Monthly Archives: January 2013

Communication: Sure, You’re Talking … But Are You Listening?

Guest post by Jeff Griesemer, President and CEO of Child Rescue Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, abduction, and victimization.

I am often asked, “What is the top thing that parents can do to protect their children from sexual predators?” While there are lots of ways parents can empower their children, the absolute essential key is communication.

Communication. Sounds relatively easy, huh? It’s not. A misunderstood comment from a co-worker can quickly become an issue that causes enough turmoil that someone loses their job. A failure to use my turn signal can certainly impact my relationship with the guy in the car behind me. And not properly communicating with your child can, without a doubt, open the door for a sexual predator.

The earlier you start trying to communicate, the better. Here are some tips:

  • The best communication is a two-way street and listening needs to be a priority.
  • Encourage talking! Ask questions that go beyond a simple yes or no and try to extend the conversations by asking your child to expand on or to clarify his or her thoughts.
  • Remember that you must be patient.
  • Most children have a limited vocabulary and can take longer to express themselves. Try to avoid cutting them off and correcting them as you listen. Kids need to know they are important and you are interested in what they have to say.
  • You’ll find that repeating or reflecting what your child is saying is a great way to show them you care and are listening.
  • Avoid being negative with your words.

Having actual conversations with your child about their day can show how important he is to you and it can help you spot potential issues. Is your child active in organized sports? Try asking questions like:

  • What is your coach like?
  • Do you like him or her?
  • Are you making friends with the other kids?
  • What did he like best? What did he like least?

These types of inquiries give you some insight into how your child is feeling and if there might be cause for concern.

Open communication with your child can do wonders for his self-esteem as well. Correcting behavior should be constructive, helpful and without criticism. Show your children how to be good. Kids want to please, and when you praise them this helps build confidence and encourages them to continue to express themselves.

These simple phrases can have such a positive effect on your child:

  • I’m so proud of you
  • Nice work
  • You’re so smart
  • I knew you could do it
  • Thank you

The great news is that creating open lines of communication with your child can help prevent sexual predators from getting too close to your child and if they do, can allow you to recognize a possible threat and take action before it is too late.

What message are you giving your child?

Making sure “farm-to-table” includes everybody’s table

Guest post by Sandy Veilleux, owner of Flora Bama Farms. FBF is a farmers market in Pensacola that recently installed free EBT-processing equipment from the Florida Department of Children and Families and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Flora Bama Farms market

One Halloween when I was a child I volunteered to carve what seemed like hundreds of pumpkins. Why? To put them on the lights of the fire trucks and police cars as holiday décor for their patrols around the neighborhoods to keep residents safe. It was a pretty amazing – and unique – volunteer experience, and one my dad still likes to tell tall tales about.

The pumpkin effort was just one of the many volunteer activities I got myself into when I was young. My parents volunteered endless hours to help their community. It was instilled in me at a very young age that you always give back as much as you can.

Customers at Flora Bama Farms

Now, as an adult, what I know about most is food. So I am doing everything I can to find ways to make sure “farm-to-table” really includes everybody’s table. We want to stretch people’s money so they can eat really well and have the freshest food available.

Installing the free EBT-processing equipment from DCF and the USDA was just one quick way we can make it easier for people of all income levels to have access to great food – all while supporting local farmers! I just attach a bumper buddy to my iPhone and it’s done. It hooks up automatically to a printer, so it has been really easy to use. And did I mention it is FREE? Can’t get any better than that!

Our farmers Markets has partnered up with “Four Blades of Grass,” a chef based effort that provides fresh food to stuff backpacks for kids in school. Our kids are our future. You can’t grow minds on an empty stomach.

Flora Bama Farms yummy produce

These are just small ways we give back that are so easy for us to do because we know food. Giving people access to the things we know and the resources we have just makes sense.

I encourage all Florida farmers markets to take advantage of this free equipment. If your family is going to the market this weekend, be sure to ask if they accept EBT. It’s just one small way to make a huge difference in the health of your community.

Who am I? The identity challenge for sex trafficking victims

Guest post by Jesse Maley, founder of Out of the Life Inc., a Central Florida organization that helps women find freedom from the sex industry. OOTL provides counseling, therapy, career help, emergency services, housing, family reconciliation and justice system assistance.

One of the ways sex traffickers hold their victims captive is by taking away identification documents. Without their state ID’s, drivers licenses, social security cards and birth certificates, the victim does not have access food, clothing, housing or any other basic human need. Without identification they can’t register for school, get any kind of job, open a bank account or get an apartment.

The documents also allow the trafficker to get the victim’s food stamps, social security or disability payment and PIN numbers – things the trafficker will not give up.

As time in captivity continues, the victims are assigned “working names.”  These names are changed often and many victims claim that sometimes they had so many names they couldn’t keep them straight.  Their identities are as lost to them as their pride, confidence and self-respect.

All of this is happening right here in Florida.

In 2012, Out Of The Life Inc. helped many local victims reclaim their lives by:

  • Helping 20 survivors open new bank accounts
  • Providing job placement and career counseling for 22 women.
  • Enrolling three survivors of sex trafficking in local vocational schools
  • Helping 13 women pass their GED.
  • Providing housing for 13 young women who had nowhere else to go.
  • Assisting with re-entry services for more than 60 women who were in jail or prison
  • Providing too many bus passes to count so that these survivors have transportation to work and school.

Out of the Life helped this sex trafficking victim obtain housing, an ID, a bank account and a job. She is now working to become self-sufficient.

The most transformational experiences we have had were in the faces of the 130 women that we assisted in accessing one or more of their Identification Documents.  One young woman said it best when she opened not only her own birth certificate, but that of her 6-year-old daughter: “It’s like now I really exist!”

There a dozens of hurdles that service providers to victims of sex trafficking face when responding to a new case regardless of age or gender, but one of the most rewarding case management tools we can offer is the restoration of their identity documents.

Spread the word about human trafficking – let people know it is happening here in Florida and needs to be stopped. If you know of someone who may be a victim, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.

Putting an end to slavery

Guest blog post by Giselle Rodriguez, State Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Giselle speaking about human trafficking

A 15-year-old girl was on her way home from school in Orlando when the unthinkable happened. A married couple drove up and the husband jumped out and kidnapped her. For a month, the girl was abused and forced into prostitution. Luckily, she was found and was rescued from this nightmare she was forced to live. The married couple was arrested and pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges, but not all stories end this way.

In the past, if a teenager was found to be involved in prostitution they may have been put into a juvenile detention program. But now, as of Jan. 1, 2013, the Safe Harbor Act allows the state to provide safety, medical treatment, therapy and shelter to these child victims of human trafficking.

It is estimated that 1.8 million children worldwide are forced into the commercial sex industry.  Many people wonder, how can this sort of thing happen in some of these countries? This type of thing could never happen in the U.S., right? But it is happening here. Even in Florida.

Since January 2010, there have been 1,266 cases in Florida of alleged human trafficking involving child sexual exploitation. Human trafficking also includes involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage, and Florida has the third highest volume of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

End modern-day slavery in Florida

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Take the time to reflect and speak out against the issue of human trafficking. Many Florida anti-trafficking organizations will be hosting events that will help shed light on human trafficking.

It is important that we continue to educate people on the fact that slavery is still occurring in the U.S. The more we talk about this issue, the better chances we have to identify, rescue and restore these victims.

If you suspect any child is a victim of human trafficking, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
— Nelson Mandela

The Good in Goodbye

Guest post by Pinellas County Foster Parent Charles Parker with Eckerd Community Alternatives

Charles and family one the day they became Sierra's forever family

I doubt too many people would have described me as a typical caregiver. I never even planned on being a parent. However, my wife Stacey became interested in becoming a foster parent while working as an occupational therapist at All Children’s Hospital. It was there she learned about the sad situations some kids endure every day. Eventually, she convinced me that we could become foster parents together. I haven’t regretted a day since.

Now that the big ball has dropped in Time Square and people have vowed fresh beginnings, my hope for 2013 is that more everyday people consider becoming foster parents.  I am always struck by the number of people who say to me, “I thought about doing that, but I could never let the kids go.” People often imagine the heartbreak associated with goodbyes, but every time a child is reunited with their family they get back a sense of self, a sense of belonging – things most of us take for granted.

We fostered a 3-year-old girl who had only seen her father and grandparents as an infant.  To prepare her to be reunified with her grandfather, we created photo books of her family, the house, her new bedroom, even the family pets. When she saw her grandfather at the airport she ran to him as if he had raised her since birth. That day, as this innocent precious girl reacquainted with her family, she looked up and told my wife that it was “time to go.” Although any caring person would be sad when it is time to say goodbye to a little one, it is a good feeling knowing the child is ready to move on and make a loving connection with a new family.

Stacey and I just adopted our second child out of foster care, a little girl we cared for since she was 14 days old.  We are in the process of renewing our foster license, and while the names on that license are mine and Stacey’s, our daughters are also a foster “caregivers” in many ways.  Our 7-year-old has had so many little brothers and sisters that she sometimes forgets that her family is unique, and that not every home takes on the challenges of helping other families in need.

Because goodbyes are hard, many people will never consider the rewards of foster parenting.  But there is good in goodbye, especially when the result is a new chance for a child in need.  While fostering is not easy and it is a decision the entire family has to be all in on, the benefits both for the family and for the child are immense.  Please consider becoming a foster parent. It is not too late to enrich your new year’s resolution with a new experience – one that could unite a broken family.

To learn more about how to become a foster parent visit Fostering Florida’s Future.