Category - Early Childhood

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Stealth Health – Tales From the Toddler Dinner Table
2
How Families Stay Strong
3
Help Me Grow – How to Find and Connect Families to Help
4
The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Tobacco Use
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How Childhood Trauma Affects Lifelong Health

Stealth Health – Tales From the Toddler Dinner Table

By: Julie Swank

If he had his own way, my son would subsist entirely on pancakes. In his words, “with syrup AND jam.” As a garden nutrition educator, I’m embarrassed to admit this, since I work hard to convince kids they love kale and beets over more sugar-laden food options. And here’s my own son double fisting pancakes drenched in syrup. 

I have to remember that I, as the well meaning adult in this picture, am in charge of helping my young one develop his palate to enjoy many different tastes and flavors. But a child’s love for all things carbohydrate and sugar can leave even the most determined parent feeling defeated from time to time at the dinner table. 

This is a good place to introduce the idea of stealth health, from the “if you can’t beat them, join ‘em” category of parenting advice. While it’s still important to introduce foods raw or solo for young kids to get a taste for them, sometimes you need to get creative to get all the nutrition you can into their growing bodies. I’m taking a page from my mom on this one, who had many vegetable pancake variations, most of which were not well received by my younger self. Corn, zucchini, and carrots all made appearances at the breakfast table, met with many a complaint from me to “just have normal pancakes.”

Well, here I am as an adult who loves many different kinds of veggies, so my mom’s persistence paid off. We’re in for the long haul teaching food habits to kids – food preferences are MUCH easier to shape at a young age.  However, this might not always look perfect. For example, my son tasting a bite of spinach and spitting it out onto my plate…but his excited “I tried it!” is a step in the right direction. We’ll work more on manners, but exposure to many different tastes in the toddler years will help our young ones become adventurous eaters as adults. 

Here are some fun ideas from the stealth health kitchen:

  • Pasta and pizza are often easy “wins” with kids – who doesn’t love them? Purée steamed kale or broccoli, roasted beets, or other veggies into the tomato sauce for extra nutrients. This also works for meatloaf or meatballs – add 1 cup of puréed veggies to your regular recipe. 
  • Take it from brussels sprouts, they got a lot more popular once they met bacon. Use small amounts of cheese or bacon to make a previously unpopular vegetables shine. 
  • If you’re desperate, you can always hide veggies! I often slip the kale and spinach under the cheese in a pizza. Also, grated or sliced veggies (raw or cooked) can easily be tucked into sandwiches and wraps without too much of a fuss.
  • Give in a little bit to a toddler’s love of sugar by roasting root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, and beets to bring out their natural sugars. Cut them in wedges and have “rainbow french fries”!

This pancake recipe is popular in our house and a great way to sneak some extra nutrients into breakfast without your picky eaters noticing. Enjoy! 

Carrot Apple Pancakes

  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 1 large apple, grated
  • 1 cup plain yogurt + ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • ½  tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ginger (dried or fresh)
  • ½ cup raisins (optional)

Mix flour, baking soda, sugar, raisins, and spices together in a bowl.  Separately, whisk eggs, milk, and yogurt together and then stir in the grated carrot and apple. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients, being careful to not overmix (this makes pancakes tough). Fry on a pancake griddle, or in a little oil on a skillet until crispy and risen a bit. 


Julie Swank is a farmer, a school garden and nutrition educator, and most recently a mom, which has put all of her skills to the test to keep her busy two-year-old healthy and fed. She loves to connect people to their food by sharing advice from the kitchen and getting hands in the soil on the farm.  You can find her in the kitchen cooking meals for her son’s preschool, Four Seasons of Early Learning, and tending gardens in Greensboro, VT.

How Families Stay Strong

By: Steve Ames

Local Resources Available for Parents

Speaking to a legislator earlier this session, I came to realize that not everyone knows about the significant integrated approach to prevention the state and a large number of partner organizations take, sometimes called “upstream strategies,” to ensure kids and families succeed in life.

Data shows that focusing on prevention efforts has a significant impact on lowering costs down the road for other systems and services, including special education, health care and even corrections. Even more important, they help kids and their families lead healthier, happier lives.

While there are many different efforts aimed at prevention, from smoking cessation, Early Intervention, Strong Families Home Visiting, and Care Coordination to name just a few, my focus here is on a prevention framework that Vermont has committed to over many years that can be incorporated across many other prevention strategies – the tried and true Strengthening Families Framework.

Strengthening Families is a research-informed approach to increase family strengths (also sometimes referred to as “resilience”), enhance child development, and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. It is based on engaging families, programs, and communities in building five key protective factors – factors that help kids and families do better when difficult things happen to them (including Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs):

  1. Parental resilience: Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma. We can all learn ways to manage the inevitable challenges that occur in our daily lives. Parent education classes offered through the Parent Child Centers (like the Lamoille Family Center) are just one strategy to help parents learn these skills.
  2. Social connections: Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support. Social connections include keeping in touch with family members, but also are as simple as going to community events and school events – or just talking to each other on the street and waving to each other as you pass by on the road.
  3. Knowledge of parenting and child development: Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development. If you know that your three-year-old’s brain is not able to reason like your nine-year-old’s, then parenting will be a little bit easier – but there are myriad ways that knowledge of child development helps people to interact with kids in more positive ways.
  4. Concrete support in times of need: Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges. Concrete support can be help from a friend when your family is stressed, or help from a family member. It can also come from a Parent Child Center, church, or a state agency. It can be fundamental – like help with food or housing, or it can be more emotional, like help dealing with the fantastic new skills of your two-year-old.
  5. Social and emotional competence of children: Family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, and establish and maintain relationships. When kids learn the difference between thinking and feeling, they are more likely to communicate successfully and feel better. These key skills result in all of us getting the help we need.

Local Resources Available for Parents

In Vermont, the Child Development Division of the Agency of Human Services have been awarding annual grants for the past eight years to help child care providers learn about and incorporate the Strengthening Families Framework into their programs.

Parent Child Centers in every region of Vermont, like the Lamoille Family Center and the Family Center of Washington County, with whom I work, promote resilience and the protective factors every day at their centers, at the many playgroups they lead, during free parent education classes, and through the Children’s Integrated Services activities they provide for their communities.

Help Me Grow, Vermont’s Child Development call center (211), also provides support for people looking for solutions to challenges around being a family.

The five protective factors at the foundation of Strengthening Families also offer a framework for changes at the systems, policy and practice level – locally, statewide and nationally. Part of Building Bright Futures’ work includes creating and revising plans of action each regional council uses to inform and guide their work through the year, and the Strengthen Families Framework helps us identify key strategies in our communities.

At its heart, Strengthening Families is about how families and individuals find support, and are supported to build key protective factors that enable children to thrive. In most cases in our day-to-day lives, we find these five protective factors on our own. Sometimes we need a little more help – and Vermont is working through a collective impact approach to make sure that our variety of formal and informal services and supports for children and families are designed to make families strong.


As the Regional Coordinator for Building Bright Futures, Steve staffs The Lamoille Valley Building Bright Futures Regional Council, a volunteer committee focused on the well being of young children and their families. There is one such Council in each of twelve regions of the State. Steve also works with the Playroom in Morrisville. He writes about early childhood, families, community, play, and equity.

Help Me Grow – How to Find and Connect Families to Help

By: Steve Ames

In my work as Building Bright Futures Regional Coordinator for the Lamoille Valley, I’ve been working to spread the word about Help Me Grow. Help Me Grow is the information and referral center for young families and kids that has recently been ramping up in Vermont.

A key component of Help Me grow is the call center. It’s part of the 211 System, and Child Development Specialists Elizabeth Gilman and Megan Fitzgerald are on the other end of the line (or text at 211*6).

The call center works closely with other agencies throughout the state. Though most calls come from families directly, sometimes they come from medical providers, or child care providers or family and friends. Calls run the gamut from “I missed my WIC appointment, do you know how late they’re open?” to wanting to have an in-depth discussion about a child’s development, or a request for potential help in the community for food or housing. There is significant value with the Help Me Grow system in that the calls can be anonymous, which lowers a caller’s fear, encourages them to really describe what they need, and allows trust to be built over time.

“The calls can be anonymous, which lowers a caller’s fear, encourages them to really describe what they need, and allows trust to be built over time.”

The Help Me Grow call center Child Development folks describe working with a mom with two children, one of whom receives special education services. The mom is a recent domestic violence survivor who had moved in with her family. The caller did not want to share information about herself or her kids on the first call, which was a request for help around food. She didn’t want to have to share her story repeatedly with service providers because she was concerned about being pitied or seen as not a good parent. The initial call with Help Me Grow was directed by the specialist to all the positive things the caller was doing as a parent –  how involved she was in her child’s Individualized Education Plan, the positive relationships she had with her parents, identifying some basic needs in her area, and how she might access resources. The specialist spoke specifically about Reach Up and how it might build on the strengths and resiliency she already had to transition her back to work. On that first call, she was not interested in seeking state assistance. However, after several calls and follow-ups, she went to a local food shelf and had a very positive experience, and some time later went to the Economic Services office to sign up for help.

Often families don’t have built-in supports that the caller described above did. Elizabeth, one of the two Child Development specialists at Help Me Grow, has reached out to families referred from medical providers when the families are hesitant or don’t respond to calls from Children’s Integrated Services. Elizabeth often works with the medical provider and Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) to ensure that the referred family is getting connected. Often it can take several months for families to feel comfortable and safe enough to try accessing support services like CIS.

Help Me Grow is working on a more intentional partnership with CIS. Recently, a family was referred to Help Me Grow by a physician. The family has two young children, ages 2 and 4, and their doctor had developmental concerns about both. Elizabeth called the parent and they completed CIS referral together over the phone. Elizabeth got permission to share information with the medical provider, CIS, and school district from the caller. Then she worked together to pursue Early Intervention for the younger child and school-based services for the older child. Help Me Grow was able to make the referral to the school district directly so CIS staff could focus on the Early Intervention work for the younger child. Then Help Me Grow followed up with the physician to let them know that the connection had been made and that the kids had begun to get the supports their physician knew they needed.

Text the letters HMGVT (in the body of the message) to the (short) phone number 898211.

When providers refer families to Help Me Grow, they have to let the family know and get their permission for follow up. Help Me Grow never cold calls a family. The Help Me Grow referral form requires providers who complete it to confirm that they’ve talked to the referred family. The Help Me Grow referral form also lets a provider indicate if they’ve already made a referral directly to CIS as well, so that Help Me Grow can instead focus on connecting the family to wrap-around supports like playgroups, activities or basic needs, while they are going through the CIS referral process. There are some families who, even if referred to CIS, are hesitant to engage with anyone from the government, so having another option for engaging those families is critical. Help Me Grow is this option.

Understanding the depth of follow up through the call center is critical for community partners to understand. Help Me Grow is working to fill gaps and build connections over time with more difficult-to-reach families and eventually connect them to services. Those who resist getting help with their young children in need are difficult to find, and, when they don’t receive the help they need, problems often increase over time.

To make Help Me Grow even easier to connect with, the Child Development Specialists are available via text for families – folks can text the letters HMGVT (that’s what you send in the body of the message) to the shortcode (imagine this as a phone number) 898211.

Here is Help Me Grow’s super informative website. On it you can find the Referral form and lots of developmental information for young families as well as for providers of services:

http://helpmegrowvt.org

Here are two great smartphone apps, for both iPhones and for Android devices that are terrific ways to get more information about your child’s development:

http://www.joinvroom.org

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones-app.html


As the Regional Coordinator for Building Bright Futures, Steve staffs The Lamoille Valley Building Bright Futures Regional Council, a volunteer committee focused on the well being of young children and their families. There is one such Council in each of twelve regions of the State. Steve also works with the Playroom in Morrisville. He writes about early childhood, families, community, play, and equity.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Tobacco Use

By: Scott Johnson, Lamoille Family Center

Perhaps you’ve heard about the impact of trauma on long-term health. In Vermont and here in Lamoille Valley there is a lot of attention being paid to the set of childhood experiences that are directly linked to challenges later in life. These experiences, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (see the list below), or ACEs, are traumatic events that, if untreated, can have significant negative effects. The most common of these ACEs in Vermont are: divorce/separation, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and extreme economic insecurity.

What may surprise you is the link between these ACEs and tobacco use. The chart below shows the number of ACEs and their relationship to early smoking onset, adult smoking rates, and the lung disease known as COPD. Here are some important statistics about those connections.

  • If you experience more than three ACEs you are more likely to use tobacco.
  • 88% of Vermont smokers started before age 18.
  • In Vermont, forty percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 who have experienced more than three ACEs are using tobacco. That’s more than twice the number of users in that age range who have fewer than three ACEs.
  • Those individuals with four or more ACEs are 3x more likely to start smoking before age 18.

According to the Vermont Department of Health website, tobacco use is the NUMBER ONE preventable cause of death. In Vermont, smoking costs approximately $348 million in medical expenses and results in about 1,000 smoking-related deaths each year.

 

According to their own internal documents, tobacco companies try to attract new young smokers by targeting retail stores near schools and parks. (http://www.counterbalancevt.com)

 

According to the 2015 Youth Behavior Risk Survey, almost one-quarter of high school students in Lamoille County have reported using three different types of tobacco products:  27% tried electronic vapor products, 23% tried a flavored tobacco product, and 22% smoked a whole cigarette, with 11% of students reporting that they smoked within the past 30 days.

If we want to reduce the use of tobacco and improve health outcomes in our region we must do something to reduce exposure to those ACEs, or do more to help young people heal from the impact of those experiences before they start using tobacco. The annual focus on urging smokers to quit is called The Great American Smokeout, and it occurred last week on November 16th. Maybe some of you participated in this event, and remain tobacco free!

The community has an important role to play in reducing the likelihood our young people will choose to smoke. The links between smoking rates and adverse childhood experiences tell us that solutions lie in community-level efforts that support children, youth, and families. Research shows that the kind of help that makes a difference includes community-level activities that:

  • Make sure all children are socially and emotionally supported, and
  • Assure each family has two or more people who can offer concrete support in times of need.

As you may have heard, Healthy Lamoille Valley (HLV), our community prevention coalition, has regained tobacco prevention funding and is charged with addressing prevention of initiation of tobacco use among youth, eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke, and increasing tobacco-free policies in towns, public places, workplaces, and college campuses. If you want to get connected to our local efforts, including our reestablished HLV Tobacco Prevention Task Force, contact the HLV Policy and Community Outreach Coordinator, Alison Link at alison@healthylamoillevalley.org. Check out the website at https://www.healthylamoillevalley.org/tobacco.

 

*ACEs include: mental illness, depression, or person with suicidal intentions in the home; drug addiction or alcoholic family member; parental discord – indicated by divorce, separation, abandonment; incarceration of any family member; witnessing domestic violence against the mother; child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional); child neglect (physical, emotional).


Scott Johnson is Executive Director of the Lamoille Family Center and has worked in Lamoille Valley in human services and education for nearly his entire career. The Family Center has served our community by encouraging, educating and celebrating children, youth and families for forty years.

Scott writes about early care and education, adolescent development and strengthening families that improve conditions of well-being.

How Childhood Trauma Affects Lifelong Health

By: Jessica Bickford

Trauma… it’s the really horrific things that we go through as people… things that deeply impact us. For some, trauma is a single point in time while others experience ongoing trauma and instability.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes these concepts when defining the word trauma:

Injury caused by an extrinsic (outside ourselves) agent

Results in severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury

In many cases when we experience trauma as adults we have gained the tools and relationships to carry us through. When we experience trauma as children we do not necessarily have those resources or the brain development that gives us the resilience needed. The more trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the likelihood these experiences will have negative health impacts throughout their lifespan that can include obesity, heart disease, and substance use disorders.

The good news is that there is new science emerging that gives us hope that our negative childhood experiences do not have to be our destiny.  The NEAR* sciences, as they are called, present a picture of hope. Come join Tricia Long** and Daniela Caserta*** at the upcoming “How Childhood Trauma Affects Lifelong Health” Workshops to find out more on how we can come together as a community and build this hope and change our health outcomes!

Join us for one of these evenings:

November 7th, Hazen Auditorium – 6:00-8:00

November 14th, Green Mountain Technology and Career Center – 6:00-8:00

You can pre-register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/how-childhood-trauma-affects-lifelong-health-tickets-38547319069. Pre-registration is not required, so grab a friend or neighbor and come out to one of these informative evenings!  All are welcome!

 

* NEAR Science = Neuroscience, Epigenetics, ACEs, & Resilience

** Tricia Long is a clinical mental health counselor, and Director for Resilience Beyond Incarceration at the Lamoille Restorative Center, a program that supports children and families dealing with parental incarceration.

*** Daniela Caserta has been overseeing a variety of programs at the Lamoille Family Center and is transitioning to be the Director of Programs for the Washington County Family Center.

 


Jessica Bickford has worked as Coordinator of Healthy Lamoille Valley for a little over two years, where she has enjoyed writing for their blog. Writing for Copley’s community blog is a natural extension of this experience! Healthy Lamoille Valley focuses on making healthy choices easy choices, realizing that when we have access to healthy options we are less likely to choose behaviors that are harmful. Prevention is really a lifestyle of wise choices that enable us to live life to the fullest.