Thursday, October 23, 2014

2014 Strengthening Families Fall Conference

The 2014 Strengthening Families Fall Conference, sponsored by the Indiana Department of Child Services, took place on 15-17 September 2014 at the Indianapolis Hilton North. This was the 20th of the Institutes which are offered twice annually. The three day institute offered morning and afternoon workshops that were three hours each in duration.

The value in this event for parents, especially those in custody battles, is immense. While I have paid hundreds of dollars for similar one day seminars this semi-annual Institute remains the most affordable at $50 for all three days which includes breakfast and afternoon snack.

The courses I took were;
1] The Trauma of Child Molestation
2] Learn the Signs. Act Early. Resources to Support Early Identification of Autism and Other Developmental Concerns
3] We Collaborate Every Day with Clients, Co-workers, and Partners
4] Getting Dads Involved - Why and How
5] The Art of Effective Communication
6] Coaching
Additional conference offerings included;
~ Recognizing the signs and impact of stress, trauma, and abuse on the development and functioning of young children;
~ Laughter Yoga;
~ Heroin in Indiana;
~ Building trust;
~ Understanding addiction and brain disease;
~ Infant mortality;
~ Power of the mind.

1] The Trauma of Child Molestation was presented by John Day who has 29 years of clinical practice experience specializing in play therapy with traumatized children. He currently teaches full time at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Illinois.

Parties to divorce and adverse parental relationships have a proportionally higher rate of childhood sexual victimization than the general population. As our society is more willing to be open about sexual issues and reporting of abuse the victimization rate has declined. The rate of childhood sexual victimization in the United States is declining. Due in part to the heavy financial judgments levied against the Catholic Church and the corresponding media coverage as well as identification and funding of effective abuse prevention programs. It is currently estimated that sexual abuse of girls has dropped to 20% while the rate for boys has dropped to five percent. Participants learned how to identify the signs of sexual abuse in children through the presentation of case studies. They also learned about the short and long term neurological effects of trauma including how brain development is affected. I have previously written about How Parents Induce Child Molestation which presents some of the ways to reduce opportunities for childhood victimization.

2] Learn the Signs. Act Early. Resources to Support Early Identification of Autism and Other Developmental Concerns was presented by Steve Viehweg is a founding chair of the Indiana Association for Infant and Toddler Mental Health. He is currently Associate Director of the Riley Child Development Center. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now the term used to cover an array of neurological conditions related to Autism. The affect rate is now said to be 1 in 68 by the age of eight years. As with any condition accurate assessment and diagnosis is critical. The overuse of ADHD and bi-polar labeling along with the subsequent use of drugs to tranquilize “normal” children for the convenience and profit of adults. ASD is at risk of being overly diagnosed and any diagnosis should be viewed with skepticism. Parents should learn about what behaviours actually constitute these conditions and what is merely misbehaviour or lack of discipline. Typical symptoms of ASD are easily perceived as disobedience or dishonour which will not be remedied through punishment or humiliation. In my case as a child both strategies only produced resentment, hostility and purposeful disobedience. Early diagnosis provides greater opportunities for remediation. The current average diagnosis is four years and five months. Diagnosis by age 18 months is preferable for the most effective treatment to occur.

3] We Collaborate Every Day with Clients, Co-workers, and Partners was presented by Elizabeth Waetzig is a partner with Change Matrix, LLC. In that capacity she consults in areas of mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice supporting collaboration between individuals, organizations, and agencies at the community, state, and national level. Marriage, parenting, employment, and other relationships require collaboration to be meaningful and effective. Even those high conflict parents engaged in fierce custody battles need to collaborate. Participants in this session learned about the essential elements of effective collaboration. This begins with establishing the goals of the collaborative effort or expected outcome and establishing the language and definitions to be used. By language I do not intend to convey that of a society but the situational language of the societal language. Attorneys and clients collaborate with the opposing party, a judge, CASA or GAL, and community service providers. Whether the technical language or law or laymans terms and definitions will be used must be understood if accurate delivery of messages is to be received. I have found that innefective use of attorneys and attorney/client conflict often finds its roots in a lack of implementation of some of the basic rules of collaboration. A guiding principle of collaboration should be ‘how can I help others help me to achieve my desired outcome?’

4] Getting Dads Involved - Why and How was presented by Jeff Newnam is the director of the Indiana Fatherhood Coalition and founder of the Indiana Dads Expo. Jeff speaks throughout the state about fatherhood related issues, leads training to help get fathers more involved, and advocates for the rights of fathers. I is well-established that children need the active participation of fathers in their lives if they are to thrive and develop into wholesome beings. Social workers, family law judges, the juvenile justice system, and policy makers need to collaborate on efforts to invite and facilitate greater fatherhood involvement in children’s lives. Societal attitudes, largely fed by popular media, discount the need for and value of fathers to children. Coupled with generations of children without active fathers in the home it is going to take a concerted effort to not only raise awareness but instill the values of fatherhood into both fathers and mothers. Corporate America profits greatly from demeaning fathers and helping to boost the number of fatherless homes.

5] The Art of Effective Communication was presented by Jack McGriffin who has 20 years of experience in an assortment of curriculum including creative problem solving, conflict and resolution, public speaking, and communications. Communication takes place in many forms. Technological advancements are rapidly changing the means by which we communicate and has outpaced the ability of most people to hone the art of communication to be adaptive. Like any art form, effective communication requires patience and practice. Lack of effective communication, I find, underlies most parenting or marital discord. A phrase a simple as ‘feeding the children’ has numerous interpretations which without clarification or situational context could lead to conflict. While one parent may see it as gathering ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry to be prepared and cooked another may see it as ordering a pizza or going out where someone else prepares, cooks, and serves the food -- at a much higher charge. Similar conflict can arise even when precision in form is used. Take the phrase “I will try and do that tomorrow” which can produce disagreement when tomorrow evolves with the task incomplete. That two-part phrase clearly states that on tomorrow I will make an attempt at the task and be successful in completing it. This is because it is a conjunction of two sentences; I will try that tomorrow -- I will do that tomorrow. Careless speakers may use that phrase although other meanings may be intended such as; I intend to have that done by tomorrow; I intend to try to get that done tomorrow, or; I am going to try to fit doing that into my schedule tomorrow. Body language norms have undergone dramatic changes along with the advent of technology. Attention diverted away from the speaker, including eye contact, was once clearly a sign of disinterest or dishonour. However, in our modern world, being attentive to televisions, computers, or hand-held devices while engaged in conversation can be perfectly acceptable. Hand-held devices may be being accessed to glean additional information or clarity on topics of discussion. In our less relaxed and hectic lifestyles facial expressions of angst or irritability may have nothing to do with the speaker or topic of conversation by may instead be reflecting thoughts related to other matters underlying conscious thought. To effectively communicate it is necessary to have a good working grasp of delivery and receipt of messages not only in language structure by situational and cultural usage.

6] Coaching was presented by Jack Needham who specializes in leadership development and executive coaching. For more than 25 years he has been training and coaching individuals in the art of self awareness and personal growth. I participated in this course because it is the same discipline that I practice - life coaching. This workshop would benefit a wide range of people from parents helping their children to managers relating to employees. As the title of the session indicates Needham presented background information and exercises related to coaching among a range of participants. This was little more than reinforcement of practices to which I am already engaged but it would benefit anyone who is in need of skills to help motivate and direct other people.

Each Institute offers a range of workshops that would be useful to parents in general but those who are engaged in child custody litigation or high conflict parenting would be better served.

The various sessions were attended by between 30 and 100 people of which less than 10 percent were men. I observed between two and five men in each session of which one was always me. In regularly attending these types of seminars I have made a general observation which is a truism revealed in restaurants and other group settings. That is, women in small groups, such as at a table, are louder and more boisterous without consideration of others around them moreso than men. This observation is not revealed as a condemnation of women, but rather, to illustrate a difference between women and men which was touched upon in some of the seminars. Women do tend to be more enthusiastic in discussion on matters involving emotion or feelings. While men often complain that they are under-represented in child custody awards, as the demographic of the Institute clearly demonstrates, they do not take an active role in getting educated and participating in child well-being events. This is “The Institute for Strengthening Families.” An outside observer could easily conclude while entering the hotel lobby that men simply don’t care about family.

The 2015 Spring Institute will take place on 20-22 April 2015. I will post information about that when registration is opened.

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©2008, 2014 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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