By Laura Keys, LCSW, and Heather Miller, LCSW – May 21 2021-

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 US children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief. 

The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 9 am-5 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities, and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from 1st through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need.  Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses, they begin sharing their experiences as well as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day the group is smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29th at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

This year’s Passport to Adventure Auction will be a virtual event held on May 13, 2021, at 7:00 pm.

Online bidding begins May 3.

The program will be live streamed on our Facebook page and YouTube channel (Youth First Indiana).

Click here for all of the info!

By Kacie Shipman, LSW – May 12, 2021 –

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.” Communication goes much deeper than words alone. Every day we communicate through various means of technology including news and social media, through body language, and through our actions.

Communication starts at birth and continues throughout our life span. From infancy, babies use ways to communicate their needs to be fed, soothed, or changed. During the toddler years, as language skills develop, so does our communication style.

As parents and caregivers, we model and teach communication. Much of our communication as adults is learned from the environment in which we were raised. Learning to communicate well is an ongoing challenge and takes daily practice.

There are many ways to teach effective communication at any age. During the baby and toddler stages, rolling a ball back and forth helps practice taking turns speaking. It is important to speak clearly to children learning to talk so they understand the correct pronunciation of words. Requiring the child to use words early in life rather than pointing or grunting encourages them to use their voice in communicating needs.

At any age, it takes much practice to develop good listening skills. Teaching children to listen well can take a lot of patience. Practicing listening skills with young children can be done in fun ways, such as playing a game of “Simon Says.” This allows them to practice and develop the skill of listening before acting.

Other communication skills that are important to teach early are body language and manners, which are often part of a pre-school curriculum. Body language can include facing the person that is talking, nodding, and not interrupting. If you child interrupts during a phone conversation or other important adult conversation, talking with them about the importance of not doing so when it happens will help them succeed.

A goal of positive communication is learning to understand the other person’s point of view. Understanding is crucial during communication. Miscommunication begins with misunderstanding. Even when you disagree with your child, repeating an overview of what they said or what you heard is a good start.

Validation is a key component in communication. Webster identifies validation as “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”  Validation does not mean that you agree with what the person says or believe their opinion as fact. It does mean that you validate their right to have their own beliefs and they are respected whether the statement is one that is agreed upon or not.

By validating someone’s feelings or thoughts, it makes them feel valued and builds upon the skill of understanding in communication. Often times as we move into adulthood opinions become stronger and deeper.

Communication skills help a person succeed in life. People crave relationships, and when good communication is used those relationships can thrive. Communication can not only help in personal relationships with significant others and in families, but in professional relationships as well.

If as an adult you find yourself struggling in relationships or in interactions with others, please seek a professional therapist to help you learn to communicate more effectively. It is never too late to start.

By Kelli Chambers, LSW – May 6, 2021 –

How do you make time specifically for your family when carving extra time out of your already busy schedule seems next to impossible?

Often times it might feel like there are just simply not enough hours in the day, but intentionally setting aside family time is so valuable and will strengthen your relationships as a whole.

One of the best ways to start setting time for your family to be together is to lay out your weekly plans. It may help to keep a family calendar and post it in a spot where everyone can see it. Make sure to include work, school, extracurricular activities, and other weekly tasks like cleaning, grocery shopping, and attending church.

Categorizing each calendar item into “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” helps to see what can be shifted or eliminated. Using a family calendar can help keep the whole family’s activities organized and can help keep everyone on the same page. Weekly family meetings can also help with communication and decision making.

It is important to remember each family has different things going on, and your time together as a family can look different than others. Sometimes only a small portion of time can be devoted, but schedules might change later to allow for more family time.

If only a limited amount time is available to be with the family as a whole, seize every opportunity and make the most of it. Some small changes in your family’s daily routine could include sitting together at the dinner table for at least one meal a day and also making sure all electronic devices are turned off or put away when the family is together. Big changes can take time, but remember to celebrate the small successes along the way.

Take charge and be a leader in making sure your family gets to spend quality time together. Once changes are made and expectations are set they will eventually become the norm.

Putting in the extra effort to make family time a priority will positively impact your relationships with one another as well as strengthen your communication. Time spent together is precious, because your kiddos are only young once.

By Alicia Slaton, LSW – April 27, 2021 –

Being a new mom brings a wide range of emotions, whether you’re a first-time mom or a seasoned veteran. New babies pose new challenges and worries.

If you plan to be a working mom, whether you decide to stay home for 6 weeks or 3 months, the time will come when you must return to work. This too presents a whole new set of challenges.

The responsibilities and expectations from home continue as you add on stress and expectations at work. It often feels like you must make difficult decisions and set aside one for the other.

For example, you might be faced with the need to work overtime, which then means your kids eat a fast-food dinner from a drive through. Or perhaps you have to drop your children off at daycare early so you can get to work and catch up from the day before.

Unfortunately there is no magic formula to help you balance work and home life. It is okay to continue working without feeling you are neglecting your children. It is also okay to spend extra time with your children without feeling that you are failing at your job.

Here are some suggestions for easing the transition back to work as a new mom:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. They say it takes a village, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Instead of dragging the kids to the grocery store each week, schedule a grocery order pick up and ask a family member to pick it up for you. This will save more time (and stress) than you know.
  1. Put off unnecessary tasks. The laundry is washed and dried but not put away. So what? It’s okay to live out of the clean laundry basket for a week, I promise. Also, there are often ways to hire affordable help for tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
  1. Stay connected. Whether it’s a night out with the girls, a daily check-in phone call with a parent or a kid-free date night with your spouse, stay connected to your loved ones.
  1. Focus on stress management. According to verywellmind.com, “Stressed working moms often find themselves less able to connect with their children or focus at work, which may lead to acting out by the kids, time-consuming mistakes at work, and other things that increase stress for working moms and their families. Therefore, taking a proactive stance on stress management is quite important.”

It’s essential to have several quick stress relievers in your toolkit. Breathing exercises and reframing techniques (alternative ways of looking at stressful situations), as well as long-term strategies such as regular exercise, meditation or a hobby, can help relieve stress for working moms and their families.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” working mom. The important thing to remember is that you are a good mom and a good employee. All you need is a healthy balance between the two.

By Mary Haas, LSW – April 22, 2021 –

Whether we like it or not, we are constant role models to our kids. Our children are always watching our actions and listening to our words. What a high pressure job to have!

There are times when we are not the best parents, but this is to be expected. We are human just like our kids. As parents, we often make mistakes and respond negatively to everyday stressors. Although life can occasionally become overwhelming, it’s important to remember that we always have a choice as to how we respond to frustrating situations.

Healthy management of stress is an essential skill for children to develop. If we pretend that nothing flusters us we lose an opportunity to guide our child with helpful and productive methods to manage stress and discomfort. Our actions and choices as parents are the best learning tools for our children.

One of the key elements in helping developing adolescents is providing the space for open and honest communication. This means remaining calm even if what we hear is hard to swallow or causes us some discomfort. Honesty is crucial, because our kids can sense when we are faking emotions or not being genuine in conversation, just as we can sense it in them.

When difficult conversations with your teen arise, it is okay to say something like, “Right now, I’m so upset that I can’t make decisions. I want to think this through instead of reacting.” Or maybe something like, “We’ll talk when I’m ready. I need to calm down first.” Then, go take care of yourself. Take the time to process your thoughts and feelings. Once you are ready you can come back ready to support your teen.

Remaining calm is easy in theory, but it can be a lot harder in practice. Calmness is crucial, however. A calm response strategically positions us to have the influence our children need as we guide them toward adulthood.

By the time young people reach late adolescence, they still do not have the ability to make decisions nearly as well as adults because their brains are still developing. When we use calm responses and openness, we create the opportunity for logical problem solving. If we yell and scream, we are signaling to our child the need for an emotional defense by tapping into the survival part of their brain.

By providing calmness in an intense situation, we allow our child to develop and practice thoughtful plans to carry into challenging situations. We allow our adolescent to reflectively link short and long-term consequences to their choices.

Although we may not agree with our teen or approve of the choices they make, we can still express love and empathy. When we get upset with them, it is because of how deeply we love them. Their radically developing brains need reassurance that they are unconditionally loved as their emotional sensors are maturing and sensitive to the reactions of others.

When we practice calmness in our parenting, we become parents who are more willing to work together with our teen. Young people talk to adults who listen. We have a tough job on our hands raising a teen, and although we will never be perfect, we can work to become trusted partners with our child.

By Amber Russell, LCSW – April 15, 2021 –

As a parent, I have recently been thinking about at what age it is appropriate and acceptable to leave your child home alone. I’ve often considered it when I need to run errands for a couple hours.

My son is 9 years old. I have asked other parents and family members when they first let their children stay home alone. I found the answer varied a lot based on who I asked.

Some people had very strong opinions on the subject and were certain that kids needed to be much older to be left alone. Others made me feel like I was crazy to even be worried about leaving my 9-year-old home alone for 10 minutes while I ran to the store to buy the one item I had forgotten on my list.

So who is right? I did some research and found that the answer varies. Only a few states have laws that specify a legal age to leave a child home alone, and they range from age 8-14.

Indiana, from what I can tell, falls into the “no specific law” category. There is no law or magic number specifying the right time or right age, but according to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, there are some questions you should consider while making this decision.

  1. Is there a responsible adult available? Does an adult friend or family member live nearby? Or is there possibly a nice neighbor that your child is comfortable with in case they need help? Who can your child go to or call in case of emergency? Do they know how to call a family member for help?
  2. Does your child know emergency procedures? Does your child know what to do and where to go if there is a fire in the home? Do they know where the first aid kit is and how to use it? What about what to do in the event of bad weather such as a tornado?
  3. Does your child regularly problem-solve without assistance? For instance, what are the rules if someone rings the doorbell or a friend calls and wants to come over?  What do they do if they come home after school and the door is open or they notice a window is busted out? If they are outside playing and a stranger tries to talk to them, what would they do?
  4. Can your child perform everyday tasks such as making a snack or making a phone call? These are necessary skills. Do they know their address and phone number? Is there a phone available for them to make an emergency call?
  5. Is your child comfortable staying at home alone? Ask them, and if the answer is “no,” then now is not the right time. A child should feel confident and self-sufficient before being left home alone.The appropriate age for being left home alone depends somewhat on the child, their maturity level, and the length of time they will be alone. I know some 9-year-olds that could handle being home alone for an hour or two, but I also know some 12 and 13-year-olds that I would not trust.

Make sure both you and your child are comfortable with your absence. Ensure they know the rules, what to do in case of an emergency, and who they can contact for help. Start with a small length of time as a trial (like while you run to the grocery store). If they will be home for more than an hour alone, make sure to call and check in.

By Keisha Jackson, MSW – April 7, 2021 –

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is ensure we are taking good care of our body, mind, and soul each and every day. Self-care is a habit we need to develop and use daily, not just when we are sick or feel it’s most convenient. 

Learning how to eat right, reduce stress, exercise regularly, and take a time-out when you need it are big components of self-care. Making a point to incorporate these habits into your life can help you stay healthy, happy, and resilient.

Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s an ongoing battle I fight with year in and year out. Most of us are crazy busy. There are extracurricular activities to juggle, sporting events to attend, and of course our jobs to work around. Having a full and fast-paced life can be rewarding, but can also become burdensome from time to time.

As the pandemic continues to impact our daily lives, now is a good time to reflect on the past year and remind ourselves about the importance of self-care. Below you’ll find several different tips, ideas, and reminders to help you manage your mental health through self-care.

  1. Create a plan. Creating a self-care plan can make managing self-care easier. When life gets busy, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. Making a plan and sticking to it helps release the stress of managing another “task” on your to-do list.
  • Say “no” to others. Saying “no” is a hard thing to do for some people. However, saying “no” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you need a day to yourself can be a powerful way to care for yourself.  
  • Do things that spark joy. Self-care is all about doing something specifically for YOU. Do one thing daily that sparks joy in your life. Examples of this could be a simple coffee run, getting up to go for a walk around the block, or even watching an episode of your “guilty pleasure” show.
  • Soak up the sun. As the days are beginning to lengthen as summer approaches, we have more time to enjoy the sunlight after school or work. Just getting 10 minutes of sunlight or having those blinds in your bedroom window open can spunk up your mood and provide you with much-needed Vitamin D. Be sure to wear sunscreen if you’ll be outside for extended periods of time!
  • Don’t skip out on the basics. Continue to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get a healthy amount of sleep. 

Some of these tips may sound silly or obvious, but it can often be hard to prioritize that extra time to ourselves. It’s important to create time in your day to be alone with yourself, no matter how busy you are. Time alone can help you ponder the best way to move forward in life and keep you grounded, healthy, and happy.   

By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 31, 2021 –

In 1980 I was a five-year-old attending kindergarten in Evansville, Indiana. It was the year of the infamously destructive June 8th storm that brought hurricane force winds to my hometown, and it was the first time I remember having to cope with the world around me changing.

I really didn’t understand the dangerous nature of the storm at the time, but I remember all teachers and students were asked to go to the cafeteria, which was located at the lowest level of the school. We were supposed to sit under the tables in the tornado position. However, I remember sitting with my friend giggling and not following directions very well, because I did not understand the seriousness of the situation. 

The school busses were not able to take us home, so my father picked me up that day.  There was no electricity in my house for a few days. Restaurants without gas appliances couldn’t reopen due to the lack of electricity. Our favorite restaurant was closed.

My grandmother did not have electricity for over seven days in her area. I knew that I had shelter, water, food, and could depend on my parents for safety and reassurance. I swung on the swing set outside of my home, rode my bike, and played cards and board games with my family members. The lack of power, damage, and destruction caused by the storm left me largely untouched and unburdened. 

Since then I have lived through multiple storms and have lost my electricity for only a short amount of time. The Covid-19 pandemic is the first time in my life that schools and businesses have closed their doors for such an extended amount of time.  Even during most snowstorms we were still able to go to the mall when school was cancelled.  

After the pandemic lockdown, I went to the grocery store with my husband for the first time in months. The shelves were stocked minimally, but we were able to obtain all of our necessities. As I stood in the grocery aisle, I thought about the large number of people shopping in the store and realized how different this crisis felt than the one I experienced as a child. I wondered how people who were already experiencing anxiety were getting through the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic.  

Although the world has changed drastically as the pandemic drags on, it is important to find ways to remind yourself that things will get better. Many people have found that using deep breathing techniques, positive self-talk, and positive visual imagery to stay calm can help mitigate overwhelming thoughts and worries. Exercise and getting outdoors are also very helpful in relieving anxiety.

Breathing in and out slowly, reminding yourself that this situation is only temporary, and taking extra time to relax can be helpful for lightening the burden we’ve all carried throughout this last year.

We also need to remember that there are aspects of life that we do not have control over and focus on what we are able to control, such as our attitudes and our behaviors. For example, I can choose to have a great day, stay positive, and do my best to help others do the same.