Group seeks to instill resiliency skills in local children
MIDDLEBURY — Feeling like you don’t belong, that no one cares.
Keeping a major problem private, to the extent that it devours you from the inside out.
These are some classic symptoms in an increasing number of Addison County children who are hurting and aren’t asking for help, according to local human services providers.
Left unchecked, these symptoms can lead to depression and descent into risky behavior — like drug addiction and self-harm, advocates noted.
With that in mind, the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) and the Addison County division of the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) are partnering with a variety of other local organizations to teach “resiliency” skills to young people, so that they can more effectively bounce back from life’s setbacks.
The idea for this resiliency project sprang from a Dec. 7, 2017, gathering of around 50 representatives of the many Addison County nonprofits that regularly advocate for health care reform at the local and state levels. Those officials pored over the latest health data for area residents, including children and adolescents. Sources included the Vermont Blueprint for Health and the 2017 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior survey that featured student input from Mount Abraham, Vergennes and Middlebury union high schools.
Local human services officials found the overall information and survey results quite alarming.
“Almost half of Addison County kids feel like they don’t matter to their community,” Addison County DOH Director Moira Cook said, pointing to one of the most striking findings.
Cheryl Huntley, director of youth and family services for CSAC, said this is the first year advocates have been able to gather such a wealth of information on youth resiliency. And that’s largely a product of the schools, the Department of Health and CSAC specifically framing their surveys and programming to hone in on resiliency issues.
“The thing that struck us about all (the data sources) is that they were saying the same thing,” Huntley said. “It all said ‘low resiliency.’ To think that half of our kids don’t think they matter to somebody is not OK. It was kind of a wake-up call.”
Feeling insignificant, alone and powerless can lead individuals into a lengthy tailspin from which some never fully recover, Cook and Huntley warned.
“You realize that long-term, when any population of people doesn’t feel like they can bounce back, that they’re having a hard time coping, that they don’t feel connected to their community, that’s when you see the opiate problems, mental health problems, increases in depression and (thoughts of suicide) occur,” Huntley said.
Instilling better resiliency skills in people at an early age could help stem drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide rates later on, officials reasoned.
“It’s not a quick turnaround; it’s a long-term process,” Huntley acknowledged.
But you have to start somewhere, and here in Addison County, it began with this month’s series of workshops for parents to learn resiliency skills they can pass on to their children. The remaining Thursday gatherings will be held at Vergennes Union Elementary School from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 11, 18 and 25.
Participants will learn seven “building blocks for resiliency” that can help children better handle the bumps and bruises that life has in store. The “seven Cs,” as offered by Kenneth Ginsburg in his book, “Building resiliency in Children and Teens,” include:
• Competence — teaching children the skills to trust their judgments, make responsible choices and face difficult situations.
• Confidence — developing a deep sense of security in one’s ability to confront challenges.
• Connection — a sense of belonging to, and feeling safe in, a wider world.
• Character — learning the ability to make wise choices.
• Contribution — realizing that giving back to one’s community contributes to a sense of belonging.
• Coping — adopting positive, rather than destructive, strategies to handle life’s crises.
• Control — instilling in children the knowledge that they enjoy a great measure of control over themselves and their actions, thus allowing them to better live with the consequences.
Cook, Huntley and their colleagues are brainstorming other ideas and events to promote resiliency in kids. Some examples include developing community service opportunities, training educators how to impart resiliency skills, and giving students more information about building confidence and self-esteem.
Planning is under way for a “resiliency story telling” event on Nov. 8, at which youths will be invited to share their powerful stories of bouncing back in tough times. The time and location of that event is still being worked out.
Ultimately, organizers want children to be comfortable asking for help when they are in a difficult or dark place.
“I think we have a great foundation in this community for (children) to do that,” Cook said.
Parents interested in attending one or more of the resiliency sessions at VUES are urged to RSVP, especially if childcare is needed, to Elissa Best at [email protected] or (802) 877-3761.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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