April 22, 2014

Elsa Tietje Wins Kidsafe Collaborative’s “Outstanding Promising Professional Award”

Posted in Awards, Events, Lund Early Childhood Program (LECP), Residential, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 2:26 pm by Lund

Elsa's colleagues (from L to R)  Ginny Prentiss, Collin Cope and Jadranka Gubic joined her to celebrate.

Elsa’s colleagues (from L to R) Ginny Prentiss, Collin Cope and Jadranka Gubic joined her to celebrate.

The room was packed at the 25th KidSafe Collaborative Awards Luncheon and everyone was there to celebrate the achievements of six fantastic individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies the mission of KidSafe to work together to improve the community’s response to child abuse and neglect.   One of the honorees was Elsa Tietje of Lund’s preschool who won the ‘Outstanding Promising Professional Award’.  Director of Residential and Community Treatment Services, Kim Coe, introduced Elsa. ” She shows exceptional commitment and focus on being the best teacher she can be.  Elsa’s creativity and love of play is evident in the glitter and paint that covers the walls  – and sometimes the children – in the classroom.  Elsa understands the importance and the power that relationships play in the power of healing.   She truly is an example of excellence in the field of early childhood education and we are grateful for the inspiration and hope that she brings to her work every day.”  Elsa has worked at Lund for two and a half years but was also involved with the organization while a student at UVM.

Excutive Director of KidSafe, Sally Borden, presented Elsa with the award,  ” Your kind and nurturing approach and your inspiring dedication to reaching the children that need you most have increased the safety and well being of children  in our community.”

Kim Coe introduces Elsa (center in white) with Judy Harvey, Childcare Coordinator at Lund.  Sally Borden of KidSafe Collaborative listens from the far left.

Kim Coe introduces Elsa (center in white) with Judy Harvey, Childcare Coordinator at Lund. Sally Borden of KidSafe Collaborative listens from the far left.

Elsa is a quiet but powerful leader in the classroom and can effortlessly move from light moments to challenging situations, always with the well being of the children at the heart of her interactions.  One recent morning, the children in her classroom were enjoying free playtime before the routine of the day.  One little girl was hanging around Elsa’s neck and she was pretending not to be able to find her and asking her delighted friends where she was.  “Has anyone seen Tina?  I don’t know where she is, can anyone see her?”  The children were laughing and commenting that Elsa seemed to have extra hands and feet on her body.  Elsa followed their lead and seamlessly integrated mathematics and basic biology into the game, “How many feet should I have, Bryce?  2?  Well I seem to have 4.  That’s 2 too many.”  All the while holding a 25lb weight on her back without missing a beat.  The child on her back didn’t say a word but her smile said it all.  Another girl approached Elsa and her attached friend and tried to push her way into having a turn.  Elsa defused the situation and explained calmly to the second girl that her behavior wasn’t appropriate and helped her to find a different way to ask for a turn.  Another child arrived having fallen over on the path on the way in and needing some extra love as her mom departed for the day.  Elsa scooped her up in a big hug all the while taking a headcount to make sure she was still in ratio with the number of children in the classroom.  It was a feat of love, education and multi-tasking all before 9am!

Elsa understands that her role extends far beyond the classroom and she works intensively with parents outside the classroom to ensure that they have the resources and information that they need to build strong families and help their children to succeed.  One parents says, “Because of Elsa, my family is stronger, less stressed and more creative.”  Elsa also works closely with the staff at Lund’s residential treatment center to ensure a family-centered team approach to helping the families who live there.

Upon receiving the award, Elsa immediately turned the focus away from herself and thanked Lund, especially Kim and Childcare Coordinator, Judy Harvey, “Lund has really taught me everything I know about how to be a good teacher.  We really can change children’s lives one day at a time.”

Governor Peter Shumlin, Senator Bernie Sanders, Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Doug Racine and Attorney General Bill Sorrell all attended the luncheon and gave speeches thanking the honorees for their hard work. “There are all kinds of great people out there and great things that help,” said Senator Sanders in his speech.  “So my job, and the job I think of the congress, is to get our priorities right and recognize that the future of this country is with the children and we have got to do everything we can to protect those kids. I just want to thank of you for the work that you do every single day, thank all of the recipients who are being recognized today and thank them for all that they do and let’s keep going together.”

Governor Shumlin made reference to the problems of opiate addiction faced by so many families in this state, ” One of the things when I started talking to Vermonters about our opiate challenges and the many other challenges, was a number of people who are struggling with addictions, moms, would say to me, ‘You know when I was finally ready to face my addiction, when I bottomed out, when the blue lights were flashing, when I got taken away to go and choose between treatment and incarceration in many cases, it was my kids that suffered the most because they had no one there for them when they came home from school that day.’”  It is those kids who are being helped, loved and cared for by Elsa and the many other wonderful staff members at Lund who are doing the difficult but extremely important work of helping families in Vermont to break cycles of poverty, abuse and addiction.

The luncheon celebrated 25 years of the work of KidSafe Collaborative in the state and the important partnerships that have occurred under their umbrella. It was a gathering of many important people who dedicate their professional lives to the safety and wellbeing of children and to making Vermont a wonderful state in which to grow up.  From Elsa making the difference in a child’s morning to Senator Sanders preparing to run for the U.S. Presidency in 2016, people in Vermont should be enormously proud of the work happening here.

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Governor Shumlin with all the honorees.

 

 

April 10, 2014

Flying Pig Bookstore Supports the Storybook Program

Posted in Donor Spotlight, Events, Kids-A-Part, Volunteer Spotlight tagged , , , , , at 12:07 pm by Lund

When Justin, aged 7, hears a bedtime story from his mom, she is actually miles away from him at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) where she is incarcerated.  Yet every night Justin and his mom can share the experience of a bedtime story thanks to the Storybook program run by Kids-A-Part.  Moms are helped to record themselves reading stories and then the recording and the book are given to their child.  It is a simple but extremely important way for moms and children to stay connected despite the distance between them.   Justin can hear his mom’s voice any time he wants to.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This is having long-lasting impacts on American society. There is a growing awareness that incarceration is not solely a hardship for the inmates, but children of incarcerated parents are the largest most at-risk group of at-risk children. The Bureau of Justice estimates that on any given day there are more than 2.4 million children in the United States with a parent in prison. The number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled since 1991; an increase of at least 131% over the last 20 years. The Vermont Department of Corrections reports that 994 women sentenced to prison terms between October 2010 and October 2011 had between them 848 children.

During the month of April, the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne is collecting books to be donated to this program.  It’s very simple to go into the store, choose a heart with the title of a book written on it hanging from the ceiling and buy the book with a 20% discount.  The books will then be brought over to Lund where the Kids-A-Part staff and volunteers will bring them to the correctional facility and start reading.  “People come in at this time of year and it helps them to think outside themselves and what the Easter Bunny is going to bring them, ” says Josie Leavitt, owner of the Flying Pig.  “Parents have kids pick the book that they loved most when they were younger and it gives them a chance to think about helping someone else.  Sometimes people are nervous about the moms being in prison and I tell them to get over it.  You can buy a book and help a kid out, why wouldn’t you?”

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The connection between Flying Pig and Lund began several years ago when one of marvelous volunteers (Thanks Susan!) approached Josie about helping the Storybook Program because she saw the store was supporting The Children’s Literacy Foundation, an organization that promotes reading to low income children in Vermont and New Hampshire.  Josie immediately agreed as she saw this an extremely important program as well.  The Flying Pig now alternates their support of both organizations between Valentine’s Day and Easter each year.  A visitor to the Flying Pig quickly gets the impression  that reading and community are the top priorities for Josie – local authors are highlighted, community events promoted and the whole time I was browsing in the store, Josie was on the phone calling customers to let them know that the books they ordered had arrived.  The store is located at the center of Shelburne Village and it couldn’t be a more appropriate location.

The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne

The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne

The Storybook Program is run at CRCF by Lund volunteer, Laura Crain, who goes into the facility once a month to record the mothers reading.  My favorite part is talking with the moms about their children, hearing the love in their voices as they describe their children’s personalities and achievements.  I also really enjoy preparing these amazing voice recordings of the mothers reading the stories,” she says. 

This program could not happen without Laura’s work and without the generous donations from the Flying Pig Bookstore and their customers.  So please if you are in Shelburne, visit the bookstore and buy a book.  You’ll be helping an incarcerated mother, a child and a wonderful local business for years to come.

“To actually be able to send them a part of me, my voice reading them a story, as well as the gift of a book and personal message is such a blessing. I thank you all for this from the bottom of my heart. I can never tell you what joy this has brought me and my children.”    From a participant of the Storybook Program in the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Piper Kerman Goes Back to Prison

Posted in Commentary, Events, Kids-A-Part, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services tagged , , , , , , at 7:27 am by Lund

When Piper Kerman came to Vermont last month to speak at UVM about her book ‘Orange is the New Black’ and her experience of incarceration she didn’t just swing on to campus and leave four hours later and she also didn’t spend her time shopping on Church Street and eating Ben and Jerry’s, she visited the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility not just once, but twice.  Piper’s life might be very different than many of the women at CRCF but she really is putting her words about being a spokesperson for women in prison into action.   It must be hard to walk back into a facility after you have been incarcerated but it seems as if this is quite a common occurrence for Piper.  While in the facility she spoke to around 100 women about her experience and offered advice.   “She told them to really form an alternative story in their minds of their return home and to hold on to it.  To be prepared for people to pull you back into the lifetsyle that led to incarceration but to have concrete plans in place so the temptation to fall back into life as it was is decreased,”  says Jo Berger of Kids-A-Part who attended the talk.    Kids-A-Part is Lund’s program that works with incarcerated mothers and their children and caregivers in the community.

Women in the facility had heard of the book and of Piper Kerman though few had seen the TV show as Netflix is not shown inside the facility.   One woman spoke up and told Piper that she had had a copy of the book when she was in segregation and that it had really helped her, that she felt like Piper was in the cell with her.  Perhaps this was why Piper returned to CRCF the next morning with a tall stacks of copies of ‘Orange is the New Black’ to distribute.

Piper Kerman’s talk at UVM did little to address the larger problems leading to women’s incarceration – poverty, abuse, the position of women in society, addiction – but that wasn’t really her purpose.  She wanted to tell her story and to remind everyone listening to her in that privileged academic setting that they themselves were only one or two steps away from a very different life.  In the correctional facility she wanted to show the same thing.   She was once in the shoes of the women she was talking to and that they also were only one or two steps away from a very different life.  One that they could reach if they had firm goals and took advantage of resources available.  Piper has a foot in both worlds and she is using that unique position for good inside and out.

Crystal Fisher and Jess Kell of Kids-A-Part with Piper Kerman in the Kids-A-Part space at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

Crystal Fisher and Jess Kell of Kids-A-Part with Piper Kerman in the Kids-A-Part space at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

 

 

April 9, 2014

A Review of HBO and The Shriver Report’s “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert”

Posted in Commentary, Review tagged , , , , , at 7:18 am by Lund

Katrina Gilbert allowed cameras into her life for a year and the result is a thought provoking and heart wrenching documentary produced by The Shriver Report and HBO intended to show what life is like for one of the 42 million single mothers living in poverty in this country. 42 million women with 28 million children.  Katrina Gilbert is employed, she cares deeply about her kids and their future and she is trying all the time to make her situation better.  But she continually faces agonizing choices and setbacks from a system that at times seems to be actively preventing her from succeeding.  In order to attend her job as a certified nursing assistant she sends her three children to a daycare that is open 24 hours a day and can accommodate her early starts and late nights.  She spends a lot of time in the car, picking up children, dropping off children and running from errand to errand paying bills and picking up groceries.  This is a woman who does not often sit down.  She is exhausted and constantly stressed but she finds the energy to be a steadfast support to the elderly inmates at the care home where she works.  “You’re my buddy,” says one with an anxious quiver of questioning in his voice. “Always,” she replies.  For this physically and emotionally draining work, she is paid $9.49 an hour and after taxes takes home $730 biweekly which is eaten up instantly by rent, daycare fees, phone bills, storage rental.  She cannot afford the medication that she needs and in one sad scene at the beginning of the documentary sells the family puppy for $40 to buy food.   Despite all this work and worry, she is still an engaged and loving mom to her three kids.  She makes them pancakes, takes them to feed the ducks in the local park, brings them to the beach in the summer and helps them overcome their fears when their feet don’t touch the ground.  But she also has to take them with her to do her taxes in an insalubrious neighborhood long after bedtime, drive them for four hours to meet up with their father who is unemployed out of state, drop them off at 6am for a 12 hour stretch at daycare while she looks after the family of other people.  Katrina’s life is hard and she struggles and her kids know it.

One of her biggest struggles is trying to get out this situation.  She applies for college but is denied funding, she moves in a with a boyfriend so that her ex-husband can move into her previous residence and take a job he has secured nearby but the boyfriend’s house promptly floods and large parts of it are unlivable, she gets a raise but it’s only 11c an hour.  The more she works, the more her foodstamps are cut, it is a situation that seems destined to grind her into the ground.  No matter what she tries, she cannot seem to get ahead.  Her life is a serious of tradeoffs and tenuous, temporary situations.  There is no security, no guarantees for the future. It is hard to imagine anything changing.  It is hard to imagine that the life of her kids will be much different from her own.  Yet Kristina is doing all that she can.  The film constantly questions a society where a hard working woman is barely keeping her head above water and does not know from one week to the next how her life is going to be.  There is no light at the end of the tunnel.  This woman is barely surviving.

At the preschool graduation, the speaker promotes time and time again the importance of education.  The preschoolers are lined up in their red and yellow gowns holding their diplomas and you cannot help but wonder for how many of them this will be the only graduation they attend. Katrina’s young daughter, Lydia aged 5, poses with her brother and sister , her messy blond hair falling out from under her graduation cap, and smiles a gap toothed smile for her mom who snaps a picture with her cellphone.  This is a scene played out all over the U.S. but when Lydia walks out of the door of that gymnasium she is already walking a path divergent from many other kids.

The graduation scene is one of the few bright spots of this documentary which in so many ways just leaps from disaster to disaster.  Katrina is the one holding it all together – her life, her kids’ lives, her ex-husband’s life, her new boyfriend’s life, the kittens who have inexplicably shown up on their doorstep their lives too – but she is rapidly become unstuck.  Watch this film and think about this woman and the 41,999,999 others like her.

At Lund we help women to break these cycles of poverty, abuse and addiction with our integrated, family-centered treatment, education, family support and adoption services.  Each of them, like Katrina, has her own story of struggle and hardship to tell.  We are full of hope that when women leave Lund they are leaving with a strong chance to move beyond this paycheck to paycheck existence and to build bright futures for themselves and their children.

HCProg

April 7, 2014

“Hello, hello, hello Spiderman” – Music in the Preschool

Posted in 50 Joy Drive, Employees, Lund Early Childhood Program (LECP), Volunteer Spotlight tagged , , , at 8:10 am by Lund

I happened to be heading to the Preschool to talk to one of the teachers one Tuesday morning and walked into a lively and entertaining music and movement session that I really had no choice but to join.  Led by enthusiastic volunteer, Julia Smith, this musical playtime happens once a week.  Julia was connected to Lund through her applied internship class at Champlain College and sees her volunteer placement as very connected to her academic interests, “In the future, I am interested in working with young children that have family issues, as well as family systems and dynamics. After talking to my professor and other classmates and researching Lund, I quickly learned it would be a great fit for me.”

Julia has a  quiet and gentle way with the children and holds their interest with a variety of songs and finger rhymes.  The children have already developed their favorites.  “Let’s do the scarves,” they say reaching for props that Julia has brought with her.  “You forgot to do the name song,” says one little girl who has obviously been holding out for her favorite.  Julia discusses which song she means and starts right in.  All the children want a turn with their names and things are running according to standard appellations until one boy stops to think about his name.  Julia knows his name but she doesn’t hurry him, she waits until he decides whether he wants to offer his name or something else.  “Spiderman,” he says.  Without batting an eyelid, Julia sings his verse to him, “Hello, hello, hello Spiderman, nice to see you, nice to see you…”  This, of course, starts a trend.  We sing to ‘National Guard’ next then ‘Cinderella’, ‘Princess Belle’, and ‘Batman Spiderman Sam’.  “Could we just do Batman?” asks Julia. “No,” comes the reply.  So we sing, “Hello, hello, hello, Batman Spiderman Sam, nice to see you, nice to see you.”   Each of the children takes a turn dancing in the middle of the circle dancing or jumping while they are being sung to.  Though Batman Spiderman Sam stays in his spot, absolutely still with a shy but big smile on his face.  He’s had a hard morning and didn’t want to join in with the singing at first.  He backed away from the group and started to get out other toys and was angry with his teacher when she tried to redirect him to the group.  But with the teacher’s guidance, he couldn’t stay disconnected for long.  By the time his turn in the song came, he was completely engaged.

Julia singing and playing with scarves with the preschoolers.

Julia singing and playing with scarves with the preschoolers.

“I think the biggest benefit for the children participating in signing, rhymes, and music together as a group is the high positive energy and uplifting effects that it gives. Children can feel accomplished because they are creating something and doing it as a group creates unity and bonding for those involved,” says Julia.  “I love seeing the joy the children have while singing. I have never seen a singing child that is sad while doing it. It is a great feeling to see the children happy and enjoying themselves.”

Everyone at Lund is very thankful to Julia and the fun music that she brings into the preschool each week.  We could not offer this and so many other opportunities to our children and families without the hard work of the hundreds of volunteers we have each year.   On this first day of National Volunteer Week, thank you Julia and thank you everyone who volunteers at Lund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 31, 2014

“The New Face of Heroin” – Rolling Stone comes to Vermont

Posted in Residential, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 1:33 pm by Lund

There is much discussion this morning about an article in Rolling Stone magazine focusing on heroin use in Vermont.  It’s an eight page spread delving deep into the story of a female addict, now in recovery, as she speaks about her descent from a fully functional, independent life using her considerable talent working with horses, to the craven, hollow existence of an addict sleeping in the back of her car.  The article features interviews with Peter Shumlin, T.J. Donovan, Bob Bick from the Howard Center, and Matthew Birmingham of the Vermont Drug Task Force.  While not offering much in terms of how the problem of heroin and opiate addiction can be solved, the article is well written, relevant and heart wrenching.   It ends with the positive notes in the life of the young woman featured, who is now living at Lund, awaiting the birth of her baby in July.  “I just want to give this baby a home.  My goal is to be a normal, boring person,”  she says.

But the discussion happening is not really about the problem of addiction in Vermont and what the solutions might be, or commenting on the bravery of this young woman as she struggles hard with her disease.  People are almost exclusively talking about the use of the image below on the second page of the article.

Rolling Stone April 2014

Comments on Facebook have called the picture offensive, distasteful, misleading and “an insult to the hard working sugar makers in Vermont”.  Two local TV news stations are running pieces on the picture and the reactions it is provoking.  Their facebook newsfeeds are alive with outrage and argument.  Sadly, it seems that the words of the article and the problems of heroin addiction in Vermont are being largely ignored.

There are so many things in Vermont to be proud of and the tradition of maple syrup production is one of them but people in Vermont reading this article should be proud of the work that Lund is doing as well.   136 women in the community and 80 women and their 93 children  at our residential treatment center benefited last year from integrated family-centered treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.  Lund has been serving Vermont’s most vulnerable children and families since 1890.  That is a tradition to be proud of as well.  Let the discussion be about more than this image.

 

March 27, 2014

“A Hand to Offer” – Kids-A-Part Volunteer Highlighted

Posted in Kids-A-Part, United Way, Volunteer Spotlight tagged , , , , , , , , , at 8:41 am by Lund

Jessica Ellerman - Kids-A-Part Volunteer

Jessica Ellerman – Kids-A-Part Volunteer

Jessica Ellermann began volunteering for the Kids-A-Part program in November 2011 because the program connected two of her interests – children and criminal justice.  “As a nanny, I am used to being around kids, but I also appreciate the opportunity to get a different perspective on the criminal justice system. My goal is to be a lawyer and for that I think it is essential to have a diverse perspective on crime, offenders, the system, and society,” says Jessica.  This unique opportunity to support children as they visit their mothers inside the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility allows Jessica a perspective that most do not have.  “My favorite moment is when the mothers enter the room and you can see everyone’s faces light up with joy.  The mother-child bond is precious and should be protected as much as possible. Kids-A-Part encourages mothers to play with their children in an environment that resembles a daycare rather than a correctional facility,” she says.  The Kids-A-Part room is full of books, toys and games that the moms can enjoy with their children.  They can sit together on the couch, hold hands and snuggle up together.  This is not permitted in the regular visiting room at the facility.

Jessica’s prime responsibility is to walk the children from the lobby at CRCF, accompany them through security and escort them to the Kids-A-Part room.  The adults who bring the children to the facility to visit their moms cannot go with them into the visit and so Jessica’s role is essential, “Being greeted at the door by a warm and knowledgeable volunteer, like Jessica, reassures grandparents, fathers and other caregivers who entrust us to bring the children they are responsible for into a jail,” says Jo Berger, Community Case Manager for Kids-A-Part. “Volunteers are also crucial because they carry the little ones and all their bottles and binkies in and out of the facility!”

Jessica remains in the Kids-A-Part room during the visit and is available to play with one sibling while another spends some one on one time with mom or to just be there for support and continuity for the children.   When it is time to leave, Jessica is there again to ease the transition.  “Saying goodbye to Mom is difficult, but the walk out is much better when Mom is able to say, ‘This is my friend Jessica, and she is going to hold your hand until you get to the lobby to Gramm’.  It would be awful to notice a child struggling and not have a  hand to offer him or her,” says Jo.

This experience has been rewarding for Jessica herself, and something she can use in the future, as well as being so important for the children and their caregivers.  “My work with Kids-A-Part has been a valuable experience. The program has certainly changed my views on crime, punishment and its consequences. Knowing how prisons affect our community and the individuals involved will prove to be an important tool throughout my career.”   Jessica plans to return to her native Germany this fall to finish law school.  She will take moving memories  with her that she won’t forget, however far her work and life takes her from Vermont.  “We have a holiday party every year, which I always find very rewarding. During this visit, the children and their mothers get to celebrate the holidays in the warmly decorated Kids-A-Part area. We usually start out with a pancake breakfast and then offer a variety of activities such as cookie decorating, singing in front of the tree, giving gifts etc. The holidays are a time to cherish love and should not be missed by children even if their mothers are incarcerated.”

Thank you, Jessica, for your important work helping to reduce the impact of a mother’s incarceration on her children.   You have truly made a difference.

March 26, 2014

Piper Kerman Shares the True Faces of Incarcerated Women

Posted in Events, Kids-A-Part, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services tagged , , , , , , , , at 12:11 pm by Lund

22 years ago when Piper Kerman was an undergraduate at Smith College, her life was probably very much like that of many of the audience members at last night’s talk at UVM.  She’s white, middle class, educated and privileged.  She’s also a convicted felon who, in 2004, spent 13 months in a federal correctional facility serving a sentence for a crime she committed in her early 20′s.  We know this story well thanks to her book, ‘Orange is the New Black’ which was adapted into a hugely popular Netflix TV series of the same name.   Piper is unlike most women who spend time incarcerated and she could have turned her back on them and her whole experience when she left prison in 2005, but she didn’t.  She wrote the book and gave her acquiescence to the TV series which deviates in many ways from her experience and is now expanding into a second season the narrative trajectory of which has long left Piper Kerman behind.   She could have turned her back then but again she didn’t.  She is currently on the board of the Women’s Prison Association and travels widely promoting prison reform and giving voice to a growing population of women who don’t have the same opportunities to be heard.

Piper Kerman on stage at UVM's Davis Center March 25, 2014.

Piper Kerman on stage at UVM’s Davis Center March 25, 2014.

The room was packed at UVM and of course some were there to hear about the more salacious aspects of prison life that are played up in the Netflix series, but many were there to hear the thing that Piper really wanted to share – who are these women, why are they there and what really happens in prison.  Piper stated at the beginning of her talk that it was important that the people in the room be able to imagine themselves in her shoes, or the shoes of other women in the prison and ask themselves, “What if it were me?” She told real stories of women she had met – Pom-Pom, whose mother had been in the same jail and who left the jail before Piper and wrote to her that she was homeless, had no coat and no thanksgiving dinner and that she missed the women in the prison and felt like they were her true family.  Pom-Pom’s story was the perfect example of the devastating cycles of poverty, abuse and addiction.  She stated that she wrote the book because she wanted people to care about Pom-Pom as much as she did.   She also showed pictures of women who she works with at the Women’s Prison Association who were now out of jail and trying hard to make their lives better despite the extreme challenges of poverty, unemployment and substance abuse.  She asked that we judge these women, herself included,  on their best days and their best actions, not just on their worse.

Piper mentioned that one of the first things that shocked her on her arrival in prison was seeing a heavily pregnant woman.  She said that she was confused and did not understand what she was doing there, a pregnant woman in jail.  She stated that she wished that all women could have their babies outside of jail and mentioned that in many states incarcerated women have to give birth while shackled.  She was quick to follow with the fact that Vermont is not one of these states which elicited spontaneous applause from the audience.  She also spoke of the 1.3 million dependent children who currently have a mother in jail, a number which jumps to 7 million when you include those who have either or both of their parents in jail.  She mentioned again and again that incarceration does not just affect the inmate, that the repercussions are much wider.  Ties to family and the community outside the prison were so important to all the women during their incarceration and gave them the motivation to go on.  The knowledge that they were going to go home eventually was everything, but she was quick to qualify that many of the women, unlike her,  could not take for granted that they had a safe and stable home to go back to.

The problems were outlined well – an 800% increase in the rate of incarceration of women leading to terrible overcrowding, a lack of support for women once they leave jail, cycles of poverty, the ravaging effects of drug addiction and abuse, a nation of 5% of the world’s population holding 25% of the world’s prisoners – and Piper’s ideas to help were clearly outlined at the end of her talk.  She suggests:

1.  Common sense sentencing – reduce drug sentencing, promote treatment alternatives instead of incarceration, work on public safety solutions that don’t involve prison, handle mental health issues within the realm of human services not corrections.

2.  Public defense reform – 80% of defendants are too poor to afford a lawyer who can represent them with time and diligence.  Public defenders are massively overworked and ill equipped to deal with the volume and complexity of defendants that they must serve.

3.  Children in the system – both the problems in the juvenile system and the number of young people who are wrongly sent into the adult corrections system desperately need to be addressed.

It would have been very easy for Piper Kerman to walk away from jail on that cold Chicago morning in 2005 when she was released, wearing an overly large men’s windbreaker with $28 care of the U.S. Federal Corrections Department, and never look back.  But for her, to return to her fiance, her life and her stable comfortable existence would have been a betrayal of all the women she had met during her time in prison.  The women who had helped her to adjust and to learn the rules, spoken and unspoken, that would do something to alleviate the discomfort and shock of her arrival.  Her talk was upfront, touching and most importantly very real.   She did not glamorize her time or boast of her own strength and resilience and most importantly she took ownership of how her crime played a part in the struggle with addiction faced by so many of the women that she met.

The growing prison population is a serious concern in the United States but is not something most people think about since prison and prisoners by design exist on the margins of society.  Piper Kerman’s talk brought the issues and more importantly the stories and the faces into the forefront last night and it was hard to walk away without thinking, even for just a moment, “that could be me”.

March 24, 2014

Employee of the Quarter – Cait Keeler

Posted in Awards, Employees, Family Education, Residential tagged , , , , at 2:25 pm by Lund

Cait with Kim Coe, Director of Residential and Community Treatment Services

Cait with Kim Coe, Director of Residential and Community Treatment Services

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” said Director of Residential and Community Treatment Services at Lund, Kim Coe, as she presented the Employee of the Quarter Award to Cait Keeler. Cait has worked as a family educator at Lund for the past ten years.

Cait truly stepped up to the challenges of recent staffing shortages and training of new employees. She has also been instrumental in supporting her colleagues in the Early Education program with billing, essential paperwork and clinical reviews. Cait also willingly and skillfully participated in the prep work for the family education and supervised visitation components of ETO (Efforts to Outcomes – Lund’s new data recording system).

Cait has demonstrated strong leadership skills in her ability to assess the needs for Early Education staff to be successful, to design a training and communication process, and most importantly, to implement it successfully. Cait’s collaboration with the Early Education staff and promotion of good communication has supported both families and staff in Lund’s residential treatment program.

On receiving the award, Cait is quick to share the recognition with other members of her team, “I feel honored that my team feels so positive about the work we do together each day.” She also gives credit to the families she works with for being her motivation, “They are the reason why I continue in this work.”

Described as an excellent team member who handles challenging situations with grace and tact, Cait is a valuable asset to Lund and always represents families’ needs and concerns with clarity and compassion . She offers valuable knowledge and skills to all who work with her.

Cait dedication and commitment to Lund’s work, the clients, and helping the family education team and program be successful is inspiring. Thank you, Cait, for your amazing work. You truly exemplify Employee of the Quarter!

March 10, 2014

Shared Parenting – Opportunity and innovation for incarcerated mothers.

Posted in Employees, Kids-A-Part, Program Spotlight tagged , , , , , , , at 11:52 am by Lund

When a woman goes to jail, it is not just her life that is dramatically changed.

There is a growing awareness that incarceration is not solely a hardship for the inmate but for their children as well.  The Bureau of Justice estimates that on any given day there are more than 2.4 million children in the United States with a parent in prison. The number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled since 1991; an increase of at least 131% over the last 20 years. The Vermont Department of Corrections reports that 994 women sentenced to prison terms between October 2010 and October 2011 had between them 848 children.

Lund’s Kids-A-Part program seeks to reduce the trauma to children of their mother’s incarceration by working with children and caregivers in the community and with the mothers in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF).  Part of this work is running parenting and family education groups inside the jail for the mothers.

The Kids-A-Part visiting room at CRCF.

The Kids-A-Part visiting room at CRCF.

One of these groups is an innovative program called ‘Shared Parenting’ which addresses the needs of incarcerated women attempting to parent their children from a distance.  The program was started at the Children’s Center at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York by Bobby Blanchard from The Center for Children and Families at Columbia University.

The program is currently evidence informed and implementing the group at CRCF is part of the research to make it evidence based.  The clinicians and case managers feel extremely grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the program.   “Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility was chosen as a site for replication for a few reasons. The demographic is significantly different than that of the population at Bedford Hills which is a maximum security prison housing close to 800 women. CRCF is in a rural state with a much smaller number of incarcerated women, and houses women with much shorter sentences, primarily for drug related offenses. This opportunity for replication is critical to understanding how this approach to parenting education impacts groups across cultures and geographical locations as well as how it can be adapted for regional differences,” says Bobby Blanchard.

The group is facilitated at CRCF by Crystal Fisher, a clinician, and Jo Berger, a community case manager, from Kids-A-Part and Bobby.  It is focused on helping the women to understand that their story and their situation can be understood from multiple perspectives and that it is so important to take these different angles into account when thinking about how to parent and how to interact with their child’s caregiver.  This reflection is mostly done through writing prompts.

“They are asked to write from their child’ s perspective in their child’s voice,” says Crystal.  “If their child was under the covers writing in their journal about incarceration, what would that look like or what would that sound like?  It is so challenging to put it into their child’s voice but we’ve had women who have done an amazing job.  They write in the words the child would say.  It’s amazing and it’s heart breaking to hear what they write.”

A mother might think that her child wants to be with her because she has said so but it takes some careful reflection to start to understand that it might not be so simple.  The child might feel obligated to say that they want to be with the mom, they might enjoy and feel safe living with their current caregiver but might not want to say so and hurt their mom’s feelings.   Examining these different perspectives is a difficult but enlightening process.

For many women, this is the first opportunity to think about someone having a different perspective.  “There is one women,” says Crystal, “She is questioning herself about her incarceration in a totally wonderful way.  She is saying, ‘I am doing things to parent my child from jail’ whereas before she was saying, ‘My Mom’s raising my kid.’  She can point to the things she is doing and show how she is maintaining the connection.  She is hearing that there could be different ways to tell her story.  I can’t imagine these chances would have happened without this program. “

The staff at Lund who are working with this program feel very fortunate to be able to provide this group for the women in the jail and to gain the professional experience that can inform other work that they do.  “This program with Bobby comes along once in a lifetime. I am so grateful. Jo, myself, Lund we’re getting to be part of telling the story of what it’s like to be an incarcerated mother and make that story part of a national narrative.  To have this opportunity through the research to look at something that can fundamentally change the relationship between a woman and her child and the child’s caregiver and the direction of her life. It’s amazing,” says Crystal.

This program will soon by implemented by Bobby in another jail in New York state and Jo and Crystal will continue it at CRCF after the Center’s research is complete.  Parenting from inside the jail is hard for everyone but being able to understand how the experience differs between mother, child and caregiver is such a key step in reducing the difficulties. “Thinking about parenting one’s child always involves learning to parent one’s self, which is a critical step in the mother’s rehabilitative process and that mother can play a critical role in helping her children cope with the separation caused by her incarceration.” says Bobby.  A mother is still a mother even when she is incarcerated and a child still has a mother even if she is in jail.

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