6.19.2018

When Children Lose Caregivers

I don’t know anything about border policies, however, I’ve been working with children separated from their parents, caregivers, and loved ones for 38 years. I know institutional settings well, working in social services and the local San Diego receiving center for children. 
When children are taken out of the home for a variety of reasons, let’s say, in the middle of the night for a domestic violence incident, or a parent is arrested driving under the influence, the child/children are placed in a local receiving center.
It’s very unusual for a child to remain in this unfamiliar place for any length of time (seven days would be on the outside, unless the child is becoming a ward of the state), as social workers and specially trained counselors and advocates, aka case management, will aggressively attempt to remediate placement and relocation as soon as possible - this child is now considered to be residing in institutional care and at this point, now costing the state (taxpayers) a substantial amount of money.
In other words, case workers will find someone who is willing to step up, even if it's a distant relative. In the least desirable situation, the child is placed with complete strangers, aka, a foster or group home: some place that has been vetted and trained for just this type of scenario - then the courts kick into action and decisions are made. 
We scientifically understand that the more caregivers a child experiences the worse it is for child development, which is why our social services work so very hard to provide families treatment, education, and tools to preserve the family unit, such as it is (aka family reunification).
Let’s take another example, a homeless parent/grandparent/caregiver with young children. Most homeless shelters, transitional housing, resource centers, crisis, and abuse shelters will separate boys at the age of 13 on up from sibs and girls, with the premise that a male adolescent coming out of a hostile environment is not a complementary fit for vulnerable women and small children; and many shelters will not accept boys over the age of 13 whatsoever. 
In this situation, we are typically talking about a 30-day safe structure with anywhere from six families topping out at 30 families. Again, on hand, are well-trained staff, front line counselors, social workers, psychologists, and seasoned administrators. 
None of the situations I’ve described above are designed for mass-casualty incoming, on par with say, earthquakes survivors abandoning a building. 
Let me reiterate: The cost of care for the above child is astronomical. A child raised "in the system" is often referred to as a million dollar baby. I spent two and a half years facilitating a women's therapy group at Las Colinas Maximum Detention Facility - many of these adult women came up inside an institutional setting: with their children now doing the same.
The best sociological example, and how most of the world learned about human development and the powerful connection to an attached caregiver, came in the form of worst-case-scenario, as it often does.

"Above all, the eastern European orphans have become Exhibit A in the emotional debate over the body of thought known as attachment theory."




Institutional rearing negatively impacts children’s biology, as consistently shown by studies from the Bucharest project. Children left in institutions have altered stress physiology, including abnormal stress-hormone responses during challenging tasks in a laboratory setting. Compared to children who were assigned to foster care, institutionalized children have more abnormalities in the white matter structure of the brain, which refers to the fiber pathways that facilitate communication between brain regions. They have blunted brain responses to pictures of faces. They exhibit atypical patterns of oscillatory activity in the electroencephalogram, the measurement of electrical activity in the brain.
Even chromosomes inside the cells of the body are affected by institutionalization. Telomeres are protective portions on the ends of strands of DNA, and they are known to diminish with normal aging. High levels of chronic stress have been associated with greater diminishment of telomeres, suggesting that stress speeds aging at the cellular level.  
Crammed Shelters 

Institutionalization is another example of an adverse early rearing environment that may negatively impact the development of face perception. Institutional care is characterized by psychosocial deprivation; sensory and cognitive stimulation are lacking, and high child‐to‐caregiver ratios (in some institutions, nearly 20:1) leave children with little social stimulation and almost no opportunity to form stable, emotional attachments to caregivers (Smyke et al., 2007; Zeanah et al., 2003). A wealth of previous research has documented poor physical, cognitive, social, and neurologic outcomes in previously institutionalized children (Fisher, Ames, Chisholm, &; Savoie, 1997; Gunnar, 2001; O’Connor, Bredenkamp, &; Rutter, 1999; O’Connor & Rutter, 2000; O’Connor, Rutter, Beckett, Keaveney, &; Kreppner, 2000), the persistence and severity of which are related to the timing and duration of the institutional experience (Beckett et al., 2006; Rutter et al., 2007).         



6.12.2018

On Suicide

The complete loss of hope is a dangerous emotional place. Therefore, finding a way to share our hope with someone in that space is the beginning - and starting that conversation may be the hardest piece of all. The brain that is seriously contemplating suicide has created a ledger, and the cons outweigh the pros of living, with negative perceptions continuing to add to that ledger in a convincing fashion.
Peer to peer support is often even more helpful than the professional to patient relationship. If you know someone struggling, do not be afraid to ask, "Are you thinking of hurting yourself?" "Are you imagining taking your life?" You will not plant the seed of suicide. Research shows that many people who complete their suicide had actually shared with somebody their intentions, perhaps at a subtle level.
Signs may include increased or decreased sleep, increased or decreased appetite, sudden excitement, giving away personal belongings, experiencing a simultaneous series of setbacks i.e. a break up, financial loss, job loss, physical injury.
70% of people who attempt suicide never attempt again.

Questions for your loved ones: Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, War fighters and Marines..."What do you need?"

6.10.2018


Kim Wallace, of MBS Precision Pilates, was introduced to Turning Point here, one year ago, at this beautiful dinner. In one year, a lot can happen. Magic and miracles can happen. And they did. Kim, a Philadelphia native, had long dreamed of a California life. Those dreams included owning and operating a fitness studio. Fifteen years ago, as a single mom, she came to California and single handedly made her dreams come true.  Her pilates studio in North County has made a phenomenal impact on the lives of women in Turning Point. In 2017, as a Turning Point mentor, she graduated four women through her Teacher Training Program. They are now employed as Pilates teachers. In the next two months, three additional women will graduate as Pilates Teachers - give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
Kim Wallace in the middle
Kim's humble heart and fierce passion lie with the women of Turning Point. She is a mighty mite, sharing her love for physical and emotional well-being with our residents as they begin a new life, perhaps a new career with financial independence and self-supporting confidence. A great example of how one person can be so very powerful. An ordinary person doing extraordinary things. Tonight, she was awarded the Judy B Award for her devotion to Turning Point. Turning Point has been on the front line of alcohol rehabilitation for women since 1970.
Judy B Award
Once a year, an elegant dinner is held as their primary annual fundraiser at the Bay View Restaurant (uniquely located at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot) - emceed by Tim Lucey Board President (and Retired US Marine) in all of his casual and humble glory. Each year, I bring a new guest in the hopes that they will find their pilot light lit - and be reminded of the grass-roots efforts that strengthen our community ties and frankly, make life worth living.

5.22.2018

Signs Your Partner is "Leaning Out"

Leaning Out is a relational phrase identified by William Doherty - I am borrowing this phrase here to describe behaviors and indications that your partner is less committed than you may wish him/her to be.

Your partner/spouse is...

1) Unwilling to make future plans together (travel, large purchases)
2) Avoiding work parties or family events 
3) Downplaying what used to be important dates (anniversary's, traditions, holidays)
4) Increasingly independent with money and finances
5) Seeking autonomy and time apart
6) Asserting themes about "We're different" or "We don't really know each other well."
7) Less personal disclosure of his/her daily life
8) Increased use of the unknowns, e.g., "We can't predict the future" or "We never know what might happen."
9) Your partner initiates trivial fights to create emotional distance
10) Avoids sexual intimacy



5.02.2018

Young Adult and Possibly Gay


More than once, I have sat in my office struggling to understand what is disturbing an entire family about their young adult. Upon meeting the young adult, for this conversation, 17-20 years old, male or female, I am struck by how loving and devoted this wonderful family is – but also, more deeply, wondering, what is bothering them? 
It might take just one visit, or it might take several weeks, until this lovely youngster will burst into tears and stutter the words "I’m gay," usually followed with "I have never told anyone this. I'd rather die than say these words."
I share this story because my witnessing to this event is so rarely told. 
My private practice sees the nicest individuals, couples, and families, and my community is child and family-centered: there really are no bad parents (I know, a bold claim!). If anything, we are an overly engaged, self-scrutinizing, uber-attentive group of parents!
After decades in social services, I recognize bad parenting; either neglectful, abusive, mentally ill, or critically authoritarian. But, my writing here today is about the (typical?) kind and open family that only want the best for their child - the untold story of the gay young adult that feels self-hate, that lives in terror of being found out, despite of his embracing community. 
No reasonable parent wants their offspring to suffer...and the truth is that a parent intuitively knows that life as a gay person is harder than living as a heterosexual. It may not be that forever, and many adult gays would say that they are fully at peace with their journey towards acceptance and harmony, both within themselves and within society at large.
Presented to me is a loving family with a super terrific kiddo, a college student, sometimes bouncing back from college, or still in high school - their mood has shifted. 
Mom or dad might think their child is increasingly depressed or "dark" - often they wonder if they are using drugs, doing something illegal or unethical. But no: we are talking about a child with prior good grades, active and engaged with others, often with a practicing family faith, a child who uses no drugs and holds a promising future. 
I want to be normal
Everyone will talk about me
I’ll never have a family
I want to disappear
I want to die 
God will be mad at me
My parents will be devastated
I don’t want my teammates to know 

Many of us imagine it must be so easy to come out these days with the growing societal LGBTQI rights and vocal support groups. Or, perhaps when you read about the suicide of a gay student you imagine that their family had rejected them, or they were bullied by peers, yet, in my experience this is often not the case.  
The parents of the confused/inquiring/not yet “out” are wringing their hands, losing sleep and stressed at work, wondering why their child won't open up to them - What can I do to make him or her happier? Where is the child that I knew and loved just a year ago?
Those parents have said, in front of me to them, "I love you as you are." And, I will share this assurance with young people, as they burrow down in unnecessary fear and worry- "In time, most parents are able to fully accept their kids as they are. Sometimes in the blink of an eye. Your folks will surprise you!" but that encouragement will initially fall on deaf ears. 
When I hear of a college superstar, or a sweet kid from the community - bright and shiny with everything to live for - taking his own his life, for no apparent reason, with never a bad day, my first thought is often gosh, I hope you did not end your life because of a secret
The stages of coming to terms with one’s sexuality typically follow:
1) Denial: I don’t want to be gay, I’m not going to be gay, push it down, ignore it, it will go away.
2) Confusion: What is happening? Why do I like her? How am I feeling? Is this intimate attraction?  Of those two, confusion or befuddlement is easier to handle than the self-loathing of denial, often accompanied by depression, panic attacks, avoidance.
3) Dialogue: This next stage is moving into some sort of dialogue with a loved one; a therapist, best friend, teacher. This is the toe-in-the-water exercise as we begin to unpack the assumption that we will be rejected and harshly received. At this stage, one feels out his/her immediate circle for direction and future support; a trust-building phase.  (As a reminder, there are free and anonymous online and texting support services, e.g. CRISISTEXTLINE). Part of an intelligent, measured plan moving forward, during this delicate stage of development, is enabling him/her to live in their skin...let’s find a way just for today. May I add, in my experience, any clergy that have been a part of this child's life can be supportive as well, contrary to popular belief (I have seen this first-hand, time and time again). As a devout once said to me on this topic, "We are made in His image and likeness, are we not?" Furthermore, to quote Father Gregory Boyle, echoing the contemplative Eckhart Meister, any talk of God that does not comfort you is a lie.


What does it feel like? Who cares about you? Who can support you? Parents and family are usually much more accepting than kids give their parents credit for! We’ve all been there - the night of the fender bender, when you don’t want to call dad, or come home with the horrible grade. Parents adapt and forgive, like the old wise oak tree. 
Most young adults do not hope to be a caricature of a gay person, the typical movie or television version and possibly the only one they may know. And they surely don't want to shake up a system or make new laws that protect their well-being.
Again, remember this young adult has probably spent his or her whole life hearing remarks about gays. Man, those ring in the ears for an eternity. Numerous choices have been made along the way to hide the secret - protect the secret at all costs. Three painful examples that have stayed with me; getting the exact opposite (one imagines) of a “gay” haircut, making a point of not being friends with someone that he/she might possibly find attractive, and, choosing homophobic friends to remind one “not to be gay.” This is wasted energy for what should otherwise be an incredibly productive age and stage of life.
An alcoholic will go to great lengths to convince himself and others that he does not have a drinking problem. A young adult coming to terms with it with his or her sexuality will go to great lengths to convince himself and others that he is not gay. My office, the counselor's office, is usually the last house on the block. For many families it feels like admitting failure (not!) to walk in and have a conversation with a stranger about the very worst thing happening in your life and paying for it moreover, such is the desperation.

I am convinced that crime and violence would be reduced across all spectrum. Pockets of exceptional difficulty to come out exist, e.g., the military culture, Latino and African community, conservative religious groups. My simple hypothesis is that greater personal self-acceptance will reduce social deviance, risky behavior, and psychopathology (greater acceptance will not increase homosexual orientation, just as shame does not a straight person make).
I’m here to tell you that it is not easy coming out. Rare is the 19-year-old that wants to shout it from the rooftops; he's usually horribly lacking in self-confidence and those leanings that he’s held probably since kindergarten (as told to me repeatedly). Young adults should be solely consumed with ideas about their future instead: where to go over the upcoming summer, choosing a college, getting pizza for dinner, making a little money, volunteering somewhere, building that resume.
The same person that has dear gay friends will feel great grief and confusion over her own child's coming out. The well-meaning heterosexual parents might wonder if kids these days aren't "just experimenting." Perhaps - "She was vegan last month," and "Changes her hair color every other dayNow this.”
I get it! 
I don't doubt that sexual trends can manifest as sexual disorientation, that depression and isolation may make for false “try on suits” - but, I am referring to something very different here; a young person that cannot shake his shame over what he or she feels deeply, to be true. Sometimes the goal is to simply get through high school, or move away, so that confining persona can be shed, and one can begin to live with ease and comfort, without impending doom for what others may think or say.
Inaccurate, preconceived beliefs and ideas that pushes the young adult further into themselves are deadly. The parents of the dead athlete, the talented musician, or the funny writer, so loved, would give anything to tell their handsome son, their beautiful baby "I loved you before you were born. I love you no matter what. Let's talk."

PFLAG: For Families and Loved Ones


4.29.2018

I enjoyed such a fabulous weekend at the El Retiro Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos recently.
Father Gregory Boyle was our retreat leader. All I can say is that it was a breath of fresh air. To be reminded that so many people, young and old, continue to be on the front line of social justice and action (Kinship aka helping others). I was reinvigorated. 
One young gal works as a homeless outreach coordinator in downtown Portland, Oregon. Another elderly woman flew in from Canada, alone, to hear Father Boyle speak on "Radical Kinship" and another woman from Kentucky had recently started a free program for indigent women and children. People are amazing!
The 75 retreat attendees were diverse and all felt included and supported. 
Keep the faith, gang!

Here are two pictures...
Marian M. is in the first picture. She has volunteered weekly in the Modesto Girl's Juvenile Hall Facility for seven years, twice a week! (creative writing and mentoring). She is standing at Homeboy Industries, located in East Los Angeles. 
I hope to visit Homeboy this summer; public tours provided weekly, signups online.



Fr Greg Boyle and myself. 
It was an honor to meet this gentleman.



4.22.2018

What Is Sexual Harassment? Ask David Schwimmer


David Schwimmer's Video on Workplace Harassment Read/Watch Here

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4.17.2018

Female Leadership in the Armed Forces/US Coast Guard

Where are all the US Coast Guard Women Going?
"Retention as a whole is something near and dear to the Coast Guard.
Zukunft told Federal News Radio earlier this year, the way the service is keeping such a larger percentage of its force is through careful policy crafting, attentive leadership and programs that help circumvent the military’s rigid promotion system.
“It really begins with good leadership. Leaders that really do go to bat for their people, knowing your people and not just what do they qualify, what’s their name, but going the extra mile to say, ‘Hey, here’s someone who’s having some struggles in their relationship at home, they’re having some financial difficulty, I think they might have a drinking problem. I’m going to confront them on it.’ But not in a punitive way, in a ‘I care about you [way]’,” Zukunft said. “Our leaders really, truly do look out for their people and not for themselves.”
But Coast Guard isn’t the only one struggling with retention of mid-career women.
“There is concern across all of the branches at mid-career retention for women versus men. All of the services in varying career fields, at varying points but still within that mid-range of a 20 year career, they are experiencing challenges with women leaving at higher rates,” said Janet Wolfenbarger, chairwoman of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services."