Children need caring adults, a chance to make mistakes to succeed in life

By Jill Roche, Youth Today

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For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked as an education advocate in Hunts Point, an isolated community in the south Bronx. As many New Yorkers know, Hunts Point is consistently cited as the most at-risk neighborhood for children in the city based on low education attainment, record joblessness, housing conditions, health outcomes and other factors. Over 59 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.

Despite the difficult environment, we work with students to prepare them for success in high school, in college and beyond. Recently, a colleague wondered aloud: What is the difference for students who are able to move beyond the neighborhood legacy of low high school graduation rates and poverty?

I believe that the primary difference is the connection to people like him — youth development professionals, teachers, parents, caregivers and grandparents. The difference is a relationship with a supportive adult. Research stretching back close to 20 years has identified the support of a caring adult as a strong protective factor contributing to resilience in at-risk students. As youth advocates have always known: Every child needs a champion.

The presence of a caring adult in any child’s life is often pivotal: the undivided attention they offer, the experiences they share, the reassurance they can give as a child becomes a teenager and begins to explore the larger world. Becoming an adult requires that we take risks and make mistakes. It is only by making mistakes that we learn to assume responsibility for our actions, to ask forgiveness and begin to understand our relationship to others.

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Tiny steps add up to building healthy communities in WA, PA, NC, DE and NY

The Children’s Resilience Initiative in Walla Walla, WA, is one of 42 cities and towns in Washington State that’s using research to improve the health of its community. (Some day soon I’ll tell you the story about how a state built a state-wide community network that pulled off some miraculous and remarkably innovative cost- and life-saving changes, and then how the state — perhaps inadvertently — yanked the plug on the community it built.)

The research includes the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE Study), studies that show how toxic stress damages children’s brains, and economic analyses that shows how prevention programs reduce health, criminal justice and social service costs.

For CRI, this means taking many tiny steps that add up to big changes. These tiny steps focus on how this community of about 30,000 souls builds in resilience

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‘Starve the beast,’ say these cities – but don’t cut people off; reduce need for services instead

Senior Hope in Albany, NY

In a plain brick building on a tree-lined street in Albany, NY, a 67-year-old man brought to his knees from a lifetime struggle with alcohol addiction fills out a survey. Across town, on the bucolic campus of a residential treatment center for troubled teenage boys, a counselor asks a 13-year-old the same questions.

  • Did a parent often swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you?
  • Did you see your mother being hit, pushed, slapped or kicked?
  • Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?

What’s the point of dredging up bad memories with these and seven other questions? Believe it or not, there’s a long-term payoff for the man, the boy and the city and county of Albany.

Strangely enough, it has to do with the short-term, beneficial effects of the drugs they’re using. Nicotine reduces anger, increases focus and relieves depression. Alcohol relieves stress.

The 67-year-old learns that, all things considered, using alcohol was a reasonable coping strategy for

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