing the need to have online compassion to prevent cyberbullying:

The bullying I suffered made me a more compassionate person, for sure. But it cut deeply into my soul. It hurt.

I think there must be a better way for children to learn compassion. And maybe it does indeed begin with our online behavior.

Art Therapy And Your Child

Art Therapy And Your ChildArt therapy is a form of treatment that uses art to help people work out their feelings, and a tool that can help experts diagnose their patients. Children and many adults may find art therapy easier than other types of therapy, because they may not have to use too many words to get relief. Instead, in art therapy, it is often the art and its symbolism that tell the therapist how that person is feeling inside. This is important for patients who find it hard to talk about their feelings or for the young child who may not have the words to describe a traumatic or painful experience.

Besides helping patients express their feelings, art therapy can help patients cope with difficult situations. The act of making things, creating art, is relaxing and reduces stress. Painting on a canvas or squeezing a piece of clay feels good. It’s also a great feeling to watch an art project take shape, something you make with your own hands.

Imagine a child with a chronic illness, or a child who has been bullied or abused. Such a child might use art to express how he or she feels about the experience. In this case, the art project he creates in an art therapy session, offers testimony to what he’s going through. The child can also look at and touch the art project, and show it to others. The art object itself may serve as validation for what he feels inside, or even be his voice: “This is how I feel.”

Whether a painting, drawing, or other type of art, an art object can become a symbol of the child’s experience. Having that symbol helps the child to put distance between himself and his medical or emotional issues. A sick child might, for example, draw a picture of a painful or frightening treatment. In the case of a child who was abused, he might draw a picture of the abuse. Once the child sets it down on paper (or in clay, or some other art medium) he has acknowledged what has happened, made it real, and now he can move on to be the person he is, outside of the painful treatments or abuse.

Art Therapy Creates Powerful Truths

Children would rather do something with their hands than talk about their feelings. They may worry that adults won’t believe their stories and sometimes that happens. It is painful for children when they are telling the truth and no one believes them. Art gives children a powerful tool for saying how they feel.

The child looks at the artwork she has made and she feels good. She created it, and to her, it’s very real. Her artwork gives form to what she feels and thinks. It’s something she can point to that expresses her feelings with credibility. It’s all there, without any need for words. Art is believable.

Creating A Healthy Distance

Through art therapy, a child may come to see that his illness or his bad experience is something separate from his identity. He may make a painting, for instance, that is all about pain, shame, anger, fear, helplessness, or disappointment. Expressing his feelings in an art project gives the child a concrete symbol he can then see as something outside of himself. He can point to it and say, for example, “This is pain.”

Then again, the child with cancer, or the victim of abuse, may want to use art not to express these unpleasant feelings. The child with cancer may want to remember that she is also the child who adores the color purple, loves flowers, and has a silly sense of humor. That too, can be in a child’s painting. Through art therapy, children can come to understand that they are people beyond and outside of their illnesses or experiences.

It’s important to note that children don’t have to be talented at art to receive art therapy. The purpose of art therapy is not to create art for art’s sake but to serve as a means for:

  • Exploring feelings
  • Self-expression
  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Self-examination
  • Coping with illness or difficult experiences and feelings
  • Communicating feelings and ideas with others
  • Digging deep into the unconscious and finding and expressing the feelings buried deep inside

Art Therapy As Diagnostic Tool

Sometimes it is difficult to know what is bothering a troubled child. A trained art therapist may be able to diagnose the problem by examining a child’s art. Dr. Carole Lieberman is one such expert. A Beverly Hills psychiatrist and bestselling author who treats children and their families, Lieberman has experience in interpreting children’s drawings.

Dr. Lieberman also acknowledges that a parent or teacher may be able to tell something is bothering a child, just by looking at that child’s painting or drawing. A child may be putting out distress signals through art and parents should be watchful. “Parents should worry if their child’s drawings are mostly in dark colors, since this is a typical sign of depression. A child’s world seems very dark when they’re depressed, so that’s what they draw.

“If a child draws something and then scribbles over it in long dark strokes, it means that they are very angry. And if you can still see what they were covering over on the page, you will have a clue as to what they are angry about.

“If a child draws a dilapidated house, with no flowers or trees around it, and no sun, it means that they see their own house as being unhappy.

“If they don’t draw windows, it can mean that they don’t want people to know what goes on in their house, or they think they are not supposed to tell what goes on there,” says Dr. Lieberman, who cautions that parents should consult with an art therapist before jumping to conclusions about a child’s art and what it means.

To sum up, art therapy offers a stress-reducing, tangible, and nonverbal way to explore and deal with feelings and issues. If your child hates to talk about her feelings, art therapy may be just the ticket. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) website links to a directory for licensed art therapists in the United States, broken down by location.

Has your child used art therapy to cope with chronic illness or a difficult experience? We’d like to know about it. Write to Varda at Kars4Kids dot org with your child’s success story.

Daniel: Serving Children Since 1884

Daniel: Serving Kids Since 1884
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Daniel is a place where kids with the worst problems imaginable can get help and it’s been that way since its humble beginnings in 1884. In those days, Jacksonville, Florida was a much smaller place of just 10,000 residents. Still, the town had children in desperate need of help, so a group of church ladies opened the Orphanage and Home for the Friendless in a small rented cottage.

Then, in 1888 disaster struck. Yellow fever swept through the town, leaving many children orphaned and alone. Prominent Jacksonville lawyer and religious leader Col. James Jaquelin Daniel, worked tirelessly to help care for the sick and the orphaned, eventually succumbing to yellow fever, himself.

It was in his honor that the Daniel Memorial Association was founded. Through the years, the Daniel Memorial Orphanage adapted to fill the needs of children at risk, constantly expanding and evolving. Today known simply as “Daniel,” children at risk are still receiving the help there that they can’t get anywhere else, including children with serious mental health issues; children who have been on the wrong side of the law; and children whose parents have not provided the emotional or physical support they need.

Daniel House Old Banner
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids is about helping children grow up to be emotionally strong, healthy, and independent, with the skills they need for independent living. So is Daniel. And that is why Daniel became the recipient of a Kars4Kids small grant. There’s a mission both organizations share: helping and mentoring kids.

It was the mission of Col. James Jaquelin Daniel in 1884 and it’s the mission of Daniel and of Kars4Kids today. Kars4Kids is proud to play a small role in helping Daniel help nearly 2,000 children and their families in Florida. We spoke with Ann Kelley, Director of Special Projects for Daniel, to find out more about this good work.

Kars4Kids: It sounds as though Daniel takes in the worst cases: the kids everyone else has given up on. What is the main thing you aim to give these children, in the short time they are with you?

Ann Kelley: The primary objective for our service model is to facilitate the development of the long-term resilience necessary to thrive along with their peers, in spite of mental health disabilities and other adversities associated with trauma experienced in their young lives. To this end, the agency aims to equip each young person with customized coping strategies so that they are able to make positive, productive decisions in all facets of their day-to-day lives.

(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids: How do you keep less aggressive children safe from the more aggressive children living in your residential facilities? Is this an issue?

Ann Kelley: The intake process for children participating in the on-site residential treatment program is comprehensive, including assessment of risk for aggressive or other detrimental behaviors. It is important to note that most children that meet the qualifications for residential services have exhibited aggressive behaviors to some extent. Safety for all youth begins with a low staff to client ratio (1:4). There is also a recommended 1:12 ratio for nursing staff to which we adhere. The staff psychiatrist is present during daytime business hours and an additional psychiatrist is on-call for all other hours.

For cases at higher risk of harming, a special safety plan is developed by the treatment team.  For the most severe cases, an additional staff member is assigned to provide one-on-one, arms-length supervision of the child. Each employee working directly with youth is trained in best practices for preventing occurrences that could lead to overstimulation and subsequent aggressiveness; de-escalating negative behavior during aggressive episodes; and finally, safe restraint of a child who has become a danger to himself or others. Each incidence that involves aggressive behavior is documented and reviewed by the respective supervisors, staff nurse, and program director to ensure that each case involves the most appropriate response.

Daniel Academy
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids: In terms of your delinquency intervention services, what would you say is the recidivism rate for kids referred to your program? What sort of work do you do with these children? What life skills are they taught?

Ann Kelley: The Daniel Memorial Behavior Management Program (BMP) provides individual therapy for teenagers who have entered the Florida Juvenile Justice system. Therapy is provided on-site at the home of the child to alleviate all barriers to access to services. The life skill component includes a thorough assessment of participant knowledge in each life facet, including health, hygiene,  education, finance/banking/saving, transportation, employability skills, and community service (volunteer opportunities as learning and networking experiences). The results are utilized for treatment planning and counseling. Life skills instruction is “laced” throughout the service period to include referral to community resources. The average success rate as defined by youth who do not reoffend during the one year period following completion of the program averages 75% over a five year period.

Daniel Gives Kids A Leg Up!

Kars4Kids: How many youths are in Daniel’s Independent Living program? Does Daniel help these children attain their emancipation from their parents/provide legal services? So often children who reach the age of 18 find themselves without resources and support: they’ve outgrown them all. Did your Independent Living program grow out of an awareness of this problem? Do you stay in touch with “graduates” of this program?

The Project Prepare Independent Living Program is currently serving 37 youth and young adults. Annually, this number will reach in excess of 60. The agency staff helps youth with the emancipation process through Legal Aid. This is rare, however, because the process is lengthy. Most clients will reach their 18 birthdays before the court process can be completed. For this reason, emancipation is not critical for this population. They can safely reside at the agency-owned apartment complex, work, attend school, and learn life skills without this legal designation.

Project Prepare indeed grew out of the need to address the problem of estrangement between parents and teens transitioning to adulthood. Common themes included parents with substance abuse and mental health problems and parents that could not accept the gender identity or sexual orientation changes of their children.

While in the program, each participant is assigned a case manager and a therapist to help her begin to learn to fully integrate into the community and to develop a network of positive, productive adults that care about them and their respective futures. We are fortunate to have many graduates come back year after year to ask what they can do to give back. Many are doing very well and will always remember the “leg up” during their darkest moments!

Daniel House Banner Independent Living
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids: Do you have children who keep returning to Daniel for services? Are there children you try to keep a little longer, to keep them safe from abusive situations? Can you give some examples?

Ann Kelley: A returning child is an aberration although children do move regularly through our continuum of programs. For example, a child may exit the residential program but enter the community-based mental health program for treatment while living at home and attending their respective neighborhood school. The reason for this is that on-going treatment is critical for the most serious disabilities such as bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic syndrome disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and numerous other personality disorders. For these cases, there are no “quick fixes” but rather on-going development of strategies that help to mitigate symptoms such as anti-social behavior.

Kars4Kids: Are any of Col. Daniel’s descendants or relatives still involved with Daniel?

Ann Kelley: Yes, Col. Daniel’s granddaughters, sisters Jackie Cook and Eleanor Colledge. Ms. Cook is a long-time trustee as was her late husband, Glyn Cook. The Glyn Cook Scholarship Fund was established in Mr. Cook’s honor. Ms. Cook’s daughter, Emily and her husband, local sportscaster Cole Pepper, organize a community fundraiser to benefit the fund each year.  Funds are distributed each year to participants in Project Prepare, the agency program for homeless teens and young adults.

Daniel Cake
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)


Kars4Kids: Tell me about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. What is it? What does it address?

Ann Kelley: EMDR is a highly effective, evidence-based, best practice to treat trauma. The technique uses bilateral stimulation to evoke trauma memories, to re-frame “beliefs” about the trauma and to minimize the detrimental reactions to thoughts of the specific traumatic event. At Daniel, the therapy is used as a supplement treatment for youth when presenting trauma reactions are severe or when the more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy modality does not result in anticipated improvement.

Kars4Kids: The world mostly hears about foster care gone wrong. Tell us about foster care gone right. How do you ensure that the children you refer to foster homes are going to safe places? What controls are in place?

Ann Kelley: Daniel offers foster care placement only through our family-based therapeutic program. Our program is largest in Florida, with 60 licensed homes. Each adult member of a therapeutic foster home completes twice the training hours (60) of a traditional foster parent.  State statute details very specific and stringent guidelines for certification compliance within each home. The licensing process includes evaluation of parent knowledge, parenting practice, a history of lawful behavior, and the safety of the home. All requirements are designed to ensure that each child receives the highest level of safe, nurturing, trauma-informed, family-centered care. In addition to annual re-licensure, each home is visited by a staff therapist either once or twice weekly, depending on the severity of the child’s presenting symptoms.The therapist child ratio of 1:5 and a 24-hour/7 day emergency contact ensure that each parent is afforded immediate professional clinical support to address all issues that potentially may result in safety concerns.

Daniel House Banner Event
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids: How old does one have to be to apply to become a mentor? How do you match up mentors and children?

Ann Kelley: Being a mentor is a rewarding, challenging, unforgettable experience! Getting started is easy. Just a phone call or email directed to the agency volunteer coordinator begins the process. A face-to-face interview is then scheduled to orient the volunteer to Daniel and our many programs and to allow the potential volunteer to describe their life experiences, interests and activities, and motivation for mentoring. Volunteers complete the volunteer application and affidavit of good moral character following the meeting. The Mentor Interest Survey is also completed to allow the applicant to elaborate on the age, race, nationality, and gender of the child that they would like to begin a relationship. The survey includes input for hobbies and interests as well. The next step is completion of the Mentor Training through the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. The 1.5 hour mentoring workshop includes a Level 2 background screen as required by Florida statute for persons working with children. Simultaneously, the coordinator contacts references provided by the volunteer applicant.

Following the interview, background clearance and verification of reference input, the volunteer mentor is ready to be matched with a child. Matches with children are not random! Program staff submit detailed information for each eligible child, including their strengths, greatest needs, interests, and specifically how they feel a mentor will be an asset to the child’s treatment plan.  Mentor/mentees are then matched according to their own similar interests, experiences, gender, race, nationality, etc. During the initial child/mentor meeting, the respective youth worker is included to make the introduction smoother for the child/family. Mentors commit to work with their mentee for at least 1 year, 4-6 hours a month. The success of the relationship is monitored by the volunteer coordinator each month.

Daniel Volunteers
(courtesy: Daniel Memorial, Inc.)

Kars4Kids: It seems like there isn’t anything Daniel Memorial Inc. (Daniel House) doesn’t do for children, whether it is as a full-time residency for children with behavioral problems, finding them foster or adoptive homes, teaching them life skills, or even rehabilitating kids out of juvenile detention facilities. What do you imagine the founder of Daniel, Col. James Jaquelin Daniel, would think and say, if he could see how his little project has evolved?

Ann Kelley: There is no doubt that he would be very pleased and proud that the organization named in his honor has continued to be a leading provider of critical social services for children and families. Col. Daniel had dedicated his entire life to various social causes before succumbing to yellow fever. He was a part of a very active Rotary Club that served a lead role in implementing strategic plans to address the social issues of the time.