The holiday season is in full swing here at Child Advocates of Fort Bend! Our 31st Annual Christmas Home Tour is just a week away and our staff and hundreds of volunteers have been busy decorating, baking cookies, mixing hot cider and organizing their choral groups and musicians for what will be another fabulous event on December 9 – 10. This year promises to be a magical tour with four beautifully-decorated homes across Fort Bend County – something for everyone to enjoy with friends and family. From traditional to modern, informal to formal and everything in between, we hope you’ll pick up a decorating idea or two, reconnect with old friends all while supporting a worthy cause. This event is made possible by the generosity of our Presenting Sponsor, Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation, and all our wonderful sponsors and staffed by a crew of over 800 volunteers who welcome guests to these houses. Our Wreath Raffle is larger than ever with 20 wreaths of all varieties – Christmas, Hannukah, Eid Manukah, Fiesta, Halloween, Nutcracker, Sports and more. The wreaths will be in the homes throughout the tour so you can see them up close and choose which to bid on. To make it a special holiday for our children, our elves are busy with collecting donations of hundreds of toys and gifts which we will distribute December 13-15 to CASA Volunteers and to families at our Annual Elf Party. December also features our Case Closing on December 1 where we recognize the incredible contributions of our CASA and CAC Volunteers and our NEST Incentive Party on December 2 where we reward our elementary children for their academic achievements in Fall Semester. The holiday season is indeed a time of joy and celebration. But it can also be stressful for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, children in foster care who are separated from their families of origin and children who are in the healing process. This time of year can trigger feelings of loss, grief, anxiety and depression. This can be true for those of us who are in a caretaking profession or those who are facing challenges in our lives. Child Advocates of Fort Bend is focused throughout the year on the impact of trauma, but particularly during the holidays where we pay special attention to children’s emotional needs. We hope that we can make the holidays special for every child and that our support, kindness and caring can bring joy and happiness to all the children we serve. Inside this issue, we explore this topic in depth so that you can practice self-care and so that everyone has a safe, peaceful and joyful holiday.
For the Children’s Sake,
Ruthanne Mefford, CEO
Keeping you informed on our mission:
Strengthen the child’s voice, Heal the hurt, and Break the cycle of abuse and neglect for children in Fort Bend and surrounding counties.
Making the Holidays Safe…
Written by Lindsey Castellanos
With the winter holidays coming up, it’s time to start thinking about gathering with family and friends, play dates, gifts, and all the traditions we are looking forward to celebrating. It’s also time to think about our plan for safety for our children.
98% of children who were interviewed in our Children’s Advocacy Center for alleged sexual abuse knew the person who harmed them. Strangers sexually abusing children is not very common. Many times it’s someone the child and family are familiar with and trusted. And 40% of child sexual abuse is youth-on-youth abuse.
We have seen through the pandemic that time together is important and needs to be cherished. Having a plan ahead of time, some simple boundaries, and conversations among you, your partner, and your child can increase their safety and your peace of mind.
Here are 5 simple strategies:
- Body boundaries: This is the time to teach body awareness and boundaries. Children who know about their body are empowered to protect it. Here are 5 Body Safety Rules to talk about with your child from Mama Bear Effect.
- Situation awareness: Play the “What if” game. Children need practice at handling real life scenarios and coming up with their own solutions, with parental guidance. Mentioning someone by name isn’t suggesting that person would do anything. You can ask this question about several people (cousin, friend, mom, aunt, uncle, house guest, grandparent) and see how the answer changes.
- “What if _____ walks into the bathroom while you are using it? What could you do?” Reinforce that only a parent needs to go in and assist them if the need help in the restroom.
- “What if ______asks to play a secret game that parents can’t know about?” Secrets about private body parts are never ok. If someone asks a child to keep a secret about body parts they need to tell you right away.
- “What if you don’t want to hug _____? What could you do instead?” Give a high five, wave, say hi.
- “What if someone is watching or playing something that is not appropriate (violent, scary, people without clothes on)? What could you do?” Leave the room, ask to change the game or show, go ask a parent if you can watch it.
- Set some rules about sleeping and playing:
- Talk to other adults before and ask them to help set up safe environments. You can say that you want to practice these rules for your child for a future event, playdate, etc.
- Keep doors open. If children are playing in a bedroom/playroom leave the door open so adults can hear what is going on. It might be an adjustment hearing the noise, but you can also hear what is being said, watched, played, etc. If older children want to watch or play something that younger kids can’t see, make a game plan now for what younger kids can do.
- Spot check. Go visibly check to see how the children are playing every so often. If they are not following body safety rules or you hear things like, “I told you to stop.” It’s a good idea to go reinforce boundaries. If someone says to stop then we need to stop.
- Sleeping arrangements. If kids are having a sleep over everyone needs to sleep in their own space. Doors stay open.
- Create a tech plan:
- Teach kids about their new tech before they get it. “You have asked for a new phone, game, app, etc. Before we get something like that, we need to learn about it.” Use Netsmartz as a resource. If your child isn’t ready for the information given about the device or game, they aren’t ready to play it.
- Set up parental controls from the beginning. Children are not aware of all the risks and even if we feel they are mature enough to make good choices, there are just too many risks to allow children onto the internet, gaming chat, or app unfiltered. Internetmatters.org has lots of great info.
- Sign an agreement. Include how their new tech will be used and when. What if grades fall or they lose interest in other things or they have a bad attitude about the limits? Childnet Family Agreement
- Talk about when rules are broken. Whether someone else breaks the rules or the child does, it’s hard to tell a parent. Fear of getting in trouble or getting a consequence is a strong deterrent to telling. If someone your child loves is harming them, they may feel like they can’t tell because of their relationship. If someone online has tricked them, they may think they are responsible for the rule or law broken, especially if inappropriate photos or videos are involved.
Talk about how you will respond if a rule is broken. Keeping them safe is most important. Tell them you will work together and you always want them to tell. They won’t be in trouble for telling. Other consequences for breaking rules may come, but safety and open communication are the things we want to emphasize.
We hope these resources help make your holidays brighter. When we all work together we can prevent child sexual abuse. Invite your family or friends to help make the plans for your events. Start by sending them this article! The more people who know about child sexual abuse prevention, the better it is for everyone. It does take a little extra planning, but really when it comes to our kids, we will always make the extra effort to keep their childhood innocent.
Surviving the Holidays with Ambiguous Loss…
Written by Dr. Shay Shaikh
The holidays can be a tricky time for many as expectations and reality can easily be at conflict. For those affected by ambiguous loss, it can be especially difficult to maneuver through the whirlwind of emotions whilst providing support as a caregiver for the children in your life. Ambiguous loss, a prevalent form of loss experienced by our families, is specific to experiencing the loss of someone independent of them dying. When family dynamics change due to abuse, it may be considered a form of ambiguous loss because the person is not dead, however the child may no longer be able to communicate with them or they are no longer in the home due to the abuse allegations. In the absence of verbalization of feelings, younger children tend to exhibit their distress in response to loss in a variety of behaviors and as a caregiver it is natural to end up parenting out of guilt. Parenting out of guilt robs children of the opportunity to learn to verbalize their feelings and other imperative self-regulation skills. Self-regulation skills learnt during childhood become a predictor of healthy and successful adults. As a caregiver, recognizing some of the maladaptive behaviors can be helpful in responding in a positive regard.
A child may become withdrawn, increasingly agitated in response to usual activities (heightened emotional response such as anger/tantrums), practice role reversal (taking care of parent or not asking for help), increased crying spells, experience sleep disturbances, and appetite changes. Its imperative to recognize that caregivers know their child the best and as such, it is important to pay attention to what becomes out of the norm behavior for that child.
- It is helpful to explore and validate feelings. A child may miss the other caregiver which is okay and normal. Allowing a safe space for them to verbalize “I miss dad/mom” is instrumental in them being able to acknowledge their feelings.
- It is not necessary to have ‘adult talk’ with the child, as exposing them to details that are not age appropriate, can carry a negative impact.
- Implement routines so the child knows what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Children thrive with a sense of structure and predictability as knowing what to expect removes distress created by uncertainty. Prepare your child for any transitions- consistent schedules allow the child to respond in a calm regard.
- Communicate and implement consistent boundaries.
- Reframing the changes to a positive one can be instrumental, for example: “this year you’ll have two Christmases which means extra time/presents!” to help ease the transition in a lighter and positive regard.
Given the plethora of stressors that one can endure specific to the holidays, implementing self-care practices to minimize the stress while coping can be a sure way to survive the holidays. Adequate, healthy, and positive support systems also play a big role during times of stress and the daily practice of gratitude and its impact on happiness has long been studied. Gratitude increases feelings of happiness and joy.
- Take a moment to recognize, jot down, or verbalize aloud 3 things/people that you’re grateful for.
- Write a letter to a loved one.
- Send a holiday card via the traditional mail to a close friend or family member.
- Take a walk in nature.
- Maintain a sense of structure/plans for children throughout the holidays as knowing what to expect creates certainty helping minimize feelings of stress.
- Give yourself some grace and self-compassion. If you don’t make it to every event, happy hour, dinner, family gathering, holiday party, etc… it is okay to take a breather and implement downtime for yourself and your children.
- The holidays can be a stressful and emotionally overwhelming time. Know when to ask for help. Ask a coworker, neighbor, a friend, a long distance relative for help with decorating/wrapping gifts/carpooling/cooking.
- Plan a virtual holiday zoom call, get together with family and extended family. If you happen to be alone on the holidays, implement ways to still have some face-to-face time. Reframe the traditional holiday as you once knew it into something new and allow that to be the new normal for yourself.
- Avoid the long lines and sensory overload of shopping in stores and choose to shop online.
- Reach out to organizations in the community to volunteer and/or attend events.
- Get comfy with a good book.
- Light a pumpkin scented candle.
- Make smores.
- Try not to feel guilty about unrealistic expectations, pay attention to yourself and minimize activities that are creating extra stress.
Presenting Sponsor Fred & Mabel R. Parks Foundation
31st Annual Christmas Home Tour
December 9 + 10
Our Christmas Home Tour is around the corner! We are finalizing everything and are so excited to share the four exceptionally decorated homes with you!
Scheduled for December 9th and 10th, the two-day Home Tour hosts visitors from all over Fort Bend County and surrounding areas. Over 2,000 guests will tour the beautifully-decorated homes, including the 800 volunteers who take their time to volunteer. We are so excited to be including four amazing homes for our in-person event this year! This year’s homes are in Imperial (crowd favorite), First Colony, Riverstone and, for the first time, Aliana in Richmond.
How can you help?
- Sponsor – There are numerous opportunities left with perks
- Purchase Home Tour Tickets Individual tickets – $30 Ticket Bundle – $60 (1 tour ticket + 3 wreath raffle tickets)
- Purchase a Holiday T-Shirt –Super cute tees, bright and colorful, bright and colorful in black. Show your support and get in the holiday spirit. Short-sleeved $25; Long-Sleeved $30. We have a LIMITED supply available at the office for purchase. Contact Tarina at TSheridan@cafb.org if you would like one. NOTE: If you pre-ordered a shirt, you can pick them up at the CAFB office starting December 5. If you elected to have it shipped, it will be shipped December 5.
- Buy Wreath Raffle Tickets -Choose the wreath you hope to win. Ticket prices are $10
- Volunteer – We still need hosts and hostesses for the homes. Sign up with a friend or family member and volunteer together! (Must be at least 14 years old)
Help us Spread the Word!
Like + Comment + Share information about the tour on your social media accounts to help us spread the word.