Hope for Kids with Incarcerated Dads

James* was five-years-old when his dad was arrested and sent to the Albemarle Regional jail. James went to live with his grandmother. Five-year-olds are high energy and a bit rambunctious. However, over the course of a few weeks it became evident to his grandmother that James’ increasingly loud outbursts and frenetic body movements were beyond what was deemed ‘normal’ for his age. James missed his father. He had no words to describe the feelings within him, so they came out in other ways.

THE RESEARCH

Child Welfare experts have long known anecdotally that the shame and separation of having an incarcerated parent affects a child’s development and behavior. In 1998, they got proof. The release of a now famous study referred to as the “ACEs Study” detailed how ten different Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) were linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood. Nestled among the more cited ACEs like child abuse or neglect was having a family member in prison.

Children affected by incarceration are a vulnerable population. Often they are living in poverty. Also, because 92% of incarcerated parents are fathers, they live with either a single mother, a relative or in the foster care system. They are, more often than not, black. One in 9 African-American children have a parent in prison, compared to one in 57 white children. The feelings of abandonment when a parent is incarcerated harm a child’s developing brain. It changes how they respond to stress and damages their immune systems so profoundly that the effects show up decades later .

THERE IS HOPE

It can feel very “gloom and doom”. Like, these children are stuck in a societal pattern that’s impossible to reverse. But, it’s not true. The best treatment to combat Adverse Child Experiences is strong relationships with competent parents. How do we strengthen the relationships of children affected by incarceration? How do we make incarcerated parents more competent at parenting upon their release? This is how ReadyKids opens the door to bright futures for these children.

In 2007, ReadyKids created a program called REAL Dads aimed at coaching incarcerated fathers to have Responsible, Empowered, Available and Loving relationships with their kids. It was, and still is, the only evidence-based fatherhood program in the Charlottesville-area.

“I think often we think father’s programs are just about the father,” said Eddie Harris, Fatherhood Specialist with REAL Dads. “We’re approaching it from the perspective that the most important and valuable asset is the family. When a parent gets help, it helps the whole family.”

REAL Dads focuses on providing parenting classes to men who were incarcerated, or newly out of incarceration. Each year, REAL Dads works with 6 fathers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional jail in a weekly fatherhood group. Outside of the jail, Harris works with approximately 30 fathers recently released from jail or estranged from their children for another reason.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTACT VISITS


Hope for Kids with Incarcerated Dads

In 2017, a growing body of research began to support the use of contact visits between incarcerated fathers and their children. A child who not only visits their parent in jail or prison, but is able to have quality time with them, has improved outcomes. Usually when children visit a parent in jail or prison, they are confined to a crowded, loud visiting room. Or, they must talk through a plexiglass wall. REAL Dads worked closely with the regional jail to begin twice-yearly contact visits, where fathers and their children can be together in a quiet, supervised space for special family time. Last year, 11 children in Charlottesville were able to play games, get hugs and spend quality time with their incarcerated fathers.

The visits make a difference.

“The look and smile on my son’s face as he ran up to me with a huge hug, really made me feel good,” said one REAL Dads participant. “He talked about how he beat me in the board games for days after it.”

The greater research backs up this particular REAL Dads’ experience. Contact visits are vital to a child’s mental health. According to the Urban Institute, “Spending time together as a family through play, conversation, or sharing a meal can help mitigate children’s feelings of abandonment and anxiety.” What’s more, children who continue to stay in touch with their parent in prison exhibit fewer disruptive and anxious behaviors. There is also evidence that contact visits helps lower recidivism rates for the parents.

THE POWER OF A HUG

One REAL Dads participant held his infant daughter for the first time in a contact visit two years ago.

“I had so many different thoughts going through my head, just finally getting the chance to touch my first born child,” he said. “The whole day after the visit I was day-dreaming about her growing up and what type of environment I wanted her raised in … I really wanted to change my own way of living.”

As for James, a visit with his dad in jail changed him for the better.

“I spoke to my mom and she says she wishes she could have a monthly contact visit, because she actually can see the difference in his behavior after each visit,” said James’ dad. “He starts the week off telling everyone what we did, that he has to be good and so does daddy so he can have class with me at ‘Big Boy Timeout.’ I am able to feel a little better knowing I am giving 100% to give him all that I can and I will continue to do so.”

CELEBRATE FATHER’S DAY, MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR A KID

To learn more about REAL Dads visit the REAL Dads website. Also, there are several ways you can support REAL Dads this weekend! Random Row Brewing is hosting a Fathers’ Eve Event on Saturday, June 15 from 6 to 10 p.m. to celebrate the “brotherhood of fatherhood.” Proceeds go towards our REAL Dads program. Then, on Sunday, June 16, Craft Cville will support the important work of the REAL Dads program at Ready Kids with an event at Castle Hill Cider from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Join us for either event this Father’s day weekend!

Or, you can make a donation in honor of your dad this Father’s day by visiting our donation page. Happy Father’s Day!

* Name is changed to protect confidentiality

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3 things mom actually wants for mother's day

Mother’s Day is on Sunday. This is your chance to show your Mom or partner how much you appreciate her work as a parent!

What gift or gesture can possibly show how much you appreciate her? Hint, probably not flowers. A recent survey from Retail Me Not, showed that only 28 percent of mothers wanted flowers. So what do moms want?

Lucky for you, our Family Support Workers from our Healthy Families program are offering their best advice. The Healthy Families program at ReadyKids fosters nurturing family relationships for pregnant moms and safe environments for young children. Last year they helped over 74 moms adjust to the role of motherhood.

In terms of experts on motherhood and child-rearing, they know their stuff! Here are their top three Mother’s Day gift suggestions from years of experience working with new moms.

  1. A meal they don’t have to shop for, make or clean up
    • “Moms all need a little down time, when they can be themselves without their mom hat on. Having a meal prepared for them is a wonderful gift. Extra points for cleaning up afterwards!” – Sharon Taylor
  2. Help with the Kids
    • “They want more help with the kids. Even watching the kids while she grocery shops can help a mom feel appreciated. It also helps you to know exactly how exhausting childcare is and to value her hard work.” – Becca Mays
  3. Time for self-care
    • “A day of self care! It doesn’t have to be expensive. Allow mom to take a walk around outside for a while by herself, or allow her to catch up on some much needed sleep.” – Samira Khairkawa

Looking for a tangible, last-minute Mother’s Day gift? You can always donate to ReadyKids in her name! A Mother’s Day donation comes with a free card and coloring sheet the kids can give mom, and helps reach other mothers in the Charlottesville area who might not otherwise have support.

This Mother’s Day our Family Support Workers gifted every mom in the Healthy Families program a gift bag of hand lotion, chap stick, nail polish, chocolate and a craft to do with their kids. We wanted to make sure that every Mom felt appreciated on Mother’s Day, even if there wasn’t someone in their life to celebrate them. ReadyKids can’t support these Moms without generous donations from people like you!

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Pinwheels for Prevention. Protecting Kids: It's Everyone's Job
National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. At ReadyKids, we know that no one becomes a parent with the intent of abusing or neglecting children. Opportunity gaps, trauma and social factors like addiction and mental illness add stress to the already stressful job of parenting.

Nevertheless, in 2018 within the ReadyKids service area there were 4,005 accepted claims of child abuse. Child abuse is a community-wide issue that can only be solved as a community. Therefore, we planted pinwheel gardens during the month of April. The gardens raise awareness of what causes and how to prevent child abuse.

Pinwheel Gardens for Prevention

The pinwheel is a symbol of child abuse awareness for its whimsy and childhood associations. In other words, it is a nationally recognized symbol of the great childhoods we want for all children. At ReadyKids, we work closely with not only kids but parents, caregivers, police and other service providers. Our goal is to create great childhoods by promoting social and emotional well-being.

Girl Blowing Pinwheel In addition, each pinwheel garden has copies of the ReadyKids “Keeping Your Family Strong” pamphlet. These pamphlets educate and support families. Research shows that “protective factors” like having a strong support system and knowing about child development help parents stay more calm in moments of high stress. For instance, a parent that knows that part of two-year-old development is learning to communicate and assert themselves is less likely to erupt when the child screams “no diaper change!” Above all, anything a family can do to build up protective factors will help to prevent child abuse.

ReadyKids placed pinwheel gardens in eleven neighborhoods of Charlottesville. You can find them in the following locations:
SARA
Women’s Initiative
Foothills Child Advocacy Center
Region 10
Albemarle Victim Witness Office
Southwood Mobile Home Park
Greer Elementary School
Agnor Hurt Elementary School
Friendship Court Apartments
Apartments at Greenstone on 5th
Park’s Edge Apartments

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Afro-Latino family walking near beach Every family has strengths, and every family faces challenges. When you are under stress — the car breaks down, you or your partner lose a job, a child’s behavior is difficult, or even when the family is experiencing a positive change, such as moving into a new home — sometimes it takes a little extra help to get through the day.

Protective factors are the strengths and resources that families draw on when life gets difficult. Building on these strengths is a proven way to keep the family strong and enhance child well-being. What are your family’s protective factors? What can you do so that when inevitable stress happens, your family stays strong?

Research shows that there are six key protective factors that keep families afloat during stressful times. Here are some simple ways you can build these factors in your own family.

Protective Factor and What It MeansWhat You Can Do
Nurturing and Attachment: Our family shows how much we love each other- Take time at the end of each day to connect with your children with a hug, smile, a song, or a few minutes of listening and talking


- Find ways to engage your children while completing everyday tasks (meals, shopping, driving in the car). Talk about what you are doing, ask them questions, or play simple games (such as “I spy”).
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development : I know parenting is part natural and part learned. I am always learning new things about raising children and what they can do at different ages. - Explore parenting questions with your family doctor, your child's teacher, family or friends


- Subscribe to a magazine, website, or online newsletter about child development


- Take a parenting class at a local community center, or Region Ten.


- Sit and observe what your child can and cannot do


- Share what you learn with anyone who cares for your child
Social Connections : I have friends, family, and neighbors who help out and provide emotional support.- Participate in neighborhood activities such as potluck dinners, street fairs, picnics or block parties


- Join a playgroup or online support group of parents with children at similar ages


- Find a faith community that welcomes and supports parents
Parental Resilience : I have courage during stress and the ability to bounce back from challenges.- Take quiet time to reenergize: take a bath, write, sing, laugh, play, drink a cup of tea


- Do some physical exercise: walk, stretch, do yoga, lift weights, dance


- Share your feelings with someone you trust


- Surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.
Concrete Supports for Parents: Our family can meet our day-to-day needs, including housing, food, health care, education and counseling. I know where to find help if I need it.- Make a list of people or places to call for support


- Ask the director of your child's school to host a Community Resource Night, so you (and other parents) can see what your community offers.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children: My children know they are loved, feel they belong, and are able to get along with others.- Provide regular routines, especially for young children. Make sure everyone who cares for your child is aware of your routines around mealtimes, naps, and bedtime.


- Talk with your children about how important feelings are.


- Teach and encourage children to solve problems in age-appropriate ways.

Our Family: Write down 3 or more things you would like to do this month to increase protective factors for your children or family.

1.

2.

3.

You did it! Now share the things you would like to do this month with the rest of your family. Can you feel yourself growing stronger already?

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When threats are made against our children in Charlottesville, it is upsetting. Here are some tips to help support your family’s mental health.


Children look to the adults in their lives to understand their world and how to respond, especially during upsetting and traumatic community events. Even children as young as 2 and 3 pick up on family, social, and community stress. Kids are very good at noticing emotional changes in their caregivers, but do not know how to make sense of what is happening on their own. Talking with and supporting your child can help them cope better during this time.

Possible Ways Youth May be Impacted:

  • Media exposure. Children are impacted by what they see, particularly when seeing familiar places as the setting for violence and offensive symbols.
  • Possible Community Violence. The community is trying to prevent and prepare for potential violence.
  • Reawakened community division, including hateful actions and words toward minority groups, can impact children of all ages.

Signs of Stress and Anxiety:

  • Fearfulness: Increased fear, clinginess, and difficulty separating from caregivers.
  • Somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.
  • Sleep Difficulties: nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or not wanting to sleep in own bed
  • Regression: Acting younger than their age.
  • Changes in Play and Activities: Young children may act out their fears or what they have seen in their play. In older youth, changes in interest in activities or social connections.
  • Trauma History: Youth with a past trauma or exposure to violence, mental health concerns, or special needs may be more vulnerable to the impact of these events.
  • If your child’s behavioral and emotional changes do not begin to improve after a few weeks, you may want to talk with a professional such as a Pediatrician, School Counselor, Spiritual Leader, or Counselor.

Tips for Supporting Kids

  • Set aside time to talk: Find a time when you are calm and not distracted to talk with your child about what is going on. Tell the truth, avoid graphic details, use age-appropriate language, and speak in simple, clear ways.
  • Focus on Listening: Children need to be heard, even when you do not have all of the answers. Ask about their thoughts and feelings, and focus on responding to their questions or concerns.
  • Model positive coping: Monitor your own stress level so that you can be calm and in control around your child. Find healthy ways to cope and express your own emotions when your child is not nearby. If your child wants to talk when you are upset, schedule a later time to follow up when you are ready.
  • Limit Media Exposure: Minimize or restrict TV and social media exposure of graphic and violent content. Talk with your child about what they see, including how older youth engage in social media.
  • Plan positive activities: In difficult times, kids especially need to feel connected and to engage in comforting activities.
  • Reassure Safety: Emphasize ways that adults are keeping them safe, including Helpers in the community, without making unrealistic promises.
  • Maintain normal routines and rules: Consistency and structure provides stability and comfort for kids. Talk with your child ahead of time about schedule changes.
  • Positive Expression of Values and Emotions: Difficult times can provide rich opportunities for sharing your values with your kids. Older youth may benefit from helping activities that allow them to express their values. See back for healthy ways to express emotions.

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Top 10 ReadyKids Moments of 2018

In our 97-year-history, each year at ReadyKids has been full of defining moments. 2018 is no exception. As we continue our day-to-day work with children and those who care for them, we also reflect on the accomplishments of the year. We feel so blessed to be a part of this wonderful community that has supported us over nearly a century!

Here are the ten fan favorite moments that you helped make happen at ReadyKids in 2018!

#10 – Helping Children Find Calm

Our STAR Kids educators visit local preschools and early childhood centers with puppets. Their child-friendly lessons teach self-regulation, problem-solving and safe choices. In February, a STAR Kids educator relayed this story. It’s about how a lesson gave a child the words to voice her home life.

#9 – ReadySteps, an Important Partner at Friendship Court and Beyond

ReadySteps encourages parents as a child’s first and best teacher. Through early learning playgroups within their home communities, parents get a chance to learn more about child development. Playgroups happen in five neighborhoods through out Charlottesville, including Friendship Court. ReadySteps works closely with parents to help children have strong, positive and nurturing relationships.

#8 – InsideOut Counseling Sneak Peek

InsideOut provides counseling to help kids and families who have experienced trauma begin the healing process. Shannon Noe, the program director for Youth Counseling, gives you a sneak peek into some of the stories our counselors hear from kids.

#7 – ReadyKids Reaches More Children, Families and Early Childhood Educators than Ever Before

In Fiscal Year 2018, ReadyKids reached 8,836 local kids, families and early childhood educators. Our participants are more diverse than ever. We also continue to lower the cost per participant, even while we increase participant satisfaction.

#6 – Aspen, the ReadyKids Therapy Dog, Wins the Red Cross Hero Award

Aspen is a black lab who has worked in over 200 therapy cases in InsideOut Counseling. Aspen provides a calming presence for kids who are exploring difficult topics. She is beloved not only among the children in our InsideOut program, but also by our staff!

#5 – Bilingual Book drive for ReadySteps and Healthy Families

ReadySteps and Healthy Families work with more than 175 participants who do not speak English as a first language. An important part of developing literacy skills is parents reading to their children. But, how can these parents do that in their native language? Many local donors gave to buy over 50 books in Dari, Farsi, and Spanish.

#4 – Charlottesville, A Year Later

The events of August 2017 in Charlottesville were deeply upsetting within our community. Our counseling staff offered ways to talk with and support children to cope with the difficult thoughts, emotions and behaviors the one-year anniversary might bring up.

#3 – Diaper Drive for Healthy Families

Throughout the year, donors like you have given thousands of diapers to our Healthy Families program. Healthy Families fosters nurturing family relationships for pregnant moms and safe environments for young children. No government benefits cover diapers. They are one of the top requests we get from families who are barely making ends meet. Thanks to you, if a new mom needs any size diaper, we can supply it for free!

#2 – Teen Counseling Crisis Line, A No-Cost Service for Charlottesville Area Families

In Fiscal Year 2018, 180 teens and parents called the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Crisis Hotline and over 3,500 people viewed information about the Hotline on Facebook. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program provides individual and family counseling to foster positive, nurturing family relationships to ensure that teens are healthy and safe.

#1 – Virginia lawmakers vote to require rear-facing car seats for kids 2 and under

In March, Virginia voted to join nine other states in requiring children under the age of 2 to be in rear-facing car seats. This came as a surprise to many participants and community members. It was the most shared story on our Facebook page this year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are 75% less likely to sustain serious injury in a rear-facing car seat.

What an eventful year it’s been! We can’t thank you enough for all you do to keep our programs running. We’re able to Open Doors to Bright Futures for Kids because of generous friends like you. We hope you continue to support ReadyKids in this new year!
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4 ways to be an ally to transgender youth and their families

In the last two years, the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program has seen an increase in participants who identify as transgender. Someone who is transgender has a sense of personal identity and gender that does not correspond with their birth sex.

Nationwide, about 0.7% of American teens identify as transgender, but nearly 2% of the participants in the ReadyKids Teen Counseling program have identified as transgender or gender variant. That’s an almost 200% increase than what you’d expect to see.

“There are a lot of variables that lead into it,” said Jordan Leahy, Teen Counselor. “People who are transgender are more visible than ever in our society, but there is also a political climate that is trying to deny they exist. This is increasing mental health needs.”

Coming out as transgender in your teen years comes with a variety of struggles, particularly with parents. For instance, studies show that familial rejection can lead transgender youth to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk, trigger depression and other mental health problems, and in the worst of cases – result in suicide. Furthermore, lack of family acceptance after coming out as transgender is one of the top reasons teens runaway or are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Among homeless youth, 20-40% are transgender, and most face discrimination when seeking even temporary shelter.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

However, familial support does the opposite. Parents who accept their child’s gender identity can act as a buffer against bullying and bias outside of the home. In other words, for some transgender youth, family support can be the difference between life and death. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program wants to help families and teens in this journey toward acceptance and support.

Here are 4 tips our counselors offer on how to be an ally to a transgender teenager.
1. Use their preferred name and pronouns

“A name is significant, and we don’t always have an understanding of that in our culture,” said Leahy. “If a person has chosen a new name for themselves, it’s usually because their given name is in some way hurtful. If you live in a home with someone who doesn’t acknowledge who you are and can be cruel to you for who you are, that has a huge effect.”

If you’re unsure which pronouns a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. If you’re still unsure, you can default to “they/their.” If you must ask which pronouns a person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex, and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?”

Most importantly, if you mess up (as everyone who has known someone as a different gender for a long time is likely to do), quietly correct yourself.

“Many people are well intentioned and want to be supportive, but if you miss a beat and say something wrong and everyone can get hurt,” said Dee Keller, Senior Teen Counselor. “Mistakes do happen. It’s okay to go back. It’s okay to learn. It’s okay to do things differently.”

2. Break the connection in your mind between gender identity and sexuality

“When teens come out as transgender, this can be confusing, especially for parents,” said Leahy. “But gender identity is not the same as sexual identity.” Transgender does not mean gay or lesbian. Gender is about who you are, not who you are attracted to.

Trans Student Educational Resources has a helpful diagram called the “Gender Unicorn” which explains how gender identity, gender expression, what gender someone is physically attracted to, and what gender someone is emotionally attracted to all exist on a spectrum. For example, it’s possible to be born female, transition to male and still be attracted to men. It’s also possible to be born male, and later identify as genderless (part male, part female), but that doesn’t mean you’re A-sexual and not interested in a relationship. A wide variety of possible combinations exist, over 7 billion!

3. Be patient

A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what’s true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do you best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.

4. Become educated

Being transgender is no longer taboo. With people like Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenner from the Kardashians being open about their identities, trans people are more visible than ever. GLAAD has a number of resources to expand awareness of trans issues. Locally, the Cville Pride Community Network has a compiled list of resources as well.

Check out art, literature and films about trans people. Barnes and Noble has a helpful list of Young Adult novels about transgender characters, IMBD has a list of movies featuring trans main characters, and an online comic called “Assigned Male” has great cartoon strips about the daily challenges trans people face.

Support for Trans Youth Matters

As a parent, if you come to a point where you don’t know what else to do, the ReadyKids Teen Counselors are available to talk any time, 24/7 to any teen or parent of a teen in the Charlottesville area. Call (434) 972-7233.

“Trans kids are more vulnerable. We want to have the space to welcome these kids,” said Keller. “The runaway risk and family conflict is high for LGBT kids, having a supportive family is a huge resilience factor. We hope to equip families and teens.”

The ReadyKids Teen Crisis Hotline is a free service that can be reached at any time by calling (434) 972-7233.

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Any experienced parent or early childhood educator knows that the best toys aren’t toys at all. The best toys are average household objects. Keys, cardboard boxes, television remotes are all far more interesting to kids for their play possibilities than the toys in their room.

The same can be said for our fall appeal envelope! The envelope is 100% recyclable as a #5 plastic. But before you recycle it, upcycle for some at home fun with kids. You can do this craft right now with nothing more than a picture and permanent marker. Reimagining a family photo is great for expanding thinking skills. Drawing also helps to develop fine motor skills, and removing and realigning the family photo within the envelope improves visual motor integration.

Drawing on an envelope may look like a silly, easy thing to do. But sometimes it’s the silliest, easiest things that we remember the most.

upcycle plastic envelopes



Each ReadyKids program tackles a community challenge.

Our Relationship Ready programs help to prevent and treat toxic stressed faced by over 3,500 children in the greater Charlottesville area.

Our Learning Ready programs recognize the need for positive educational experiences in a child’s first five years, when 90% of a child’s brain development occurs.

The need is great, but we believe that with a little help that children, families and the greater Charlottesville community are resilient.

Click on our Annual Report to learn more about how ReadyKids helped get kids ready for life this year!

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A HUGE thank you to the volunteers that came out to ReadyKids this morning for the United Way TJA Day of Caring!

Employees from UVA Imaging, UVA Information Technology Services – ITS, UVA College of Arts & Sciences, LexisNexis, Rivanna Station, and Old Dominion National Bank helped us:

Thank you. It was a lot of work, but our volunteers did a wonderful job keeping the morning running smoothly all with a smile on their faces. Volunteers are such an important part of ReadyKids. They should know how special they are!

 

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