Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already the beginning of February. And that means it’s officially Parent Leadership Month. It’s a time designed to highlight the opportunities and engage in partnerships that support strong and lasting roles for parents as leaders. One of those opportunities, Circle of Parents, is a great way for parents to take on leadership roles in Colorado. But what exactly are parent leaders? And how do they fit into the Circle of Parents model?

A parent leader is someone who represents the needs and perspectives of many parents without speaking or acting in a staff role for an organization or institution. Parents become leaders when they actively participate in the development and successful implementation of services to help them in their parenting roles and as leaders of their own families. And using their experiences as participants, coupled with a desire to “give back,” parent leaders build upon the knowledge and skills they gained to take on meaningful leadership roles within programs.

Within the Circle of Parents model, when a parent practices their leadership skills, not only does it help strengthen the group, but it also supports the parent leader in building their own self-esteem and their sense of self. This increases their capacity to relate more positively to others, it assists them in setting and accomplishing goals, generates a sense of hope, and strengthens their relationship with their own children, spouse or partner and family.

A Parent Leader:

  • may be a parent, grandparent, kinship care provider, foster parent, or anyone else in a parenting role.
  • has personal experience in using resources and/or services to strengthen their family.
  • is speaking and acting from their perspective as a parent.
  • is not speaking and acting in a staff role for an organization or institution.

Parent Leaders can be most effective when the following supports provide a strong foundation for their work:

  • a defined meaningful role as a Parent Leader
  • access to training
  • clear opportunities to contribute to program development, implementation, oversight and evaluation, policymaking, training and technical assistance, public awareness and outreach
  • tangible supports such as assistance with child care and transportation and compensation

Parent Leader Roles within Circle of Parents

The role of a parent leader is constantly evolving and there can be several parent leaders within one Circle of Parents group. Some specific roles a parent leader may assume are listed below.

Within Circle of Parents, parent leaders can:

  • take calls from prospective participants, introduce new participants during group meetings and events, and provide new participants with information about the program and resources.
  • take responsibility for the physical setting of the meeting or event, including securing the space, setting up the room, making sure resource materials are available for participants, and breaking the room down afterwards.
  • make participants feel welcome by greeting each parent who comes to an event.
  • start a group activity with icebreakers or other “get acquainted” activities.
  • end a group activity by summarizing what happened or setting dates or times for next steps.
  • make sure everyone has transportation to and from the meeting or special event.
  • take attendance and keep notes during meetings.
  • share responsibility for a children’s program or child care.

Illuminate Colorado is home to the Colorado state chapter of Circle of Parents. Visit the Circle of Parents webpage to learn more about the program and to find a group that’s right for you.

How to Develop and Foster Parent Leadership

How to Develop and Foster Parent Leadership

Last week, we published Meaningful Parent Leadership and Why It Matters, a blog by Candice Bataille discussing the importance of parent leadership and how it fits into Circle of Parents. In this blog, Candice shares how to develop parent leaders within the Circle of...

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Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already the beginning of February. And that means it’s officially Parent Leadership Month. It’s a time designed to highlight the opportunities and engage in partnerships that support strong and lasting roles for parents as leaders. One...

read more
Mom, You’re Too Much

Mom, You’re Too Much

Working in the field of sexual assault prevention can make a mom a tad neurotic, no? When my three were babies, I added anatomically correct body parts to our sing-along songs “Head, Shoulders, penis, Knees and Toes.” My spouse would shake his head and laugh, “You’re...

read more
Reflecting on a Year of Supporting Colorado Families Affected by Substance Use During Pregnancy

Reflecting on a Year of Supporting Colorado Families Affected by Substance Use During Pregnancy

What a 2021 we had in our collaborative efforts to move towards a Colorado that equitably serves all families through prevention and reduction of substance use during pregnancy and provides multigenerational support for families to thrive! We wish you rest and rejuvenation as the year draws to an end. 

Everyone who contributed to our work this year–whether as a work group co-chair, work group member, or another kind of project collaborator–brought their unique perspectives and commitment to supporting Colorado families. As many of our members shared in our recent member feedback survey, compared to going it alone, we are more effective in achieving our goals together.

About the Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Steering Committee

The Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Steering Committee was established in 2008 and is a subcommittee of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force.

The Colorado SEN Steering Committee is tasked with identifying and implementing strategies for reducing the number of families impacted by substance use during pregnancy and for improving outcomes for families across the lifespan.

The priorities, strategies and activities of the SEN Steering Committee are guided by family voice experiences and leadership. Strategic planning, activity engagement and impact are each data-informed.

Reflecting on Progress We’ve Made in 2021

With the calendar year coming to a close, we wanted to reflect on some of our shared achievements in 2021:

    • Family Advisory Board and Steering Committee jointly developed Opioid Settlement Fund recommendations, which were presented to the Attorney General and Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force. We also began to explore a name change to better reflect our vision and values. The Family Advisory Board is also recruiting new members!
    • Data and Research Advisory Group provided recommendations for the Colorado Perinatal Substance Use Data Linkage Project and launched the design of a perinatal substance use data snapshot and outcomes dashboard.
    • FASD Awareness Work Group published a list of Colorado Providers Equipped to Diagnose Under the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Umbrella and conducted outreach to statewide organizations and networks of family-serving professionals in order to increase awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and offer the list of providers as a resource to share with families.
    • Plans of Safe Care Work Group updated the Colorado Plan of Safe Care document to reflect the newest evidence-informed best practices.
    • Policy Analysis Work Group developed a working draft of best practice organizational policy guidance around toxicology testing.
    • Provider Education Work Group developed and hosted an educational series on trauma-informed communication and care.
    • Lastly, in 2021 we launched our webpage–including information about our priorities, a subscription form, and a public calendar. Finally having an online presence feels like a milestone!

What’s on the horizon?

We look forward to what’s to come in 2022, including hiring a strategic initiatives manager focused on behavioral health systems who will support our efforts, and choosing a new name for our collective work. Onwards!

About the Authors

Diane Smith is a mother of three, a parent partner with Denver Parent Advocates Lending Support (DPALS) and chair of the Family Advisory Board to the SEN Steering Committee.

Dr. Kathi Wells, is executive director of the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect and co-chair of the SEN Steering Committee.

Jade Woodard is the executive director of Illuminate Colorado and co-chair of the SEN Steering Committee. 

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Mom, You’re Too Much

Mom, You’re Too Much

Working in the field of sexual assault prevention can make a mom a tad neurotic, no? When my three were babies, I added anatomically correct body parts to our sing-along songs “Head, Shoulders, penis, Knees and Toes.” My spouse would shake his head and laugh, “You’re too much!” Our parents were horrified. “Really?! You have to add ‘penis’ to a children’s song?!” I shrugged. I knew there was value.

As they grew, I reviewed safety guidelines with them so often that they used sing-song voices to repeat them back to me. I persisted. They knew that their private parts should not be touched or viewed by others, and that they should not touch others’ without consent. 

They understood that sometimes other kids and adults break the rules. They knew that abuse was never the fault of a child—at least they repeated that part back to me. They knew it takes courage to tell. “We KNOW, Mom! Stop! You’re too much,” they told me more than once. I worried about that—that my neurosis would translate into heightened anxiety in an already anxious world. I wanted to protect, not frighten. It’s a fine line, and I was never sure how elegantly I walked it.

When they entered middle school, I taped articles facing in on our glass shower door under the tag, “Mom’s Hot Topic Board”, complete with illustrated flames. The nature and substance of the articles changed over the years as they passed into high school. Articles about kindness turned to anti bullying. Articles about empathy turned to consent. “Be an Upstander!” they would preach. Eventually, the science behind the risks of vaping and marijuana made an appearance, as well as the risks of anal and oral sex. I was met with eye rolls, shocked faces. They couldn’t believe I would broach such sensitive topics. They shook their heads at me and felt sorry for themselves. Their friends’ moms weren’t so weird. 

In high school, our conversations focused on gender roles, identity and consent. We were well past sex ed. We connected bullying with sexual harassment and assault. We talked about why some survivors would choose not to disclose, why people enduring abuse might not seek help. My law-and-order one was mystified, my secretive one nodded, my contemplative one asked questions about systems. Sometimes their comments gave me a stomachache. This wasn’t easy. They often ended the conversations with “That’s enough!” or a child walking out of the room. I continued to worry. There I was, being a lot again. 

Now they are all in college. As I hear about parties, dorm life and the Greek system, I wonder – did I teach them enough? Are they equipped? Do they have refusal skills? Are they kind and socially adept? Are they confident upstanders? They have anxiety related to academics, and sometimes social situations, but that’s normal, right? They seem well adjusted, but did I go too far?

Questions about whether I’m too much ran through my mind until one of them called me from college. A friend had been sexually assaulted at a party. I was devastated to hear it. I asked what they did. My adult child had told the friend, “This is not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you were drinking. We can go to the doctor and you don’t have to report to the police, but I’ll help you if you want to. We can also call the Title IX office or an advocate if you aren’t feeling safe here. You get to control your story. I am here to support you no matter what you choose. You were brave to tell me.” I teared up with pride. They were listening all this time. I’m not too much. I am just enough.

Creating a Colorado Where Children Grow Up Free From Sexual Abuse: An Issue Brief on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in Colorado examines data and trends related to child sexual abuse in Colorado, highlights efforts to prevent this trauma and presents recommendations to advance prevention statewide.

About the Author

About the Author

Margaret Ochoa is a blog contributor helping to illuminate the protective factors in her family’s life by sharing her experiences through storytelling as a mother of three, one of the chairs of the Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition and the child sexual abuse prevention specialist at Colorado Department of Public Safety.  

Mom, You’re Too Much

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Working in the field of sexual assault prevention can make a mom a tad neurotic, no? When my three were babies, I added anatomically correct body parts to our sing-along songs “Head, Shoulders, penis, Knees and Toes.” My spouse would shake his head...

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Less than half of parents in Colorado aren’t doing this one thing that could protect their children from experiencing sexual abuse.

Less than half of parents in Colorado aren’t doing this one thing that could protect their children from experiencing sexual abuse.

“Today on 9news Mornings, we tackled a tough topic– one that makes many parents– and kids– uncomfortable yet one that desperately needs to be talked about: child sexual abuse,” said 9news anchor Corey Rose in her post in the 9news It Takes a Village Facebook Group following the story talking with Illuminate Colorado and a brave parent who volunteered to speak from experience to help prevent child sexual abuse. The It Takes a Village regular segments focus on news important for people parenting in Colorado. It is estimated that one in ten children will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen and up to 70% of children do not report it in the first year.  

WATCH THE VIDEO

Deborah Freedman, a single mother of three girls, volunteered to talk with 9news about how she first learned about the importance of talking child sexual abuse prevention at home. “When my kids were in preschool, the preschool brought in a parent educator, [I] learned to just prevent sexual assult, calling body parts by their real names made a huge difference,” Freedman said.     

Awareness Makes a Difference

“We know that using anatomically correct terms is a protective factor. It protects children against child sexual abuse,” said Anne Auld director of education for Illuminate Colorado. When parents were informed of this fact as part of a public opinion survey conducted by Illuminate it made a big difference resulting in 71% of parents were willing to use anatomically correct language once they learned it was protective. According to the Illuminate study providing insight and recommendations for preventing child sexual abuse in Colorado, less than half of parents in Colorado (47%) say they typically use anatomically correct terms. 

Let's Talk Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

This one change can make a world of difference for several reasons: 

  • The language we use at the earliest of ages promotes positive body image, self-confidence and parent-child communication, all important factors to preventing child sexual abuse. 
  • The use of anatomically correct terms also discourages offenders.
  • In the event of abuse, anatomically correct terms help children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process. 

“If there is a child that is talking about something that happened, we may not understand exactly what they are talking about. This is my knee. This is my elbow. If I am using other words instead of knee and elbow, why? Is there something shameful about these body parts?” said Auld during the interview with 9news. 

“There are things that we can do, like using anatomically correct language, which feels uncomfortable at first, but the more times you say penis and vagina the less interesting those words become, just like knee and elbow. If we can get used to saying those words, if we can overcome our fears, and our this just feels weird feelings, we are enabling generations after us to have less risk in their lives around abuse,” continued Auld. 

It’s an important time of year to be thinking about protecting your kids from sexual abuse, given that that many families are coming together to celebrate the holidays. It is those in a position of trust that most often victimize children – 90% of children who experience sexual abuse know their abuser, 40% of those children are abuse by another youth. 

Resources to support prevention and healing from sexual abuse:

Tip Colorado

More than 80 local authorized facilitators throughout Colorado are working to empower adults to protect children in every community in Colorado from experiencing child sexual abuse through the Tip Colorado Initiative launched in 2020. If enough adults in a community, including parents, take a FREE two-hour interactive online training offered weekly then, together, we can reach a tipping point in Colorado where children grow up happy, healthy and safe in communities that prevent children from experiencing sexual abuse. Visit TipColorado.org to sign up to be a part of reaching a tipping point to create new standards of child safety in your community.

New Research Provides Insight and Recommendations for Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

Creating a Colorado Where Children Grow Up Free From Sexual Abuse: An Issue Brief on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in Colorado examines data and trends related to child sexual abuse in Colorado, highlights efforts to prevent this trauma and presents recommendations to advance prevention statewide. Download the issue brief

Healing For Survivors

If you are looking for a network of supporters to aid in your healing process, WINGS supports adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to live their fullest, healthiest lives as they speak about, heal from, and thrive beyond CSA trauma. Visit www.wingsfound.org to find therapeutic support and connect to other survivors. 

Report a Concern

If you are concerned that a child is experiencing sexual abuse, call 844-CO-4-Kids (844‑264‑5437)

Available 24 hours a day, every day. Don’t hesitate to call and get help.

Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.

Eight Ways to Strengthen Your Family and Community Before the End of the Year

Eight Ways to Strengthen Your Family and Community Before the End of the Year

Since November 1, Illuminate has been shining a light on ways you can get involved and illuminating ways that you can strengthen your family and the families in your neighborhood this holiday season. If you feel strongly about supporting your community, protecting the kids in your neighborhood and would like to make it a better place for your family, your neighbors, and generations to come, here are some small but effective suggestions from Illuminate Colorado you can implement right now:

Get to know your neighbors 

The first step to assisting your community is to get to know the people that are a part of it. If you don’t already know your neighbors, invite them over to share a cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal. Check for local groups on social media or visit in-person community meetings to build up connections. Organize a fun activity to bring people together.

Last year, we started a new tradition –  luminary lighting at home – to build a sense of togetherness in the community at a time when we needed to stay a part, to stay safe.  It’s something that we don’t want to let go off and hope more people will join us in organizing a luminary lighting for your neighborhood to build those social connections and friendships we know to be so important when trying to prevent child maltreatment. Post your neighborhood pictures on Dec. 10 #LighttheWayCO to inspire others.

Create a Crisis Plan for Your Family

If the unthinkable happened tomorrow, what would your family do? If for some reason, you lost all of the resources and support that you rely on everyday to provide for your family, where would you turn? One way you can help strengthen your family and your community in the process is to make a list of resources, before you’re in a panic and overwhelmed with stress. Becoming more familiar with the resources and programs available to strengthen your family will help prepare you to be a better neighbor if someone you know should need some advice on where to turn to for support. 

Start a fundraiser

Charity begins at home, they say. Start a fundraiser for someone you know, your local school or an organization on your family crisis plan. It can be a great way to bring your community closer together and potentially turn someone’s life around at the same time. Set up a donation jar at your holiday party, collect what you can and give an unexpected gift to a nonprofit or family this holiday season. 

Volunteer your time 

In every community, there are countless organizations like food banks, youth groups, domestic violence shelters, CASA organizations and family resource centers. They always need a helping hand. Volunteering your time at one of these places is an excellent way to help many people. If you prefer something less official, you can always offer to help a parent who has their hands full with babysitting.

Inform new parents or a family in need in the neighborhood you are going to help

Let’s face it, asking for help is a really hard thing for most people to do. Offer it up. Don’t ask parents “what can I do to help?” Instead, take steps to get the neighborhood meal train set up, ask if they have any allergies and what days they would like dinner dropped off. The comfort in knowing there are people around you who support and care about you is a gift unto itself.    

Taking care of yourself is an important part of parenthood. 

Schedule time for an activity that can help you decompress, relax and recharge. Resilience is built by learning healthy coping skills and strategies to manage stress and function well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma.​ Take care of yourself, to take care of your kids.  

Incorporate charitable Giving into your business model. 

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, corporate social responsibility leads consumers to believe products are better quality. Consider donating a % of sales or proceeds as part of your business model. 

Pick an organization you’ve never given to before and give $5 on Colorado Gives Day 

If you live in Colorado, you likely know that nonprofits are trying so hard to let everyone know to schedule a gift for next Tuesday, Colorado Gives Day. Five dollars is close to the price of a cup of coffee, but we promise you, every little bit helps. Of course, if you have never given to Illuminate before, we hope you’ll think of us, but given that our mission is to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment, you can also help by giving to anyone of the thousands of other organizations strengthening families throughout Colorado. We build brighter childhoods, together.

Today is DAY 32.  

These are just a few of the 61 ways we are encouraging people to light the way toward brighter childhoods before the year is done. Today is DAY 32.  

If you took inspiration from one or more of these ideas, complete the pledge form to let us know that you promise to do one or more of these ways to make a difference and Enter to WIN the Light the Way Prize:

4 general admission entries to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (does not include surcharged temporary exhibits, IMAX, or Planetarium). All 4 entries must be used at time of admission. Entries expire 10/28/22.

Thank you to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for donating this Light the Way Prize to help build brighter childhoods in Colorado. A winner for this prize will be selected at random at 9 AM (MTN) on Tuesday, December 7 and notified at the contact information provided.

Five Minutes With My Congressman

Five Minutes With My Congressman

Recently, I had a chance to talk with an aide from the 4th district represented by Congressman Ken Buck about the FASD Respect Act (H.R. 4151 and S.2238).  This piece of legislation could change my family’s life and potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of families from having to follow in our footsteps. 

With no more than five minutes to plead my case, I initially thought of giving the Congressman a snapshot of our family’s life and all the ways exposure to alcohol before birth  has negatively impacted our son, now diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). But, I decided this wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. It sounded too much like a list of complaints, and I didn’t want to sound like a whiner because my son is a loving, good-humored, kind-natured, individual full of potential and resilience. Instead, I made a convincing statement of truth that, I hope, left an indelible impression to help convince our Congressman to co-sponsor  the FASD Respect Act, authorizing $118 million for FASD prevention, screening, identification, research, and FASD-informed services by federal, state, local, tribal and private stakeholders.

I used my five minutes to explain what the FASD Respect Act would mean to our family, the multitudes of families who have loved ones diagnosed with FASD and the many, many people in this country that don’t even realize that FASD exists. As it stands, FASD is a national epidemic of catastrophic proportions. One that few seem to be aware of. This needs to change. It is estimated that up to 1 in 20 U.S. school aged children may have an FASD. It’s 100% preventable and caused when a fetus is exposed to alcohol before birth. You may not realize this, but alcohol is the leading cause of preventable brain injuries.   

We did not find out our son had FASD until he turned 14. That is an injustice to him, more than anyone. We should have known about this the day we brought him home, through foster care, but so many people were (and still are) completely unaware of what FASD is – including the medical field! This means even more people in the general public are unaware and families who have adopted children are particularly unaware. 

 

Remember, this is a SPECTRUM disorder.  That means FASD presents itself in various extremes.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: This photo was taken by the author’s son while they were on a walk together.

We adopted our son, who has FASD, when he was only a few months old.  Symptoms were not easy to detect at this age and he was meeting most of his developmental milestones.  What would have been helpful was knowing that his mother was drinking alcohol when he was in utero. This is another major issue with FASD.  What issue is that you may ask? Getting women to actually share that they drank while pregnant for fear of public ridicule.  We, as a society, must not hold judgment over women who have done this.  Rather, they should be supported in what to do next.  Don’t stigmatize another human being when there are many areas that each of us can grow in and learn from about others and ourselves.

Symptoms in our son really started showing up when he was a little bit older in his infancy, mostly in the form of sensory processing disorder.  He was hyper-sensitive to certain sounds, certain bodily feelings and certain textures and tastes that caused him to become extremely agitated.  He would have complete meltdowns if the wind was too strong.  Little did we know that these were the beginning signs of FASD.  

As he has gotten older he’s shown even more significant signs.  These symptoms have included problem-solving skills (specifically math), memory issues (doesn’t remember something I literally told him 10 minutes before), ability to remain attentive (Over the Hedge- Squirrel!), difficulty in maintaining friendships (he has difficulty associating with his peers), and understanding consequences (I’ve tried every reward/consequence strategy in the book, to no avail).  You might be thinking, “This is just how teenagers are!”  I assure you, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Remember, this is a SPECTRUM disorder.  That means FASD presents itself in various extremes.  

Thankfully, information about FASD is becoming more readily available, but not nearly enough. The FASD Respect Act can rapidly accelerate the prevention and the education of the masses. If we had only known about our son’s FASD earlier we would have sought specific treatments recommended by professionals who knew what needed to be done once the diagnosis was made.  We informed our son’s pediatrician as well as others including the foster care system, various medical practitioners, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and school systems throughout the years about what we were experiencing.  Not one of them ever mentioned FASD as a cause. 

Still, it is the season of gratitude and I’m thankful that our son has his FASD diagnosis, and I’m thankful that I was heard by the Congressman’s office. I hear stories on shows like The FASD Success Show and read stories of adults who have come to this diagnosis later in life struggling to live independently, unable to hold down a job, or even getting into trouble with the law. These struggles later in life for families unaware of FASD in their lives will be so much more costly than not acting right now. The more we know the more we can act. The more we can act, the more we can bring about change. As much hurt, anger and sadness that FASD has caused our family, it has also brought out an absolute determination to bring about change; and given me an opportunity to connect with a “united front” of parents, adult survivors and organizations, like FASD United and the Colorado Chapter of FASD United – Illuminate Colorado, fighting for resources needed to increase education and prevention

We believe our son will continue to positively contribute to the world around him, but we also know he and every other individual with FASD can be much better represented and much better served if the FASD Respect Act is passed in the House and Senate.  

Our History Together

In 2017, the Colorado Chapter of NOFAS (now called FASD United) was among the four independent nonprofit organizations in Colorado that consolidated to leverage resources and increase capacity to more effectively prevent child maltreatment in Colorado. Since then, we’ve grown exponentially in service of our mission to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment.

LEARN MORE   

About the Author

This article was written by a father of  four beautiful children, three of whom have been adopted.  He is committed to sharing the experiences of his family impacted by FASD, anonymously, through the Becoming FASD Aware blog series to strengthen families and build awareness. 

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