Setting the Groundwork for a Strong Family

How long would it take for your home to collapse if it lay atop swaying stilts?

Just like a house, having a solid foundation is paramount to the families we serve. Without proper foundational support, families are subject to stressful conditions and instability. A solid and stable foundation is vital to the health and longevity of a strong and resilient family. So, what makes a family strong and how can we put it into practice?

Research has shown that families with strong “protective factors” have increased health and well-being, resources, support, and coping strategies to parent effectively, cope with adversity, and prevent child abuse and neglect. One tool used to help strengthen families is identifying and implementing the “Five Protective Factors.” The Center for the Study of Social Policy describes the five protective factors as:

characteristics or strengths of individuals, families, communities or societies that act to mitigate risks and promote positive well-being and healthy development. Most often, we see them as attributes that help families to successfully navigate difficult situations.

The Five Protective Factors include:

Concrete Support in Time of Need. Families who can meet their own basic needs for food, clothing, housing, and transportation—and who know how to access essential services such as childcare, health care, and mental health services to address family-specific needs—are better able to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.

Parental Resilience. Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well as occasional crisis, have resilience; they have the flexibility and inner strength necessary to bounce back when things are not going well. For more on Resilience see our blog post from last month here.

Social Connections. Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves.

Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development. Children thrive when parents provide not only affection, but also respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe opportunities that promote independence.

Social and Emotional Competence. Children’s early experiences of being nurtured and developing a positive relationship with caring adult affects all aspects of behavior and development.

These five factors could mean the difference between family breakdown or the strengthening of a family during difficult times. Any of us could face significant stress on the family, from a debilitating injury of the sole working parent, to a illness of a grandparent that takes resources or even a parent away from the core family. All families will face adversity at some point or another, these five factors can help protect and strengthen your family to weather the storm.

How will you use the Five Protective factors to strengthen your family?

Contact our Family Services Center today for more information on resources that Thompson provides to strengthen children and families.

Written by Kimberly Keefer

The Charlotte Resilience Project

The Charlotte Resilience Project is a community initiative focused on creating awareness of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trauma and toxic stress, providing information and resources on trauma-informed care and resilience, and leading mobilization efforts to support successful outcomes for children and families.

In 1998, Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published a study, titled the “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or the “ACE study”, one of the largest investigations ever conducted to determine the connection between childhood trauma and poor life and health outcomes.

This ACEs research had some striking findings:

    • The higher the ACE score, the higher risk for chronic disease as an adult including, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and cancer. There was a 20-year difference in life expectancy for children left untreated for high ACE scores.
    • There was a direct link between ACEs and mental illness, high risk behaviors, incarceration, and work issues such as absenteeism.
    • ACEs are incredibly common. In this study of more 17,000 participants, two in nine people had an ACE score of 3 or more, and one in eight had an ACE score of 4 or more.

Researchers also began to study and highlight the impact of toxic stressprolonged stress without the resilience-building support of a positive adult—and learned that this type of stress impacts the functions and structure of children’s brains. They noted that intense stress and adversity can change children’s brains and bodies; disrupting behavior, growth, immune systems and learning; leading to an increase in attention deficits, learning disabilities, hyperactivity and anxiety.

With a mission to create a healthy, compassionate, resilient community, the Charlotte Resilience Project is leading work to educate and empower the community to better support children and families through trauma-informed care and resilience-building strategies.

Thompson CEO, Will Jones, member of the Charlotte Resilience Project’s Executive committee, shared why Thompson Child and Family Focus is supportive of this work,

As an agency that focuses on providing hope and healing for children and families, we understand and see the value of an initiative like the Charlotte Resilience Project. They are shining a light on the impact of trauma, and creating awareness to galvanize our community not only to take action to prevent ACEs, but also to build resilience in children and adults. Like us, they are clearly working to ensure that a traumatic history in childhood doesn’t result in a negative outcome or destiny as an adult.

One way to get involved is to host an event to show the film Resilience, which highlights the ACE study and the impact of trauma on the brain. Additionally, the Charlotte Resilience Project focuses on mobilizing the community as a partner to build resilience through the work of Resilience subcommittees in various sectors including: early childhood, education, corporate, faith, healthcare, justice, legislative, and nonprofit.

With that in mind, the Charlotte Resilience Project invites all community stakeholders to participate. “This is a “with” effort, not a “to” – we are serving as partners to help convene, facilitate and empower our community,” said Elizabeth Trotman, the project’s manager. “We invite everyone, parents, pastors, providers, educators, administrators, professionals, neighborhood leaders…everyone to get involved. ACEs impacts all of us, and it will take all of us, working together to build a resilient community.”

Ways you can get involved:

    • Host a showing of the film Resilience, at your place of worship, school, or club.
    • Sign up to receive trauma-informed and resiliency training to enhance your role as a parent, teacher, service provider, community leader or volunteer
    • Sign up to participate on one of the Resilience subcommittees to help drive the work in the specific sectors: Early Childhood, Education, Corporate, Faith, Healthcare, Justice, Legislative, and Nonprofit.

What can I do as a parent?

    • Take the ACEs test, and know your score.
    • Determine if your child has a high ACE score.
    • Download this parenting guide.
    • Reach out to obtain behavioral health/ therapeutic services if needed and/or contact the Charlotte Resilience project to obtain information on Resiliency tools and training
    • Advocate for ACEs training and screenings in your school, doctor’s office, etc.
    • Know that you are NOT alone

For more information, contact Elizabeth Trotman at the Charlotte Resilience Project at
For more information on ACEs and trauma-informed care, visit

The Importance of Early Childhood Reading

During the early years, reading sets children up to be successful.  At birth, children start to absorb the use of expression and language though reading.  As babies develop and begin to “coo” it is at that moment that they begin to master language.  This is an important piece that enhances the development and prepares children for school later in life.  As we engage in language with children from infants up to school age, we limit ourselves in the words that we use which also limits our expressions.  In order to increase the opportunities of learning, reading to children often helps build upon their vocabulary and its use.  Children should be read to daily as this ensures exposure to different words, phrases and their uses.  The more words they know, the better they comprehend.  Reading to children also helps promote concentration and a child’s ability to focus.  With consistency, children will learn patience as they wait for the reader to turn pages, as they sit quietly and listen, and as they learn to take turns as they begin to want to participate in reading.  Consistency in reading encourages togetherness as the child is being read to.  This helps create and maintain bonds with parents and caregivers as it can be most shared one on one and helps develop social and emotional skills needed throughout the life of the child.

Reading not only develops verbal communication, but it helps develop a child’s imagination and their creative side.  This, in turn, supports developing friendships as they learn to socialize, rationalize, and begin to show emotions as well as sympathy for others.  Providing daily readings to children, based on a variety of topics, help them to use their imaginations as they make decisions.  When asking children what they want to do or be when they grow up, it is the exposure to reading that helps them experience endless opportunities of being someone or something different.  This type of reading helps them develop an understanding of differences in others physically and this awareness to differences allows them to adapt to changes easily and more frequently.

When reading to children, keep in mind that what you read to them is just as important as how long you read to them.   Allow children the opportunity to express what they have gained from learning.  According to your child’s age, children should read or be read to at least 15 to 20 minutes a day.  Research states, “the impact on reading to your child twenty minutes a day exposes them to 1.8 million words a year!”

How to Set SMART Goals for your child in 2019

You may have heard the term “SMART goal” in the past, but how does this apply to familial success? Well, children of all ages need goals to be specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and timed. Curriculum such as Incredible Years and Nurturing Parenting walk parents through the most effective and rewarding systems for correctional training.

Specific. Specify exactly what it is that you need your child to do. Set out notes or a board of reminders so the child can see this and be reminded clearly and effectively each day of their goals or expectations. With older children, sitting down and having a conversation about expectations is typically beneficial.

Measurable.  How are your children measuring their goals? Are you held accountable equally as much as they are in their new expectations? Children need praise and tangible rewards to know their adults are noticing the good behavior that is asked of them. Try setting up a reward chart or coin jar to measure their compliance. For example, when your child has taken their shoes upstairs 10 times, they receive a small incentive or extra privilege.

Action Oriented. It’s important that children are encouraged to take action for their new goal and equally given opportunity to be successful. Parents commonly complain about lack of household organization or children being non-compliant with hygienic rules. In those instances, we ask our parents, “How tangible is this plan?”. If a child is being requested to clean up their toys, do they have a toy bin? Is there a designated space for this task? Furthermore, is the parent scheduling time for the children to play and giving them the opportunity to clean up afterwards?                                     

Realistic.  How realistic is your goal for the child? Often times when a child is not meeting an expectation it’s because they are either not willing to or they are not able to. In some cases, it is both. By assessing the child’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZOPD), one can revise an expectation and better support the child’s growth and development. For example, maybe doing the dishes is too advanced for one child, but not drying the dishes with assistance from dad.

Time Limit. Small wins are important. Even as adults, goals that are too daunting can be discouraging. By setting goals that are achievable short term, children have more opportunity to succeed. Additionally, cumulative goals can be set for children who need more support and guidance in one area. If the goal is for a child to clean their room weekly, and it just hasn’t been happening, maybe we should start by focusing on making up the bed, putting away shoes, or folding clothes first.

Just How Important Is Encouragement?

One of The Incredible Years’ most discussed topics is the topic of Praise and Encouragement. While being nice and noticing the positive behavior in children is something that feels good to them, it is also crucial in their growth and development. The Incredible Years tells us this,

“Often parents are unsure about how to and when to praise their children. They recognize that children should be praised for special things, but seldom feel it necessary to praise the simple, everyday things children do, such as sharing toys or brushing their teeth. These behaviors are often taken for granted. In fact, many parents think children are “supposed to know” how to behave without praise or rewards. However, expecting a child to function with praise or encouragement is unrealistic.”

The curriculum continues to tell us that children are more likely to repeat behaviors that get them attention. Think of this as the “Attention Principle”. The great thing about this principle is that it can work in both ways. When a child is misbehaving, a parent should not give attention to this behavior. In result, the behavior is less likely to reoccur. On the flip side, when the child is demonstrating behavior that a parent wishes to see more of, that child should be praised and rewarded. This praise encourages the child to continue behaving this way.

Parents are the child’s first and primary teacher. Though teaching is done in many ways every day, praise is an effective way to motivate a child to reach their goals and your goals. Recognition is important to children because they base many of their decision on feelings and emotions. So, if they don’t feel well, they probably won’t do well. Children of all ages are constantly discovering a desire for autonomy and how to self-regulate. In the meantime, parents must be available to support and encourage these children to reach their goals and keep trying.

Furthermore, a parent must learn to cater their praise the child’s goal. If a child is struggling with temper tantrums, perhaps the parent should complement the child when they notice they are calm. This demands a call to action from the parents- to catch children being good. If that same child is winding down for dinner and sitting politely at the table, perhaps the parent should cater a praise like this, “Thank you so much for being calm at the dinner table. I like spending time with you this way” rather than, “It’s about time you stopped throwing your tantrum!” Below are some more tips on how to cater praise to a specific behavior.

• “You do a good job of ….”
• “You have improved in…”
• “I like it when you….”
• “Wow what a wonderful job you’ve done of….”
• “Look how well you did in ….”
• “That’s very nice (or good) for…”
• “I’m so happy you…”

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


I Pledge