Thankfulness is next to Mindfulness

What it means to have a seat at the table.

 

            Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and we have plenty to be thankful for here at Thompson. This has been a banner year for us, serving further and wider than ever before. When my family and I sit down at the table for dinner at our home in Waxhaw, I will have plenty to be thankful for myself. 

            Our work at Thompson affords us the opportunity to look into the lives of others who have seen more hardships, and challenges than many of us. It can open our eyes to a world outside of our own, a world that I believe is hidden behind the explosive development across Charlotte.

            The last census of Mecklenburg County showed a population of approximately 1,076,837 people. But a census isn’t a perfect science, and in the case of social services in our county, a faulty estimation can have serious consequences.

            It is estimated that 73,000 children ages 0-5 live in hard-to-count census tracts. If these children go untracked, the state possibly stands to lose more than $5 billion in federal investments that support children’s healthy development. These investments come in the form of child care subsidies, Head Start, nutrition support, and health care—all benefits that would serve the areas most vulnerable children (Early NC Childhood Foundation).

            This Thanksgiving, while we tuck into our turkey, we cannot forget the 12% of Mecklenburg County who are living in poverty. Of that 12%, 699,754 of them are living 500% below the poverty level. At least 44% of children ages 0-5 are living in a household earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

            To paint a picture, the Federal Poverty Level for a family of three is defined as a total annual income of $18,552 and so 44% of these children are living below $37,104 (200% of the FPL). Our community, our neighbors, are suffering.

            These are more than statistics to us at Thompson, they’re pieces to the puzzle. Did you know there is a significant association between poverty and mental illness in the US? Research done by the McSilver Institute for Poverty and Policy Research has shown that the relationship is bidirectional, meaning poverty may exacerbate mental illness and mental illness may lead to poverty.

            The health, physical and mental, of the entire family unit, is affected by poverty. It’s a bitter cycle. One study based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that the odds of a household experiencing food insecurity increased by 50 to 80 percent if a mother had moderate to severe depression.

            Still, studies show that families living in poverty struggle to connect with mental health services they can access.

            This Thanksgiving, it is imperative to be grateful. Be grateful for what we have been given—others have not been as fortunate. Be grateful for what we have worked for—some are unable to work for themselves. And finally, be grateful for the ways we are capable of helping and giving to others—some are sitting at their tables hoping that next year they will be able to return the favor.

Wishing a happy and blessed holiday to you all.

Will Jones.

5 Ways to (Re)Involve Your Family in Thanksgiving

When it comes to Thanksgiving, the “reason for the season” is different for everyone. However, the common themes are usually family, food… okay, and football. We come together with our loved ones to share an over-the-top meal that is often so stressful it results in serious bickering fueled by hot kitchens and hotter tempers.

So when did family fall out of Thanksgiving? When did the stress of the holiday keep us from creating memories with our loved ones in favor of hours in the kitchen? Bringing family back into Thanksgiving can be a way to strengthen bonds, foster a sense of belongingness, and ease the tensions of the day. Therefore, I present to you, five easy ways to get the whole family involved in the holiday.

  1. Food Prep: The saying “there’s too many cooks in the kitchen” can sometimes feel all too literal on Thanksgiving. It’s crowded and you have lots of mouths to feed, so having your kids trying to help you on the day of might not be possible. However, if you’ve got a fridge or freezer, you can do some meal prepping with your kids that will not only take things off your plate, but help your kids feel valued and included in the day. Some great tasks (that don’t involve knives if that’s a concern) can be making pie crusts, cranberry sauce, mashing potatoes, or putting together a salad!

 

  1. Family Giving Activity: Leading up to the holiday, try involving your whole family in an act of kindness. All together decide on something, whether it be collecting cans or volunteering at the food bank. Make it a collective decision so everyone “gets to” participate versus “having to”. Doing good as a family will enrich the meaning of the holiday and present a great opportunity for you all to work together.

 

  1. Hosting: On the day of, your house will be filled with shoes, coats, and hungry friends. Prep your children to take on some of the hosting duties to give them a real task that will help them feel valued, not just busywork. Collecting coats at the door or bringing drinks or appetizers to your guests are great! Not only will this give them a chance to practice some social skills, it gives you the chance to put your attention elsewhere so you can get to enjoying the day sooner!

 

  1. Clean up: I know what you’re probably thinking. You can’t get your kids to help you clean up after a meal on any other day, what makes Thanksgiving any different? Well, I bet your kids don’t get up at 6 am for school every day with a smile, but Christmas morning is a different story. Capitalize on the special occasion and bring the whole family back into the kitchen to clean up. Put on some music, put on the game, but set the expectation that this is a team effort. Watching how quickly the work gets done with everyone pitching in will set a great example and you might surprise yourself with the fun you can make out of the situation.

 

  1. Game: You know your child best, and maybe cooking and cleaning can’t capture their attention. Consider instead tasking your family with making up a game for everyone to play after the food. Allow your kids to be the game leaders, again helping them to feel valued and excited about the project. Some of these minute to win it activities are great for the whole family!

 

So take a breath. Remind yourself that this should be a day of fun and family. While things could be done quicker or “better” if you do it on your own, try to carve out the time to include your children and spouse. Your family is your team! And remember, you are still a picture perfect parent in our book if Chinese takeout and pizza is your families idea of the perfect Thanksgiving!

 

Happy Holidays!

Jenn Stout

Director of Family Education

Mental Healthcare Reform

This season almost everyone is encouraged to get his or her kids a flu shot. For many, it’s the best prevention method against getting sick. Millions of people line up to get a shot without much of a second thought. Trends like this are common when it comes to looking out for our children’s physical health. So why is it that preventative methods for protecting our mental health aren’t taken just as seriously?

Healthcare is a hotly debated topic in our country. Here at Thompson we firmly believe that mental health be taken just as seriously as our physical health. With that being said, we’ve got a fairly great need on our hands here in Mecklenburg County.

To shed some perspective, there were 182,929 children ages 5-17 years in Mecklenburg County in 2016. Of those children, 10,294 used Medicaid for mental healthcare.

This isn’t new information to the community. Mental disorders are recognized as the leading cause of disability in the US for ages 15-44. In fact, the 2017 Mecklenburg Community Health Assessment ranked mental health as the number one community health issue.

The mental health epidemic is eating away at the youth in America, manifesting itself as school-based violence, increased suicide rates and bullying, depression, and other effects resulting from the milieu of mental illness.

Yet half of all Americans STILL do not seek mental health treatment due to stigma or a lack of access to care.

With 11% of Mecklenburg County residents uninsured, what are we doing to ensure the safety of mind and body for our youth?

I challenge us, as active participants in our community, to consider the positive effects of reformed health care emphasizing inclusivity and comprehensive mental health coverage. Consider the benefits of early intervention and advocate for infant mental health coverage (ages 0-5). Take a critical look at your child’s school-based services and consider the benefits of added resources. These ever-growing gaps in treatment and coverage are prohibiting us from doing the best for our children.

With the midterm elections one week away, these are key issues on our minds here at Thompson. As it stands, North Carolina has currently not expanded Medicaid coverage. If it were to be expanded, Governor Cooper estimates 624,000 residents would become newly eligible for coverage, 208,000 of which are currently in the “coverage gap”.

I acknowledge the strides that have been made. The $35 million allocated to school safety efforts (including mental health initiatives) in the NC General Assembly FY 2018-19 budget will undoubtedly bring great things to our schools. But when the spark of progress has been ignited the worst possible thing we could do is deprive it of its oxygen. We must continue to learn and reform along with the growing research landscape.  We must finish strong and invest in quality services for our children.

Have a great weekend Thompson, if you have a spare moment click here to take the pledge to stand with Thompson

-Will Jones

Trick or Trauma

Trick or Trauma:

A quick guide to keeping Halloween safe and fun for children who have experienced abuse & neglect.

 

If you’ve ever watched a scary movie, or been to a haunted house, you probably know that sometimes it’s fun to be scared. On Halloween, trick-or-treating turns your familiar neighborhood into a spooky walkthrough for just one evening of fun-loving frights.

But for some children, being in a state of fear is their normal. The monsters in the night live with them in their homes.

Nearly 700,000 children are abused annually in the U.S. 90% of the time the abuser is someone the child knows or trusts. While these children may appear fine on the surface, the damage inflicted on them is deep, altering their behaviors and ability to make sense of the world around them.

So, for one night where fear is used as a tool for fun, how do we as a society take on a trauma-informed perspective when celebrating this holiday? That’s all it is, really. It’s not a reinvention of the night or a censorship of fun. Behaving in a way that’s trauma-informed is just a way we can each learn to do better. An exercise in empathy that will go on to protect more children and foster stronger relationships with all of our peers.

Here are five easy tips you can take to make your trick-or-treating experience trauma-informed and safer for children:

1. Good lighting on your porch or indoors: For many children, PTSD from abuse is triggered at nighttime when they are alone in the dark with their thoughts and memories. Good lighting at your home will create increased visibility which can give a child a deeper sense of security when approaching an unknown space.

2. Make sure your pets are prepared for visitors: loud and aggressive noises are another thing that could potentially trigger a child who has experienced abuse. Your doorbell will be ringing pretty frequently on Halloween, so be sure your pet is prepared or removed from your entryway to avoid undue stress on your visitors (and your pet for that matter!)

3. Do not invite children inside your house: Children who have experienced trauma have a flawed foundation when it comes to building healthy relationships with adults. While you may be the nicest folks on the block, it’s important not to put a child in a compromising situation where they are forced into your home and potentially afraid to say they are uncomfortable. You could be contributing to their fear and further fracturing their trust of adults.

4. Try not to cover your face: If you are planning on dressing up as you hand candy out, try to avoid covering your entire face. At the very least take off any full-face mask when addressing children. Allowing them to see your face can help quell a fight-or-flight response if they’re able to assess your expression.

5. Don’t take a lack of “manners” too personally: While you’re not crazy to wish that each child greets and thanks you after you give them candy, it’s important not to take it too harshly when a child simply strolls off or makes sparse eye contact. Again, so many children with adverse childhood experiences have limited positive interactions with adults. This often results in some underdeveloped social skills. Just have patience, and try not to villainize all children for a lack of manners. Instead, try to smile and empathize with each child. Be a part of a teaching moment and create a positive experience for a child whose life hasn’t always been filled with the chance to practice these social niceties.

Now that you’re informed, have a safe, happy, and fun Halloween! And while you’re at it, click here to take the pledge to stand with Thompson.  

 

Matt Simon

Clinical Director

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This October here at Thompson we have been taking time to observe Domestic Violence Awareness month. Every day our staff witness the devastating toll domestic violence has on its victims. What is often less spoken about is the affects domestic violence has on the entire family unit. I just left a local domestic violence shelter, where children largely outnumber the mothers.

According to National statistics, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. That’s roughly 10 million women and men each year. Domestic violence can manifest itself in many ways: physical violence, emotional abuse, stalking, and threats. In extreme cases, it can even result in violent crimes such as rape or homicide.

According to these same studies, 1 in 5 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these kids are eyewitnesses to this violence. This actually lends itself to more children in foster care than need to actually be there. In my 24 years as a human services professional, I have seen first hand how child welfare systems react to children that witness domestic violence in the home. Unfortunately, systems can often re-traumatize children in an effort to “protect” them by removing them from both victim and the perpetrator. This practice can and must stop in an effort mitigate trauma and allow the victim and the child to access the needed services to be safe and ensure well-being.

So how does a family recover from so much trauma? How do we break the cycle of violence in the home? One of the most important points we try to communicate through family education is that children believe what they see at home is the normal standard for behavior. This means that children who experience violence in the home are fiercely impacted by it. But the effects of violence are not a life sentence. The difference maker comes when you break through the secrecy that often hides violence in the home from the outside world. Children who are given outlets, such as counseling, that allow them to cope with the trauma of living in a violent home can create healthy processing of these experiences and drastically reduce their chances of carrying on the legacy of violence into their future homes.

If you or a loved one is caught in an abusive situation know that there are resources who are ready and willing to help. The first step is making sure you are safe. Here are some resources here in North and South Carolina that can help safely remove you from the violence in your home.

The next step is difficult, but it’s the key to ensuring that the violence doesn’t linger in your family like a cancer. When considering resources to help you heal, it’s imperative you seek help for the entire family unit. They key to healing is focusing on positive family relationships. Trauma early in a child’s life can also result in developmental delays, so making sure your child is receiving early childhood educational supports will also ensure they’re put back on the track towards success.

Thompson’s Child Development Center and Community Counseling Center offer services that focus directly on reversing the impacts of adverse childhood experiences and family violence. Allow us to help you heal and we promise to work tirelessly to ensure your families success.

In honor of this month, we invite everyone to take the pledge to help Thompson protect our community and be an ally to the victims of domestic violence. Take the pledge here and share it with others. You never know who might need to hear your message of support.

Will Jones

President/CEO

I Pledge

We’ve Got Pre-K News!

Here’s some exciting news… this month, Thompson joined Mecklenburg County in their initiative to clear the child care subsidy waiting list and provide universal Pre-K to 100% of 4-year-olds. The counties most recent census has shown that there are 22,107 children under age five who are eligible for a child care subsidy. Did you know that of those children, only 19 percent of income-eligible children receive assistance? This means that over two-thirds of future students, residents, taxpayers, and employees in this city are operating at a deficit upon entering their 12-year educational journey.

The CDC has long broadcasted the statistic that kids achieve 90% of their adult brain volume by age 6. But in Charlotte, a little less than half (40% to be exact) of third-graders can read at grade level. Outside of reports, presentations, and task forces, these statistics have faces. They are mainly the faces of the low-wealth children who, without access to the fundamental foundations to education, will only continue to carry on the cycle of generational poverty as they continue to struggle against the gaping economic gap in our city. A gap that hides behind the headlines of luxury apartment buildings colonizing areas once considered affordable. At Thompson, we believe that Early Childhood Education (ECE) will be the great equalizer.

ECE has been cited as one of the most beneficial aspects of increasing social capital for the economically disadvantaged according to the CDC. Fundamentally, it minimizes the gaps in school preparedness. From there, once a child has access to a Pre-K program, it can begin to address the adverse childhood experiences common for children in low-income families. These early interventions can avoid or reduce the developmental delays that compromise a child’s healthy development ultimately inhibiting school readiness.

Mecklenburg County is all in for increasing ECE opportunities. Six-million-dollars-and-then-some-all-in. Thompson has answered the call for assistance, and we want to empower other childcare agencies in the area to do the same.

We’ve developed partnerships with both CMS and NC Pre-K to open up slots in our 5-Star Child Development Center to children who fall under the subsidy and children who are at risk of developmental delays.

In total, we’ve begun by serving 36 children on our expertly developed curriculum, which started this September. We opened 3 new classrooms at the center and brought on four additional staff to maintain our 1:9 child to teacher ratio. We utilize the Creative Curriculum for Infant, Toddlers & Twos, and Preschool, a research-based program that fosters skills like language, social-emotional, cognitive and literacy all focused on kindergarten readiness.

In addition, we’re providing bussing for children within a six-mile radius of our facility, which is located in the West Boulevard Corridor. To accommodate for working families the center also operates on extended hours opening up 6:30 am and closing at 6 pm. These additions to the center were made specifically with increasing economic mobility in mind. Special attention is paid to ensure parents feel just as supported and empowered as the children.

Overall, this growth model we’re creating is projected to continue serving all the children who fall under this subsidy, or in other words need the Pre-K but simply can’t afford it. And we’ve seen results. Our outcomes from last year showed an increase- 85% of children reaching their developmental expectations. We also have a significant effort in place to continue the progress of our children after they graduate. Thompson’s strength as an organization is that our services operate on a continuum. When a child enters Thompson (either at our child development center, in foster care, or residential services) they become wrapped in all we have to offer. We can and do continue to serve these children through outpatient therapy, family education, and most recently Friends of the Children.

We’re excited to take that momentum into this school year and even on to the next. We’re preparing to grow even more as Mecklenburg continues to expand its programs. All of the information regarding program openings and updates can be found on our website (www.thompsoncff.org) and you can contact us using a form built into the site to schedule a tour of the center or put your child on our list to be considered for admission. We also offer mentorship to childcare agencies in need of support.

As we roll into 2019 the time for planning is passed. Our city is growing and we have identified the largest faults in the foundation. At Thompson, we are now holding ourselves accountable for delivering results. As teachers, parents, donors, and residents, we deserve action!

Help us win $25,000!

From August 15th – 31st Capital Bank is running a contest to celebrate 25 years of giving! They have invited nonprofits across the Southeast to submit a 60-second video showing them how our organizations could use these funds. You can vote for Thompson every day by visiting this site. You can also check out our video below!

If our amazing “Friends” and two of our fantastic kids didn’t convince you, we thought we would break down exactly what $25,000 could do here at Thompson. For some context, $25,000 could provide…

  • Almost two and a half years of paid, professional mentoring for one of the children in our Friends of the Children program. 
  • It could pay for 338 hours of therapy
  • 56 days of Psychiatric Residential Treatment for a child

Helping us make a difference has never been easier. Be sure to #VoteThompson the next few days and share with all your family and friends!

5 Habits You Should Create with Your Children Before School Starts

Have you seen it yet? It’s there, popping up when you’re trying to watch the evening news or in the background while you pour your morning coffee. Back-To-School commercials are upon us. That can only mean one thing…school is close, but not tooo close (they always start these ads too early!)

With the countdown on, it’s a great time to start developing healthy routines and habits with your children. Especially elementary-aged kiddos! The great thing about the school year is the structure it provides for young minds. As adults, we may be bored by the predictability of our routine lives, but children have been proven to thrive on routine. It assures they are eating, sleeping, and socializing regularly, which are three keys to school success!

Children are impressionable. We may have even seen our own kids picking up on some of our own habits (the good and bad). So, it only makes sense to create these positive behaviors and habits while they’re so eager to learn and grow! With everything we know about the importance of early childhood educational objectives, here are a few things you should focus on building routines around to ensure your child has a leg up on the school year and in life!

1. Reading: Just because kids aren’t in school doesn’t mean their brains can’t stay active. It’s so important to create stimulation and challenge your child’s imagination throughout the year. Reading from an early age can give children a leg up when it comes to developing strong verbal and written skills, which goes on to predict a great deal of future success! 

Bonus tip: Weekly trips to the local library are a great, free, summer activity for all ages. Cool down between the shelves and let your little ones explore!

 

2. Healthy Snacking: The temptation to snack on junk food while the kids are home is very real. However, healthy snacking is so important for physical and mental health! Help your child get in the habit of reaching for some nutritious options versus sugary snacks with no health benefits. They’ll thank you later for helping them form these habits early.

 

 

3&4. Bedtime and Wake-up Time: Being out of school often means children are able to sleep in and ditch their early morning scramble to catch the bus. But maintaining a regular bedtime is going to keep your child’s internal clock in check and ensure that they get the amount of sleep they need to stay healthy. Just as important is making sure your child doesn’t sleep the day away. Sticking to a “lights on” rule every morning might not be their favorite, but it’s to their benefit. Spending the day asleep and the night awake is harmful to a child’s cognitive development, and it’ll make getting into the school-year routine that much harder. Children need structure, and maintaining the same habits throughout the year will mean they will always stay on track!

 

5. Cleaning Up: It’s great that summer can allow children to play all day. After all, play time is just as important in a child’s life as the rest of their schooling. However, it’s important that kids continue to be held accountable for picking up their toys, making their beds, and cleaning up after themselves. If we let these rules slide during the summer how can we expect children to do this the rest of the year? Fostering that appreciation for their home and their items will help your child understand the value of respect.

 

The main takeaway? Children are SMART, and they are in a very formative time in their lives. It’s important to give them the proper tools that will set them up to be kind, intelligent, and self-sufficient young adults!

Looking out for your mental health in the summer

July is here and before you know it the dog days of summer will be here too. With kids out of school, it may seem like you’re struggling to find a minute to yourself to breathe. The summer is typically known as a time to kick back and relax, but perhaps you’re feeling the exact opposite of zen.

Looking out for your mental health in the summer is just as important as any other time of the year. Here are a few tips to help you harness that sunshine and use it to fuel your depleted mental energy!

5 Easy Tips to take care of your mental health this summer

  1. Excercise– Excercise is one of the best ways to boost those natural chemicals in your brain that elevate your mood. During the other months of the year, we’re often forced into the gym to get our sweat on and, let’s face it, the gym is NOT for everybody. Take advantage of the perfect evening weather with a post-dinner time walk around the block. Even that small amount of activity and fresh air can do wonders for a busy brain!
    1. Bonus tip: Leave your headphones at home! There are immense sensory benefits to allowing all your senses to enjoy the outdoors, including hearing! Fill your brain with chirping birds and save the tunes for a car ride.
  2. Use Your Vacation Time– There are tons of travel deals floating around in the summer months. Cash in some PTO and take a long weekend. Set an intention to use that time to indulge in a little self-care. Read a book, take a long lunch, meet up with friends. You’ll be surprised what investing in yourself can do for your mental health.
  3. Take a Social Media Break– Social media is really just a highlight reel. And sitting down and scrolling through other people’s amazing beach and vacation photos can really drag you down. But comparing yourself to other people all the time is incredibly unhealthy. Take a week, or if you’re adventurous enough, maybe a month, and just delete the apps from your phone. A little mindfulness goes a long way.
  4. Let in the Sunshine– Sunshine has tremendous impacts on your mental health. Beyond even just getting Vitamin D (which is important in moderation). Open up the shades, and let in the light. Allowing light into your home, office, and living areas can be a simple step to boost your mood.
  5. Keep it Cool– Getting a good night’s sleep is an easy way to set you up to be in your best head space. The optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Farenheight. Your AC is already cranked in the summer months, so make sure it’s set especially cool during the evening when it might be tempting to sleep with the windows open.