On Wednesday, June 13th, the ChIPs mentors and mentees got together as a group for the very first time since the program began in January! This group mentoring activity was hosted at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Jason Vrooman, the Curator of Education and Academic Programs, spent a generous amount of time coordinating with his staff to ensure that our group received the proper support for our event (which included art materials relevant to the exhibits).
The group also took advantage of the outdoor space on campus. The mentors and mentees were able to play a few games while burning off some additional energy. Dottie, the ChIPs Mentoring Program Clinical Director, had everyone participate in an activity that helped “break the ice.” Mentors and mentees learned each other’s names by tossing a sock around a circle. This activity sounds silly, but it was a wonderful way for this group to meet one another and form a bond.
The event was especially important to the Safer Society Foundation staff, as it allowed time for us to assess how our matches are doing and determine what additional supports can be provided to maintain a positive experience for all as the program moves forward.
Congratulations to Katelen Fortunati, LCSW, author of the Safer Society ChIPs storybook series and Institute workshop presenter, for receiving her doctoral degree in clinical social work from Rutgers University this month!
Her doctorate focused on combining scholarship and practice. Her dissertation was titled, “Disrupted Attachments and the Global Health Implications of Parental Incarceration on the Child.”
The imprisonment of a parental figure has far reaching repercussions, that cannot be predicted, but forever alter a child’s life. Each child’s story and circumstance is different and must be honored, yet, the repercussion in each story begins with the loss of a parent to prison. Working for many years with children and families impacted by parental incarceration I have born witness to and found that losing a parent to prison is not a singular event; rather it is a dynamic process that unfolds throughout one’s lifetime.
If you are interested in learning a little more about the subject, visit Katelen’s website www.everysinglekid.org. Click on the “Need to Know” tab where she has posted a few excerpts from her dissertation in an easy-to-read format.
Earlier this month, the Safer Society Foundation hosted an evening of professional development and fun for the dedicated mentors of the ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support program. Mentors and program staff members broke bread (pizza, actually!) together at the Safer Society headquarters in Brandon, VT.
The evening started off with an interactive balloon activity conducted by the Clinical Director, Dottie Neuberger. This activity, which has participants keep a balloon in the air while solving word problems, can be used as a fun way to connect with a mentee and work on team-building skills (not to mention, you’ll get a good laugh out of it!). The daughter of a staff member was able to participate in the balloon game, which allowed the mentors to observe a child’s reaction to the learned activity. After all, kids are who we are here for!
Shortly afterwards, Program Director Erika Linskey led a brainstorming session to assist in planning summer fun activities for their mentees. Stories were shared about some of the wonderful moments that have happened between mentors and mentees in the program so far. One mentor even spoke about how the relationship with her mentee is completely reciprocal and it has added so much to her own life. Others nodded in agreement.
The Vermont Learning-Support Initiative (VLSI) provides mentors for another at-risk population, children with learning disabilities.
In this blog post, VLSI argues that children whose brains are wired differently deserve to be seen as different rather than as defective, as implied by the word “disability.” They propose using the word “neurodiversity,” as a more inclusive, affirming alternative to the prevailing mindset.
Some twenty years ago the word “neurodiversity” came into being, a gift from the autism community wanting to create a more inclusive, affirming alternative to the prevailing mindset of “disability.” In the neurodiverse framework, those whose brains are wired differently deserve to be seen as different rather than as defective.
Since that time, the concept has appealed to other groups whose labeling is similarly brain-based, such as those living with ADHD and dyslexia. It’s also been embraced by members of the educational community, most notably in Vermont at Landmark College, which just this year established a Center for Neurodiversity on its Putney campus.
It’s not a concept welcomed by all. Many education and health professionals resist it, preferring the accepted language of disability and deficiency. Disability-rights advocates are wary of its divisive potential. In each case, these are good people doing vital work; however, there are also compelling reasons to make room for the positive possibilities of neurodiversity.
The first reason might be that those sharing the neurotypical, aka “normal,” perspective are not always respectful that there are other perspectives on what is normal. A great many great minds have suffered from the imposition of this overly simplified way of looking at things, with results ranging from the incredibly courageous to the utterly tragic.
Secondly, there’s a huge potential cost to using a disability mindset where specific learning and attention issues are concerned……
Read the entire blog post here: https://www.vermontlearningsupport.org/1/post/2018/04/the-case-for-neurodiversity-in-vermont-and-beyond.html
The Barre Times Argus — a well-established Vermont newspaper — has published an opinion piece drafted by Safer Society Executive Director Mary Falcon and board member Michael Shank. In the piece, Falcon and Shank argue that the solution to Vermont’s over-crowded prisons isn’t funding a mega-prison, but working to reduce the prison population.
You can also read the op-ed on The Times Argus website by following the link: A Road Map to Reduction
We don’t need a mega-prison in Vermont. We need a mega-commitment to keeping people out of prison.
When Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille proposed building a new $150 million mega-prison in Vermont with taxpayer money — which CoreCivic (formerly the scandal-ridden Corrections Corporation of America) would build and lease back to the state — he asked, “how do we better take care of all of these populations?” We’ll tell you how. And it won’t cost Vermonters $150 million. It starts with Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan’s call for programs that keep people out of prison in the first place. While the AG’s ask may seem obvious, the state could do more to fully fund it. One of the AG’s recommendations is for more transitional housing, which is a lot cheaper than a mega-prison and essential in helping recently released inmates transition back into society and avoid repeat offending.
We support the AG’s position and would like to expand on how to reduce the population of re-offenders and parole violators. That is, offenders who are released after doing their time only to end up incarcerated a second, third or even fourth time.
What’s driving this recidivism, according to corrections research cited by The New York Times editorial board, is the hair-trigger parole and probation system. While it was originally built to cut costs and deal with minor offenses outside the prison system and reward good behavior and incentivize rehabilitation, it’s now driving recidivism. Rather than equipping the offenders with critical drug treatment or mental health care, they’re being sent back to prison for minor infractions or technical violations.
This isn’t a sustainable practice. According to the Vermont Department of Corrections 2015 Annual Report, more than one-third, or 36 percent, of the Vermont prison population consists of repeat offenders and parole violators. No state can afford this kind of prison population growth, certainly not cash-strapped Vermont. Especially when it’s preventable.
Other options are out there. The Columbia University Justice Lab, for example, recommends a judicial hearing before parole officers can jail people accused of technical violations. They also recommend that we should cap prison and jail terms for minor parole violations and shorten parole terms for people who stay out of trouble for specified periods of time.
This all makes much sense and would be easy to implement. If we follow this example, we could use the savings recovered from a reduction in the prison population to expand education, substance abuse treatment and housing opportunities for parolees who need considerably more help than they’re getting to forge stable lives in their communities.
Instead of taking $150 million from Vermont taxpayers to build a mega-prison that we don’t need, let’s instead fund programs that help Vermonters currently behind bars prepare for the challenges of returning to society and reconnect with their communities and their families. That’s a Vermont taxpaying dollar much better spent with much greater returns to the Vermont economy.
By providing vocational and life skills training, as well as individual treatment and group therapy for drug abusers, sexual offenders and persons with mental illness, we can get Vermonters back on their feet and no longer dependent on the taxpayer paid-for prison system.
Treatment works. We know this. This is what we do as a publisher and worldwide distributor of sexual offender treatment manuals. One of our authors, for example, who conducted a nationwide meta-analysis in 2009 found that sexual offenders who received treatment during their incarceration re-offended at the rate of 10.9 percent. Those who were untreated recidivated at nearly double that rate (19.2 percent). We know, firsthand, that re-entry programs and life-skills training are essential in helping inmates prepare for the roles and responsibilities necessary when returning to the community. And the data show that they’re successful, too.
By helping released prisoners find employment and rebuild their community connections, we also save lives and money. For only $5,000, we can place and retain an ex-offender in a job. That’s a lot less than the over $30,000, on average, to keep someone in prison for a year. If you look at prison-to-work programs in the U.S., recidivism rates for those employed after their release ranged from 3.3 to 8 percent. That’s a significant reduction from the average statewide recidivism rates of 31 to 70 percent.
But there’s more to it than just getting a job. If we want keep people out of prison, it’s going to take a village of volunteers. Circles of support and accountability, or CoSAs, help paroled offenders find homes, get jobs, adhere to the rules of their parole, relearn social skills and form community connections. Professionally supervised, these volunteers meet weekly with the parolee and substantially increase the likelihood of their successful reintegration and rehabilitation.
Vermont’s Department of Corrections has circles of support and accountability programming. Although relatively new, they’re already reducing repeat offenses and parole violations. Of the 21 ex-offenders in the Vermont CoSAs studied by Dr. Kathryn Fox of the University of Vermont in 2013, only one re-offended within a year of release. That puts the CoSA re-offending rate at 0.5 percent as compared with the statewide re-offending rate of 36 percent. Unfortunately, the limited funding provided to this program only allows it to serve a small proportion of the imprisoned population.
As Con Hogan, Vermont’s widely respected and admired former state corrections commissioner and human services secretary, said in his Feb. 1 testimony before the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, “reducing the number of inmates should be our first priority, not building more beds.” We couldn’t agree more. As stated above, the road map to reduction is clear. We know what works. We’ve seen it. Now, it’s up to the state to fund it.
In the begining of December, we donated copies of the ChIPs Storybooks to New Hour for Women and Children, a non-profit that provides support for children and mothers during and after incarceration. They recently shared with us how these storybooks have impacted the children and families of their program in Long Island, NY.
Dear Safer Society staff,
We are deeply grateful for your organization’s support of your holiday gifts of ChIPs Storybooks for our New Hour children. The items donated were very much appreciated by our mothers and children visiting a loved one in Suffolk’s jails. We were moved by your empathy for our families. Often visiting a parent or loved one in jail can be overwhelming for anyone, but for a child it can be especially traumatic. Your donations were greatly appreciated by the children who left the visiting room with smiles as they left with a new book.
Your support will continue to make a powerful difference in the lives of women and children who remain often voiceless on Long Island and we are deeply grateful. We look forward to working with you next year.
The Safer Society Foundation has announced the addition of Judge William K. Sessions III to the nonprofit’s Board of Directors. Sessions is a noted jurist and is currently a Senior United States District Judge for the District of Vermont.
“Bill supports the work we do,” says Jean Rosenberg, long-time Safer Society Foundation board member. “He is especially eager to work with us to build our ChIPs Mentoring and Circles of Support Program, as he has a long-standing interest in programs and policies that mitigate the impact of parental incarceration on children and families.”
The ChIPs Mentoring and Circles of Support Program is a burgeoning initiative of the Foundation. It connects children of incarcerated parents with a mentor and a support group.
“We look forward to working with Judge Sessions,” said Mary Falcon, Safer Society’s executive director. “His wisdom and years of experience in the justice system will greatly enhance our ability to build effective programs to serve Vermont children and families of incarcerated parents.”
For more about the ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support Program, visit our website.
Safer Society Foundation has received a $2,500 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Small and Inspiring grant program. The grant will help further Safer Society Foundation’s mission of mitigating the impact of parental incarceration on children and families in Vermont.
According to the U.S. Government Office of Juvenile Justice (2013), children with incarcerated parents fare even worse than other at-risk youths on a range of mental and physical health outcomes and educational achievement. In combination with other sources of risk and adversity, parental incarceration increases the likelihood a youth will become involved in antisocial and delinquent behavior, leading to the increased likelihood of incarceration in adulthood.
Central Vermont’s need for a program such as the ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support Program—a mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents enhanced by a comprehensive, all-around support system—is undeniable. Underscoring this need is the fact that 6,000 Vermont children every year have at least one parent in jail or prison.
“Our research on the effectiveness of conventional mentoring programs in Vermont shows that they do not provide the long-term commitment and wrap-around services these at-risk youngsters need,” said Executive Director Mary Falcon. “We believe that children of incarcerated parents (ChIPs) need long-term, dependable support—not just one-on-one but many-on-one—to help build the skills and community connections required for them to reach adulthood as productive citizens of their communities rather than burdens and liabilities.”
Through its Small and Inspiring grants program, the Community Foundation hopes to help foster the spark and hope that keeps Vermonters healthy and happy by finding and supporting projects where a small grant can make a big difference.
Safer Society Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit umbrella organization consisting of the Safer Society Press and the Fay Honey Knopp Institute. The mission of the Press is to publish books, videos, and podcasts that help build a society safe from sexual abuse and personal violence. The mission of the Institute is to minimize the harmful impact of parental incarceration on children and families. ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support is a program of the Institute. Earnings from the publications of the Press help fund the work of the Institute in Vermont. To learn more about us, please visit us at www.safersociety.org or call us at 802-247-3132.
The Vermont Community Foundation is a family of hundreds of funds and foundations established by Vermonters to serve their charitable goals. It provides the advice, investment vehicles, and back-office expertise to make giving easy and effective. The Foundation also provides leadership in giving by responding to community needs, mobilizing and connecting philanthropists to multiply their impact, and by keeping Vermont’s nonprofit sector vital with grants and other investments in the community.
Visit www.vermontcf.org or call 802-388-3355 for more information.
Addison Independent – http://www.addisonindependent.com/201712safer-society-receives-grant-improve-programs
On November 2nd, the Fay Honey Knopp Institute held a workshop called Using MI Techniques to Spark Achievement Motivation in Children & Youths. The workshop was held in the meeting room at the Middlebury Regional Emergency & Medical Services facility.
David Prescott, MSW, LICSW, Clinical Services Director of the Becket Family of Services in Maine, discussed processes and skills that build on a fundamental spirit of approaching interactions with an attitude of partnership, acceptance, and compassion, with a goal to evoke the youth’s own motivations for change.
The audience expressed that they appreciated the insight that was provided, and the time David took to interact with them.
Learn more about our workshop program by clicking here.
Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass a law giving children of incarcerated parents a “bill of rights.” According to Street Roots News of Portland, the new policy is intended to minimize the trauma children experience when a parent is in prison.
Advocates hope that by establishing a bill of rights for the children of incarcerated parents, Oregon’s state agencies – human services and the criminal justice and foster care systems, especially – will create policies that reduce trauma experienced by children and allow them to maintain stronger ties with their imprisoned parents.
Read more about the new bill of rights law here.
Last month, Erika Linksey (Program Director of ChIPs Mentoring and Circle of Support) had the chance to sit down and hold a short interview with Beatrice Lozada of Prison Families Anonymous Long Island, New York.
The Prison Families Anonymous is a support group that provides a safe, non-judgmental place where those who have a loved one who is incarcerated can connect with each another. It provides compassion, support and information to these family members.
During the interview, Beatrice shared with us the difficulties she faced throughout her childhood due to her father’s incarceration. She speaks about how she and her siblings maintained a relationship with their father through visits to the prison, letters and phone calls. Beatrice informs us that even after her father’s release from prison, keeping that relationship has been just as challenging.
“He doesn’t talk about his emotions very much,” Beatrice said, “but he did thank me for never giving up on him.”
You can view the short interview, Beatrice Lozada Shares Her Story of Parental Incarceration below. If you have any questions after viewing, please feel free to leave them as a comment on this blog post.
The Fay Honey Knopp Institute (part of the Safer Society Foundation) is proud to introduce Erika Linskey as the Program Director of the ChIPs Mentoring and Circles of Support program. Erika has worked with the Safer Society team since 2015 developing new programs to help children of incarcerated parents (ChIPs).
Erika earned her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts from Penn State and her Master of Arts in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado. She is a former teacher from Colorado and has maintained a life-long career in teaching and childhood advocacy. She serves on the Granville (Vermont) town School Board and volunteers at Warren Elementary School as a science workshop teacher for the Four Winds Nature Institute.
“I became interested in working as director for a mentoring program because it met my desire to help kids holistically,” Erika explains. “As a teacher I was restricted to working with children during classroom hours which was difficult because during my years as an elementary art teacher in Colorado I saw the need for children to have more adult guidance outside of the classroom. The ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support program helps kids be successful in school while providing a support network for them outside of school.”
We are very pleased to have Erika on our team!
Learn more about the programs and resources developed by the Fay Honey Knopp Institute to help mitigate the impact of mass incarceration on the millions of American children and families effected by parental incarceration.
On Monday, July 31, the Fay Honey Knopp Institute hosted a workshop with presenter Dr. Jill Levenson. The focus of the workshop was trauma-informed practice when working with children, especially kids with parents in prison. The audience consisted primarily of counselors and mentors from around Vermont and nearby New York and New Hampshire communities. The even was held at the Counseling Service of Addison County facility at Catamount Park in Middlebury. Here’s an excerpt from the workshop:
Thank you to the 40 mentoring and school-related volunteers and professionals who attended and contributed to the success of our workshop on Trauma-Informed Practice, presented by Dr. Jill Levenson, at the Counseling Service of Addison County in Middlebury on Monday July 31st.
Many thanks as well to the folks at CSAC for allowing us to use their excellent conference facility. We look forward to sponsoring more such trainings for the Vermont community of helping professionals in the future. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the first issue of Safer Society’s Fay Honey Knopp Institute Newsletter, follow us on Facebook (Click Here!), and check back at this website to track the progress of our ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support program.
Many thanks again,