Explaining exactly what Kids’ Turn does and how it helps children can be a little like trying to explain physics – most people can’t really explain how it works, they just know it does. The combination of curriculum, leaders, activities, environment and the presence of other people going through similar difficulties all combine to help both children and adults learn to deal with the difficult process of separation or divorce. We continually ask participants for their feedback, and they almost unanimously agree that Kids’ Turn improves their lives and their children’s lives as well.
Kids’ Turn’s intensive focus on children helps the adults to re-direct their attention away from the ex-spouse and back onto the needs of the kids. One of the unique aspects of the Kids’ Turn workshops is the parenting skills component, which some parents initially may feel they don’t need, but which participants, family law attorneys and psychologists (who often make referrals for their clients to Kids’ Turn) say is a vital part of the program’s success:
“I met other kids who were divorced, too, so I didn’t feel so different.”
“They made us calendars that we could take home so we would know
whose house we would be at.”
“I finally learned what some of the words I was hearing really meant,
it made me feel better.”
“Being able to talk to a Judge was cool; we got to ask him anything we wanted.
He was really nice.”
– Kids’ Turn Children’s Group Participants
Kids’ Turn utilizes theories, skills, and resources, the personal qualities of the facilitators involved, the group process, and plain old common sense in creating a support group that offers something of value to a wide variety of people, all with a common denominator that is negatively affecting their or their children’s lives. The bottom line is that Kids’ Turn works, and the vast majority of participants benefit from it.
Kids’ Turn Newsletter
The workshop newsletter plays a role in the communication between parents and children as well. The newsletter is written by the older children with drawings from the younger children, and sent anonymously as a group to the parents. In it, children state what they don’t like about the divorce, what they want from their parents, and what they can do when their parents fight. Parents review the newsletter, discuss the content and their feelings, and then may respond (if appropriate) in a similar fashion, in a newsletter read in the children’s groups. Children are often reluctant or unable to express themselves to parents, who can be operating under misconceptions ongoing. When parents hear directly from their children early on exactly what is going on and how they feel, it gives them an opportunity to address their children’s concerns and to deal with the children’s feelings of guilt, anger, fear or sadness. “The newsletter is such a powerful tool; it really hits parents, who usually assume it is their child making the statements. The great majority of them really take it to heart.” Thus the communication and healing can begin.
Representative data reflects that 40% of Kids’ Turn families’ annual income is less than $30,000, and 73% is less than $50,000. Due in part to diminished economic circumstances caused by the separation or divorce, the average family served by Kids’ Turn can only afford to pay a fraction of a Program that costs $400 to offer. The Children’s Home + Aid Kids’ Turn Program attempts to cover this deficit for each family through community contributions and professional volunteers who demonstrate commitment to our programs and validation for our work. Kids’ Turn through Children’s Home + Aid is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and all donors receive tax benefits to the full extent allowable by law. In order to serve all families regardless of their ability to pay, Kids’ Turn is dependent on individual donations and private foundations for financial support.
An Early Intervention Model
One of the areas child specialists are concentrating on in the mental health field today is “early intervention.” While Kids’ Turn does not strive towards trendiness, we are pleased to be ahead of the pack, since our program was designed from the get-go with early intervention in mind.
So what exactly is an early intervention model? Simply put, it is prevention. One of the differences between therapy and Kids’ Turn, according to Kids’ Turn former Program Director Diane Kaufman, is that therapy or treatment often take place after a crisis has occurred and behavioral or emotional problems have developed. “Early intervention is the anticipation of a crisis, looking at the ramifications of it, and using a model or program to prevent the problems from developing as a result of the crisis. This means the problems are greatly diminished or prevented altogether.”
Psychiatrist John Sikorski, who helped design the Kids’ Turn curriculum, concurs. “It’s like giving a flu shot. We are providing a psychological immunization by offering educational information to people, teaching them about the process they are going through and the usual course of the breakup of the family and the reconstitution into different family structures. Helping children understand that process is what the Kids’ Turn program is about. It’s more than just sharing the experience, it’s gaining information so one does not feel lonely and isolated or victimized.”
Many professional studies have confirmed these ideas of prevention. An article in the American Journal of Community Psychology recommended the identification of a stressful event, charting the undesirable psychological outcomes and creating interventions to “short-circuit” those outcomes. Early intervention programs can work especially well in divorce situations. A lot of the time the experiences, feelings and situations are similar for different families, so we can often predict some of the emotions and problems kids’ experience. It is a powerful tool to get the kids together in the same room, because they can strengthen and benefit one another from their common experiences.
This type of intervention can have long-term effects for both parents and children. We can help prevent or reduce emotional difficulties for the children, but also help establish or refocus parents on their children’s needs so they can establish good lines of communication, which have often been damaged or compromised because of the divorce. For parents, statistics show that people with unresolved conflicts with the former spouse are more likely to have failed second marriages. Kids’ Turn can help them learn more about themselves in a relationship, to prevent repetition of the same problems and mistakes.