We are excited to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this September which is particularly relevant and important for us at Child Advocates of Fort Bend. Were you aware that 46% of the children we serve at CAFB are Hispanic? And an additional 5% identify as bi-racial, some of whom have a Hispanic parent. For these children, we must ensure that we provide all our services in culturally competent and sensitive ways. Over the years, we have developed diversity practices and approaches around a “Values Framework” with the goals of being Collaborative, Healing, Inclusive, Life-Changing and Dedicated. This includes language, understanding historical bias, respecting cultural practices and norms, and treating the “whole child” with trauma-informed practices and methodologies. Nearly one-third of our staff identify as Hispanic or multi-racial — we have Spanish-speaking staff in our forensic interview, therapy, family advocacy and criminal court advocacy services in our CAC and at our medical services clinic at Access Health. We recently added translation services in our CAC so that we can better communicate with children and families who speak languages other than English. We recruit Spanish-speaking CASA Volunteer Advocates and we devote time and training to cultural competency in our Pre-Service Training as well as Continuing Education. Racial identity, language and cultural practices are key considerations to determine whether a foster care placement is meeting the needs of the child and our CASA Advocates report on the child’s wellbeing to the court to highlight any issues so they can be addressed. Our work in Collaborative Family Engagement and our focus on family reunification and kinship placement draw in Hispanic family members and kin as well as supportive Hispanic adults in the child’s network to build a culturally-supportive Circle of Support. We recognize the critical importance of family of origin including not only parents but grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others in a child’s life, all of whom create the child’s sense of identity and belonging. This is especially true for our multi-generational Hispanic families. In our outreach and prevention services, we provide abuse awareness and safety education to children in predominantly Hispanic day care centers and schools and speak at churches and community centers with Hispanic congregations. We also work with our legislators to create communities that are safer, healthier and more supportive of children and families who need protection and support. And when we go to court and testify for cases involving Hispanic children, we are educating judge and jury about abuse and the needs of these children and families.
As we start off the school year and celebrate our Hispanic children, families, volunteers and staff, we renew our commitment to be culturally responsive and inclusive, to expand our services to be even better advocates and to continue to deepen our knowledge of the complex and changing needs and dynamics of our clients and our workplace. The Hispanic community is strong and vibrant in Fort Bend County and we are ever mindful of the progress that we have made and the work that still needs to be done so that children who are survivors of abuse can heal, achieve their potential, reach their goals, fulfill their dreams and thrive.
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.
Suicide Prevention Month
Written by Jen Brown and the CAC Therapy Team
It can be difficult to check in on someone you think may be hurting and in need of help. It can be an uncomfortable discussion and topic, but you could change a life. Let’s take the shame out of talking about hurting. Let’s normalize asking the hard questions and being available to truly listen to the answers. If you feel someone in your life is struggling and may be considering suicide, it’s imperative that you know what to do. Here are some suggestions and resources out there for you.
First, Know the Signs:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
- Looking for a way to kill oneself;
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
- Talking about being a burden to others;
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless;
- Sleeping too little or too much;
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated;
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and
- Displaying extreme mood swings
Next, Find the Words:
Research has found that asking someone whether they’re having suicidal thoughts does not give them suicidal tendencies. The actual risk is to not talk about suicide with someone who may be in crisis.
Begin a dialogue by asking questions. Suicidal thoughts are common and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seek professional help. Questions okay to ask:
- “Do you ever feel so bad that you think about suicide?”
- “Do you have a plan to kill yourself or take your life?”
- “Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?”
- “Have you thought about what method you would use?”
Asking these questions will help you to determine if your friend or family member is in immediate danger and get help if needed. A suicidal person should see a doctor or mental health professional immediately. Calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room are also good options to prevent a tragic suicide attempt or death. Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or simply dial 988 is also a resource for you or the person you care about. Remember, always take thoughts of or plans for suicide seriously.
Reach Out for help
Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. Don’t worry about risking a friendship if you truly feel a life is in danger. Someone’s life might be in danger! It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is to go to a funeral. And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.
Don’t try to minimize problems or shame a person into changing their mind. Your opinion of a person’s situation is irrelevant. Trying to convince a person that “it’s not that bad”, or that “they have everything to live for” may only increase their feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Reassure them that help is available, that what they are experiencing is treatable, and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Life can get better!
If you feel the person isn’t in immediate danger, acknowledge the pain is legitimate and offer to work together to get help. Make sure you follow through. This is one instance where you must be tenacious in your follow-up. Help find a doctor or a mental health professional, participate in making the first phone call, or go along to the first appointment. If you’re in a position to help, don’t assume that your persistence is unwanted or intrusive. Risking your feelings to help save a life is a risk worth taking.
Here are some good websites that can provide some helpful information.
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline– The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.
In a crisis? You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor.
A Child’s Journey Through the CAC
Written by Courtney James, LindaMarie Olson and Fiona Remko
The following article is based on an actual case, but specifics have been de-identified due to confidentiality. We hope to give you an idea of how the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) works as we tell the journey of a child and their family in a situation that would need our services. In this story, we are using job titles for staff members instead of names due to confidentiality.
Child’s Point of View (POV):
Something bad happened to me at my cousin’s house last weekend and I knew I had to tell my Mom. But once I told her, she got really sad and has been on the phone all day talking to people that I don’t know. (CAC staff who review intakes of child abuse, Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) Coordinators and a Detective in the Crimes Against Children division of the Sheriff’s office). Now she says we have to go somewhere where I’ll have to tell THEM what happened. I hate this. I wish I had never said anything. On our way, every time I ask more about the place we have to go, my Mom cries… so I’ve stopped asking.
When we pulled up, I was surprised to see that the building looked super fun, I was expecting it to be scary and look like a police station. There was a cool statue outside, and my favorite color, blue, was everywhere!! I held Mom’s hand as we walked through the doors, and I could feel her take a breath of relief when we were welcomed with smiles from the nice people behind the desk. Mom signed us in and one of the ladies, the Program Assistant, showed me their bearded dragon named Lizzy, she was SO cool. She said I could hold her after my interview. Mom and I went into a playroom that was filled with toys!! Another nice lady even offered to play Jenga with me and I beat her twice, it was so much fun! While playing Jenga, I noticed a different lady, a Clinical Family Advocate (CFA), came to talk to my Mom. After the CFA left, there was a Forensic Interviewer who came out meet my Mom and me. She said that we would go back and talk for a few minutes and if I was ready. I was super nervous, so I took a deep breath and said yes.
The Forensic Interviewer took me back to a small room and showed me the cameras and microphone. She told me that our talk would be recorded. This made me more nervous, so she gave me a fidget toy to help calm my nerves. We talked about a lot of things, she asked me about basketball, school and my pets. I realized that I wasn’t nervous anymore. Then she asked why I came to talk to her today and I told her that my Mom said it was to talk about what happened at my cousins. Then I got really sad, I told her all about what happened with my uncle. I told her what he did to me and how it made me feel. I started crying because this was the most that I have talked about it so it was really hard. I even told a secret that I haven’t told my Mom yet… I told the Forensic Interviewer that this has been happening for a long time and this wasn’t the first time. I really hope Mom doesn’t find out; she will be so mad. At the end of our interview, the Forensic Interviewer asked if I wanted to check in with the social worker to talk about how I’m feeling, and I said yes.
While the child is being interviewed, a CFA comes to speak with the family members, in this case, the Mom. Their role is to support family members, establish what needs the child(ren) and families have and to provide those resources personally, or by connecting them with the proper people. The CFA will also prepare the family for the next steps and what to expect throughout the immediate process. The CFA then introduces the Mom to the Detective on the case, who will have listened to the child’s interview and then asks Mom follow up questions. Once the Detective is done, the CFA then provides the Mom with more information and answers any questions she has.
Mom: My emotions are everywhere. I don’t know which way is up and which was is down. I am angry, sad, frustrated, worried, while trying to appear hopeful and supportive. After they took Jimmy back, I felt a sense of relief knowing that he was in good hands. While in the waiting room, I spoke with one of the volunteers, who said she comes here once a week to play with the kids and make the experience of being at the CAC as pleasant as possible. What an amazing thing she does, spending time with kids and parents who are experiencing something so hard and life altering. About 30 minutes later, the CFA came back out and asked if I was ready to check in. We went back to a room where she let me know that she is a Social Worker and works for this agency. She explained that her role is to support and help caregivers and families who come to the CAC. I immediately broke down, I tried to contain myself, but it was so hard. I told her that I haven’t been able to cry or process since I found out because I wanted to stay strong for Jimmy. I am so thankful that the CFA gave me the space and opportunity to feel safe while getting all of my feelings out. I didn’t feel judged at all. She normalized how I was feeling and gave me advice for how to talk to Jimmy and what to do going forward, which I needed desperately. I talked with her about how worried I was for Jimmy and his emotions and how he must be feeling about what happened. She said that she can talk with Jimmy after the interview to give him a space to process his emotions, as well. I immediately said yes since I know that Jimmy has a lot of feelings, and he is really good at hiding them. I feel better knowing that he will be given the chance to let his emotions out just like I have been able to do.
Once I was able to collect myself, the CFA explained one of the next steps in the process. She called it a SANE exam, which she said stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Exam. She said that this exam is recommended for children who disclose similar allegations to me. I had some hesitations with this, Jimmy is so young and I didn’t want him to get hurt or be exposed to harmful things. She explained the whole process and how a big part of the “exam” is a conversation with the nurse and the physical exam is only done with the consent of the patient. I felt better about it after this. The CFA then helped make the appointment and gave me all of the necessary details.
After my interview, I went back to the playroom where my Jenga game was waiting for me. Mom wasn’t there, but the volunteer told me that she was talking with someone, so we kept playing. After we finished the game, the CFA came out and asked if we could talk. We went back to a different room with a couch, stuffed animals, and colors. I sat on the couch and she asked how I was doing. I said fine, but then I started crying again. We talked about a lot of things, we talked about my feelings and how I am so sad and worried about what is going to happen with my cousins and my uncle. I told her about how sad I feel and how I just want to go back to normal and be done with everything. I wish I never would have told. It feels good to let this out. We brainstormed ways to calm down whenever I feel super sad and can’t breathe. My favorite thing we did was box breathing, it helped a lot. When we were done, I felt SO much better.
The CFA then told me I’ll have to go see a special nurse who will ask me questions and see if I need to have a special kind of exam called a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Exam) exam, and that my mom would be with me the whole time.
Some time later….
Mom told me we get to go back to the cool blue building today. I asked her if I had to do another interview because it had been awhile since we went so I was confused. Mom said that we’re going to talk with someone new. She said that it’s called therapy and it will be like when I talked with the CFA after my interview, so I’m excited now. We walked in and saw the same people (and Lizzy!!). A Therapist came out and said hi and told me that she’d be talking with both mom and I today to hear how things are going. She asked if Mom or I wanted to go first. I let Mom go first so I could keep playing with the volunteers… they have arts and crafts today, too!
When the Therapist came back to get me, we went to her office first. Her office had a big couch with stuffed animals and a LOT of toys on the shelves. She showed me all of the different toys in her office – there was even sand to play with! Then, we played a game to get to know each other. I got to tell her about all of the things that I like and dislike! Then she asked me what I knew about therapy and told me all about what we’d be doing when we meet. I got to ask questions and felt much more relieved. Before we went back to the waiting room, she showed me the different playrooms they have! There are so many toys and games that I’ll be able to play in therapy! I can’t wait to come back!
Several months later…
I’ve been seeing the Therapist each week for a while now. I love coming to therapy. I’ve learned all about my feelings and how to tell other people how I’m feeling. I’ve used fidget toys and learned how I can relax my mind and body when I’m feeling overwhelmed. We’ve talked about some hard things, but the hard things don’t scare me like they used to anymore. We’ve started working on my “Trauma Narrative”, which is a book I get to write about my life. My first chapter was about myself and all the things I like to do. I wrote about some of my favorite memories too! Now I’m working on writing about the memories of what happened to me. The Therapist helps me write and checks in on me to make sure I’m not feeling too overwhelmed. Sometimes we’ll stop and do relaxation breaks. They help me get calm again and then I feel like I can keep writing about all my thoughts and feelings towards what happened to me. When I feel like I’m finished writing for the day, she has me pick another coping skill to use together before I leave. Even though my memories sometimes make me feel sad or mad or confused, I’m learning how to talk about them and how to manage them!
The CFA keeps in contact with me, letting me know what is happening in Jimmy’s case, answering questions, and making sure needs all our needs are being met.
Some time Later…
Today’s my Graduation Day from therapy!!! I’m so excited! Last week I got to read my Trauma Narrative to my Mom. After reading it, she gave me a big hug and told me how proud she was of me! I felt so proud of all the hard work I’ve done in therapy. Today I get to share with Mom all the things I’ve learned and celebrate!
When I walked in, I saw that the room was decorated for my graduation! There was a big sign that said “Hooray” and some of my favorite special treats! We got to eat cookies and drink juice. The Therapist got me the book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” I can’t wait to read it! She also got me a Graduation Kit with a little note that has all these things in it:
“BUBBLES to remind you to take a deep breath when things get hard.
AN ERASER to remind you that each day starts with a clean slate.
A STICKY NOTE to always keep reminders with you to stay focused on your goals.
A RUBBER BAND to remind yourself not to be stretched too thin.
A PENCIL to remind you that you write your own destiny.
A STRESS BALL to remind yourself you can bounce back, stay flexible, and still maintain your shape no matter what.
A NOTEBOOK to remind you that you are still writing your story.
TISSUES to remember it is okay to cry.
PLAYDOUGH to remember to have fun and play.
CRAYONS to remember it’s okay to color outside the lines.”
We used so many of these things in therapy and now I get to have my own to use at home! I’m a little sad that therapy is over, but I know I can always come back if I need to. I’m so happy that kids who went through similar things as me have a safe place to come to play and talk about it. I love the CAC!
—-Criminal Court Advocacy—
It has been about eight months since we first stepped foot in the CAC. Jimmy has been going to therapy, and he has done SO great. I never realized how resilient children can be. I’ve talked to the CFA every month or so, I’m thankful for her check ins and the care and concern that she has poured into our family. In our last conversation, she let me know that since the case has been filed with the District Attorney’s office that she would be transferring the case to a Criminal Court Advocate (CCA) who would help us through the court process.
I have so many conflicted emotions about the arrest of Jimmy’s uncle. I want him to be held accountable for what he did but I’m so worried about Jimmy having to testify in court. When the CCA reached out to me to introduce her role, I told her how I was feeling. She reassured me that my feelings were normal and that the prosecutors would meet with Jimmy as often as they need to make him feel more comfortable with the process. She told me that she would be with Jimmy and I every step of the way. She made me feel so much better about what was to come.
Six months later…
My Mom told me today that we were going back to the blue building again, but this time to meet with some different people. I was really nervous, but I knew that I would get to see Lizzy and play with the volunteers so that helped calm me down. A new lady, a Criminal Court Advocate (CCA), came to meet me and she was super nice. She brought me back into a room with some other ladies and they asked me all about myself and what I like to do. They were so nice, and I felt comfortable with them. They did tell me that I was going to have to talk in a place called a courtroom and tell a judge and 12 other people called a “jury” about what happened to me. That made me scared again, but they said they and the CCA would be with me when I had to do it, but today we didn’t talk about any of the hard stuff.
I had a couple more meetings with the CCA and the other nice ladies and when they said that I needed to talk about what my uncle did I was able to tell them, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Therapy made it easier for me to talk about it and the CCA gave me stress balls to hold while I talked.
Now the big day is here, and I have to go to court and tell a bunch of strangers what my uncle did. I’m really nervous about it but the CCA told me she’d be there the whole day. She brought my favorite snacks to eat if I got hungry and games to play with while we wait and more stress balls. When they told me it was my turn to go into the courtroom to talk my stomach did flip flops. But the CCA was able to sit right next to me where I had to talk. I got scared when I saw my uncle, but the CCA and the other nice ladies said I didn’t have to look at him. They asked me a lot of questions about what happened to me. It was hard to tell, but I did it. After I finished talking, I felt so proud of myself for being able to share my truth!
When we heard the words “Verdict… guilty”, both my Mom and I were in tears. So many feelings about it, but I’m proud of myself and thankful for the Children’s Advocacy Center for helping me and my mom throughout the entire process.
Being in court is so overwhelming and I worry what it is going to be like for Jimmy. But the CCA has been there with me every step of the way. She makes sure that I’m okay and that Jimmy is okay. She talks me through my nerves and calms me down.
When it was Jimmy’s time to testify, I was a nervous wreck and I couldn’t even be in the courtroom with him, but I knew that she was there with him and that made me feel so much better. I expected Jimmy to walk out of the courtroom in tears, but when he came out to me, he had a big smile on his face and he said, “Mom I did it!” I was so proud of him and his courage.
“Verdict…guilty” is all that I could hear the judge say, I was immediately in tears. These weren’t sad tears, they were full of relief. Relief that Jimmy has received the justice that he deserves. Relief that the jury of community members believed him. I am so proud of Jimmy. He has faced SO many setbacks within his lifetime and yet continues to amaze me throughout every trial. But, we couldn’t have done this without the amazing people at the CAC. From the moment we walked into the doors to the moment where the verdict was read, they have been by our side encouraging, supporting, and ensuring that we don’t feel alone. This has been a long and hard journey and I am so thankful for all of the care that has been poured into us by every staff member at the Child Advocates of Fort Bend.
There are many more staff members involved- from the Data Specialist to the Family Services Specialists who assist family members and our children through the process. Each role plays a large part in supporting and caring for the children and family we serve.