Our Commitment to Ending Violence
With the recent violence in our community and across the country, one word kept coming up around our offices, in our meetings with families and in our personal lives: hopelessness.
At Kaleidoscope, the young people we serve are at a higher risk for being victims of violence. They’re predominantly people of color. Most have experienced abuse or neglect in their biological homes. Many have been placed with foster families, who provide the stability and care they need, but who still mark a loss of a biological family. We know that all young people want and need to feel like they belong, but the young people we serve often don’t – and they have have the additional hurdles of trauma to overcome.
Our programs directly address these issues. We find stable, loving homes for children and teens. We ensure they stay in their communities, so they can build life-long networks of support. We train foster parents to build the stability and trust that young people need to thrive. We focus each of our interactions with children in our care on these key relationships. But there are complications.
We recently lost one of the boys in our programs to the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago. He was just 16 years old. Shortly after, another of our young people was shot and lucky to survive. Of course, these boys were impacted amidst the many gun deaths, mass shootings and other violence across our country. As the adults in our community committed to young people, we had to do something. We had to combat hopelessness. We had to start the conversation.
So we did. We held a staff town hall meeting just to talk about what was happening and what we could do. The social workers, counselors and other child welfare experts at Kaleidoscope developed the 4-part YEAH Initiative.
We know that our young people need to be heard, to feel like their experiences, their feelings and their voices matter. Here’s how we’re meeting that need:
- Forming a Youth Advisory Council. Our strategic plan already outlined the creation of this formal group of young people who would make recommendations on our programs, policies and procedures. We’re moving it up the priority list.
- Internal mentorship. We’re adding opportunities for the older youth in our programs to be role models for younger kids. This mentorship relationship builds up older and younger youth and creates the connections both need to succeed.
- Regular meetings. We’re creating a calendar of regular activities for youth in our programs to get together in safe places. Not only does this give kids a place to meet and stay off the streets, but it lets young people shape the activities they want to do.
- Partnerships. We’re linking our young people with advocacy groups in the community so they can make a difference outside of our programs. Have an idea? Contact us.
Talking with young people – especially the young black men in our programs – about safety isn’t easy, but it’s vital. Here’s how we’re building educational opportunities into our work:
- Adding conversations to our regular check-ins. We’re adding safety education components to our regular check-ins with youth in care. That means reminding them to carry an ID, to stay calm in confrontations, to be thoughtful about their routes to school and work.
- Further equipping foster parents. Beyond having our staff talk with kids, we’re better equipping our foster parents to lead these conversations regularly and help where they can, whether that’s driving kids to school every day or finding more activities in the community to keep our young people engaged – and safe.
Advocating for young people is the core of our work, and it plays a role in every one of our programs. Here’s how we’re increasing our efforts:
- Stepping in. We advocate for youth in our programs by working with their schools, healthcare providers, the justice system and others involved in their lives. In the coming months, we’re focusing more on how we can take preventative action at the first signs of issues, before they become problems, to keep young people safe.
- Funding. As the Illinois budget crisis continues, we stand firm in calling for more resources and support to help our young people succeed. We cannot compromise when it comes to the programs that keep our children, teens and young adults safe, healthy and cared for.
As hard as it can be to find hope in the darkness, we have to. Our young people deserve to dream about their futures, and we are responsible as adults for helping them. Here’s our commitment:
- Being there. We’re here for our kids 24/7. They can call a member of our staff any time to talk, to ask for help, or to just vent.
- Enacting our vision. We believe that all children and youth should have the opportunity to enjoy safe and healthy lives nurtured by responsive adults. We make that a reality every day.
- Doing more. We’re holding regular meetings for staff, foster parents and for the children, teens and young adults in our care to keep the conversation going. Nothing is off the table to ensure our kids have what they need to stay safe and prevent violence.
We’ve got a lot ahead of us, but we’re just getting started. It’s our responsibility as child welfare professionals, as the people who know and care about so many young people affected by violence, and simply as adults in our community. We hope we can count on you to join us.
Help start a conversation about what you and your networks can do to end the violence. Share this page as a first step.