Don’t Miss Our Christmas Tree Festival on November 29

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Christmas? For me, it’s quality family time. Traditionally, the trimming (or decorating) of the Christmas tree is a family event with every family member involved in the decoration. Some families hold parties with friends, and others make it family-only time. Regardless of the format, this special tradition creates memories that last for generations to come.

At Family Builders, we have created a Christmas event that reflects the joy of that family time while also providing an opportunity for our community to join us in spreading Christmas cheer. We are proud to present our inaugural Christmas Tree Festival on Thursday, November 29 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Meinders Hall of Mirrors located in the Civic Center in downtown Oklahoma City!

Local artists, designers, florists, and businesses are invited to donate a decorated Christmas tree or an artistic representation of a Christmas tree for the event. You can learn more about the requirements here.

The event will be in the format of a gala/cocktail party, and the donated trees will be auctioned at the event. Auction winners will have the option of keeping their purchased tree OR donating it to a Family Builders’ family who may otherwise not have a Christmas tree this season.

The evening is also set to feature a silent auction, an artfully crafted signature cocktail, festive entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, wine, beer, and bubbly.

To learn more about the 2018 Christmas Tree Festival and get tickets please visit FamilyBuildersOK.org.

Speak up during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October brings all of our favorite things about fall, from the delicious smells and flavors of the season to more quality time with our families in the crisp air. But October also brings something more-it's a month to stand up and take action in solidarity against domestic violence.

In October 1981, the first “Day of Unity” was held to connect advocates who were working to end violence against women and their children. Organized by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the single day soon turned into a week, and in October 1987 the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) was observed. In 1989, the US Congress went on to pass public law officially designating October as DVAM, and it has continued to pass the legislation each year.

Domestic violence affects millions of people every year, and it has no bias of age, gender, race, religion, or status. The statistics are staggering, both on a national and a local scale. The NCADV estimates that, on average, 20 people experience intimate partner physical violence every single minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually. Furthermore, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every single year.

The crippling effect of domestic violence is far-reaching. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death. Additionally, studies show that children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teen prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes. Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults. The ripple of domestic violence even reaches our economy, with intimate partner violence estimated to cost the US economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.

We’ve come a long way since the first Day of Unity, but there’s still much work to do-and you can be a part of it. Here are five things you can do this month to get involved.

  1. Wear purple in support of DVAM and tell people WHY! Talking about domestic violence takes away the stigma that allows abuse to thrive.
  2. Make yourself aware of the signs of abuse and if you see or suspect someone you love is being victimized, offer them support.
  3. Post the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) on social media. One of your friends could be looking for help.
  4. Attend an event to support domestic violence survivors and honor victims. YWCA Oklahoma City will be hosting their annual Wreath of Hope ceremony Oct. 4 at 10:30 a.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol on the south lawn. The Native Alliance Against Violence is also hosting several events this month.
  5. Support the mission of Family Builders and help us end the cycle of abuse within your own community. Learn more about how you can get involved at FamilyBuildersOK.org.

This October, join us and millions of other advocates as we speak out against domestic violence in an effort to create awareness of this issue and break the cycle of abuse.

Making the case for keeping families together

Every year in Oklahoma, many families are torn apart by abuse and violence, and many children suffer the consequences. We sometimes talk to people who don’t understand why we do what we do to reunite families. In their minds, children who have lived in abusive homes would be better off in a completely different home situation.

But that’s not what research shows us. If we follow the research and pay attention to what’s in the best interest of the child, we know that children who are able to be returned to their biological home have a better chance of success than those who are adopted.

We’re by no means saying adoption is a bad thing. In some situations, it is the best option for a child. But whenever possible, our goal is to equip biological parents with the skills needed to raise their children in a safe, supportive home.

Our core memories start in the womb. Even infants who are adopted at birth experience loss, though they’re unable to express it in words. Some studies suggest that it’s actually more difficult for children adopted as infants than those adopted when they are old enough to know that their biological parent loves them. At birth, an infant knows its mother’s voice and can distinguish it from any other voice. When they’re removed from that parent and that voice, they experience extreme loss, and it can result in attachment issues throughout their life.

Other questions we sometimes hear from people are “How do you lose your kid? or “How can anything else be more important than your child?” Having worked with countless mothers and fathers over the years, we can say that most people have never felt such loss of hope or been so deep into something that’s holding them down. And until you’ve been there, it can be difficult to understand.

But we’ve also seen so many mothers and fathers put in the effort required to learn a new way of parenting-a way that’s dramatically different than what they likely experienced in their own childhood. They’re learning a way of parenting that creates a positive, supportive, and healthy environment in which to raise their children. They are working hard every day to break the cycle of abuse, and we applaud their efforts.

Each time we’re able to help reunite a family, it’s a cause for celebration. We know that we’ve done everything we can to keep a family together and create a successful future for that child. It’s not an easy road, and we’re so proud of the families who are committed to changing their future and their child’s future.

Meet the team: Katrina Zmaila

We have an incredible team of people working at Family Builders, and I want to start introducing them to you. First up: Katrina Zmaila, one of our group facilitators.

Describe the work you do at Family Builders.

I’m a group facilitator for two of our programs, the Batterers Intervention Program and the Compassion Workshop classes. The Compassion Workshop classes run for 12 weeks, and the Batterers Intervention Program runs for 52 weeks. I’m one of only a few staff members who are cross-trained to facilitate both of those groups.

I also do some client intake work for people coming into our programs. Sometimes we get people referred to our programs but our programs may not be the best fit for them. I talk with the individual, do some assessments, and look at some other records to see if it is a good fit or if I can refer them to another program.

What’s your professional background?

I’m a therapist with a master’s degree in counseling. When I was in school, I did an internship with an office that facilitated several groups, and I learned that I really enjoyed working with groups. Prior to coming to Family Builders, I worked in a court-ordered program that helped sex offenders with re-entry and facilitated a lot of groups there as well.

What’s your favorite part of the work you do?

My favorite part of my work is seeing light bulbs turn on for people. They’re learning to build healthy relationships and learning to recognize some of the issues they’re facing. It’s powerful.

My work allows me to help people realize their own value and realize that they can change. They can make the change happen in their life, and they can live a life that’s fulfilling. I’ve always really liked that part. Once they feel like somebody believes in them, it makes the whole process so much easier. The part of them that feels defeated starts to go away, and they start to get filled with hope again.

What else are you passionate about?

I’ve been a foster parent for 13 years, and I currently have six children in my home. I originally got certified because I was working in a church nursery, and at the time, you had to be a licensed foster parent in order to babysit any kids in foster care.

Then I knew a teenager who ran away from home. I took her to a local center for runaways and called her mom to explain where she was and that she was safe. We had a really long conversation about what was going on, and the mom asked if I would care for her daughter and granted me guardianship.

My role as a foster parent gives me a unique perspective to help our clients at Family Builders, many of whom have children who are in foster care while they complete our programs. Sometimes they have a specific perception of foster parents, and when I share that I’m a foster parent as well, that may give them another perception. My goal as a program facilitator is to give them the tools they need to be reunited with their children.

Working as a community to stop child abuse

One in four children will be abused before their 18th birthday. One in four. If you look around your child’s classroom or your church or the neighborhood park, it’s likely that one (or more) of those kids have suffered abuse or will suffer abuse.

Most of us don’t want to admit that such a thing could happen so close to us, but it does. Every day in Oklahoma, 41 children are confirmed as victims of abuse, which can include physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

We as a community have the power to stop child abuse, but we first have to admit that it’s a problem and start talking about it. Sadly, not very many people do talk about it because of the stigma surrounding child abuse. But it’s time to start talking about it, because we can’t solve a problem until we admit that it exists.

Part of talking about it is educating people on how to recognize the signs of abuse and report it. Education is a key part of our mission at Family Builders. We work to stop the cycle of abuse both by providing parents with the tools necessary to build healthy relationships and by offering education programs in the community.

We offer two important trainings to help empower the community to stop child abuse:

  • Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse
  • More Than Stranger Danger.

These trainings equip adults with the tools necessary to keep children safe, whether that’s their own children, kids at church, or the kid who lives down the street.

Our educational programs are designed for adults who work with children, which includes parents, teachers, pastors, and individuals who work at schools, churches, youth sports leagues, after school programs, day care centers, and youth camps. We teach them the signs to look for and then what they should do when they see those signs.

If your organization is interested in scheduling a training, call us or email education@familybuildersok.org.

Celebrating fathers who are making a change

During the month of June, many families across Oklahoma will celebrate Father’s Day. But some families won’t because the father isn’t present, either by choice or by order of the state.

Many fathers in our programs look forward to the day that they can once again celebrate Father’s Day, birthdays, and other special occasions with their children.

Kyle is one such father. After 16 years of marriage, Kyle went through a bitter divorce involving his minor children. His anger and frustration at his spouse’s addiction played out in threats toward others that became an increasing problem. After charges were filed, Kyle spent some time in jail and became involved in a DHS case for his youngest child.

During that process, Kyle realized the first thing that he needed to change was himself.

“I had to fix Kyle,” he said. “I had to look at myself.”

But he didn’t know where to start with fixing what was wrong. And then he found Family Builders, where he has completed our Nurturing Parenting Skills program and Compassion Workshop. He’s also in the process of completing our Batterers Intervention Program, a 52-week program certified by the office of the Attorney General.

“The first and most important thing you learn is to be accountable for your actions,” he said.

Kyle also talks about how much he has learned about children through the program. He has three children, two of whom are almost grown, and said he never knew any of the things he learned in the program.

When talking to other people who’ve gone through the program, he says the feeling of “Man, I wish I had known this before” is a common thread.

“Until you understand and learn these things, you can’t pass them on,” he said. “I didn’t learn them as a child. How can you pass them on if you never learned them?”

Each week when Kyle sits in class at Family Builders, he thinks about the importance of breaking the cycle of abuse and being the change in his family. He also realizes that if he’d had the right mindset and the right tools earlier in life, he would be fishing with his son instead of attending the program.

“He’s on one side of this, and I’m on the other,” Kyle said. “The most important thing I can do is break the cycle.”

Learn more about Kyle's journey in this video.

Summer safety tips to help prevent child abuse

The arrival of summer can mean a change in routines and exposure to new people, whether at a summer camp, at a friend’s house, or with a new babysitter. These summer safety tips can help keep your child safe.

Ask about camp policies

Summer camps provide a great opportunity for kids to learn and grow, but they also carry the potential of abuse by an adult or another camper. Before enrolling your child in any summer program, be sure to ask questions about what policies they have in place to prevent abuse.

One of the rules we teach is the rule of three, meaning there should always be three people, whether it’s two adults and one child or two children and one adult. In other words, one child should never be left alone with one adult. Most abuse occurs in one-on-one situations, and the rule of three is a critical piece of prevention.

Also ask what level of training camp staff receive about watching for abuse between campers. What supervision policies are in place during non-structured program time? What’s the staff-to-camper ratio, and is it appropriate for the age group? What is their policy related to background checks on employees?

Know the rules at friends’ houses

As a parent, you should have rules for what is and isn’t allowed at your house. That might include anything from basic safety measures (no jumping on the bed!) to measures that protect your children from abuse, such as not letting older teens be in the house alone with younger children.

Before you send your kids off to play at a neighbor or friend’s house, be sure you talk with their parent to find out what rules they have in place. Will kids be left at home with no adult supervision? Are there restrictions about how many friends can be over at one time?

Take extra caution with one-on-one caregivers

There are some situations where your child may have to be alone with an adult, such as for a music lesson or with a babysitter in your own home. In those situations, be sure to thoroughly screen anyone who will be alone with your child. This may include background checks or multiple personal references.

It’s also a good idea to check in occasionally or show up at an unexpected time, just to be sure everything is okay. Trust your instincts and remove your child from a situation if you feel uncomfortable about it. And always trust your child if they tell you something’s wrong.

Talk to your kids about abuse

As you prepare for summer, be sure to talk to your child about abuse. Educating kids about abuse goes beyond stranger danger, because most situations of abuse happen with someone your child knows and trusts.

That can be the case at summer camp, too. Even if your child hasn’t known them long, they probably have some level of trust in the camp staff. Remind them that there are no secrets between adults and children, whether that’s camp staff, the babysitter, or any other adult.

Be sure your child knows what to do if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If they feel unsafe or someone tries to take them somewhere or hurt them, they should say “No” as loudly as they can and then get away as fast as they can.

Our More Than Stranger Danger program can help parents and other trusted adults on signs to watch for and how to talk to kids about abuse. Contact us today for more information about scheduling a presentation.

Three rules to keep your kids safe

Stranger danger isn’t enough. In fact, a child is more likely to be in danger from a family friend or someone that you both know fairly well.

Here are three rules for keeping your kids safe.

Rule #1: Adults and children do not keep secrets-none at all.

Abuse thrives in secrecy by the very nature of it. Abusers don’t want others to know what they are doing because there’s a high likelihood that they would be forced to cease the abuse. Abusers often use threats, coercion, shame, and fear to intimidate the victim into silence.

Let’s look at it this way-say a child is physically beaten by dad and has a broken arm. Dad tells the child to say that he fell off the monkey bars and threatens that if the child tells the truth, then dad will hurt little sister. This abuser has now placed the burden of the abuse on the child and has placed fear in the child.

Rule #2: ______ and _______ are always safe people to tell.

Work with your children on identifying at least two people in their lives who are always safe people to tell things. Now, this could be mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, a teacher, or even uncle Joe or aunt Jane.

The point is that we want children to identify two safe people in their lives that they can go to with any problems that they may be struggling with. We like to think that children know they can tell us anything, but until we vocalize that reality and repeat it to them often, they may not feel they can talk to us when the time comes. Abuse thrives on secrets, and we want children to know who their safe people are.

Rule #3: Always stay with three people.

Most abuse occurs in one-on-one situations-one child to one adult. When we think of our churches and sports teams and other groups, we think of trustworthy people, but sexual predators gravitate to these types of organizations because of the access they allow to children.

Let’s think about it. We drop our kid off at church, scouts, or soccer. Life gets hectic, and a youth leader, coach, etc., volunteers to bring them home. The bigger picture here is that we are granting permission for our child to be alone in a car unsupervised with someone we may not know. We may have unknowingly put our child in a dangerous position.

We want to avoid exposing our children to these sorts of situations. So we set the rule of two adults and one child or two children and one adult at all times. Prevention is everything.

Want to get involved with spreading the word? Please contact us, and we can get you more information about an upcoming tour. You can also read more about how we can help you and others through our community education.

How to minimize the effect of divorce on children

While divorce can obviously be tough on the couple going through it, the process can have lifelong impact on the children. If the parents are not extremely careful, they can end up putting their children in the middle.

If you’re divorced or going through a divorce and have children, here are three tips to help minimize the effect of that divorce on them.

1. Don’t pass messages

Your child is not a glorified messaging system. Regardless of whether or not the message is negative, any messages place too much responsibility on your child.

And fighting through your child is a horrible idea. It forces your child to be the adult in the situation because you and the other parent are acting immature.

If something needs to be discussed, it’s best to discuss it between the adults.

2. Don’t bad-mouth the other parent

Obviously, you should not insult the other parent when talking to your child. But even a slightly sarcastic comment overheard by your child can have a negative effect.

No matter how tame the comment is, there’s a decent chance the child will interpret it as a put-down and may even blame themselves. That can have a long-term impact on your child’s self-esteem.

3. Listen to your child

The most important thing you can do throughout the process is actually listen to your child. Even if they’re not talking about it, look at the situation from their point of view.

Remember the long-term impact the situation will have on them. Listen to what they say, and pay attention to how they react. Adjust your behavior and communication appropriately.

At Family Builders, we offer a Co-Parenting and Divorce Class to help parents. Among other things, we talk about both the short-term and long-term effects of divorce on your children’s well-being. The class is an interactive, four-hour session held at our facility in Oklahoma City.

Learn more about our class on our website. Note that children are not allowed in the class, and Family Builders does not provide child care.

How Family Builders began

Family Builders was founded back in 1975 by Ann Hardy and was for years known as Parents Assistance Center, or PAC for short. Back in 1994, Hardy wrote a short essay on how it all began.

Here is that essay, with a few minor spelling corrections. Note that several statements are made to “current” operations of Family Builders-then PAC-and that those statements were, to the best of my knowledge, true when Hardy wrote this in 1994.

PAC – How it all Began

By Ann F. Hardy

PAC happened in 1975 because a group of mental health professionals in Oklahoma County recognized a gap in services which would still exist if it weren’t for PAC. Traditional mental health services had not proven effective in preventing child abuse. The National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Denver had developed models for service delivery which were effective. These included parent groups, such as Parents Anonymous and in-home services such as Scan Services of Arkansas.

I first became involved in April 1975 during a meeting at the Faculty House sponsored by the Oklahoma County Mental Health Association for the purpose of kicking off the first Parents Anonymous group in Oklahoma County. In attendance were a variety of professionals interested in the prevention of child abuse. The speakers were Sharon Palone, Executive Director of Scan Services of Arkansas, and the Regional Coordinator of Parents Anonymous, whose name I don’t remember.

After the meeting, I got to chatting with Dr. Diane Willis, pediatric psychologist at the Child Study Center and mentioned this this was something I was interested in and would be willing to give some time to. I was not working at the time, due to some illness in the family but was sitting on a lot of health and mental health boards.

This was on Monday afternoon about 5:00. On Tuesday afternoon, about 5:00, I received a call from the Regional Coordinator of Parents Anonymous asking me if I would serve as the professional sponsor for the Parents Anonymous group, scheduled to meet at 7:00 that evening. It had been announced on radio, TV, newspapers, and notices to agencies.

I said, “Certainly not! If I had that kind of time, I would be getting paid for it.” After a long sad tale and much cajoling, I agreed to sit in on the group for that night only. After that there was no place to stop.

At this first meeting, there were two families, three adults and three children. Clients began calling my home immediately and no one else was willing to take over. I was stuck.

It was a totally volunteer program for the first 14 months. During this period, case load grew rapidly, and it shortly became obvious that paid staff, office space, supplies, etc. were going to be needed if the program was to continue and thrive.

Dr. Diane Willis, pediatric psychologist, and Dr. Wanda Draper, child development specialist, were involved from the beginning. Dr. Teresa Stacy, pediatric radiologist, became involved early on as did Judge Halley and many others in the medical, child welfare, and court systems.

In March of 1976, Dr. Willis arranged through her dad, Bill Willis, Speaker of the House, for a meeting with Lloyd Rader, then director of DHS. In attendance were Mr. Willis, Diane Willis, Teresa Stacy and me. Mr. Rader had Pauline Mayer of his staff with him. Dr. Stacy made a presentation of the PAC program and her estimate of its value in preventing repeat incidents of child abuse. Mr. Rader listened attentively, then leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re doing something that needs to be done, and we can’t do it.” He turned to Pauline Mayer, asked her if she thought such a program would qualify for title XX money. When she answered yes, he turned to us and said, “Go get incorporated, prepare a budget, and come back.”

PAC has contracted with DHS ever since. Case load has always run ahead of funding. A surprise development has been the heavy concentration of court involved clients, as we had intended and expected that the program would be one of primary prevention with mostly self-referred clients.

Services grew out of need. Children’s groups began as child care while parents attended groups. Special programs were developed when it became apparent that these children had very special needs.

The 24 hour hotline (now discontinued) developed when clients called the group leader between groups for crisis intervention and others in the community learned it was there. Telephone crisis intervention during office hours with answering machine referral to contact after office hours continues today.

The Parent Aide program and limited individual counseling developed from the needs of some clients for more intensive and comprehensive services than could be offered through groups.

Dependence by the Courts, Child Welfare, and other medical and social service agencies on PAC for client services and feedback led to consultations and court letters. The first court letter was written in pencil on a 5×8 yellow pad when a client said Judge Hunter had told her she should bring a note next day to court to prove she was attending group.

Everything was donated for the first 14 months-meeting space, snacks, professional services, even a business telephone paid for by the Foresters. During that entire time, total cash donations amounted to $250, which went mostly for craft supplies, snacks and diapers for the children, and a few printed handouts for adults.

Legal services for incorporation were donated. Child development and mental health professionals volunteered as group leaders for adults and children. Others volunteered as parent aides and children’s group workers.

PAC was based on the premise that since there will never be enough money to pay for all of the help this population needs, volunteer donations of time, goods, and services will be used whenever possible, with paid staff being used only when it is impossible or impractical to use volunteers. This made it imperative to have good systems for screening, training, and supervising staff. Volunteer recruitment was on-going. Student placements were arranged for with local colleges, universities, and technical schools.

Our first contract with the state began on July 1, 1976, and was for $44,000 for that fiscal year. It was and still is a fee for services contract with services billed for on a monthly basis, after they have been delivered. Our first check from the state was received at the end of September 1976. Over the years, other grants and contracts have been developed, though need always outstrips resources as caseloads grow and PAC is the only agency which acts on the conviction that where children are in danger, clients can’t wait.

Contracts with the state have always been for specific services. In the late ’70s and early ’80s there was a statewide component which resulted in the establishment of about 15 “mini-PACS” around the state. Most are still operating. Training, technical assistance, some funds, and a toll-free telephone services were provided. Other small grants have come from Parents Anonymous and other private as well as public sources. They have included earmarked as well as un-earmarked funds.

There have always been sexual abuse clients in PAC’s caseload. A contract with the state for specialized services for these clients has been in place since the mid ’80s. A contract with OCAP provides some parent aide services. PAC has been a United Way Agency since 1990, receiving just under 7% of its budget from this source in the past year.

More than 1,000 families received services from PAC in the last year at a unit cost (one hour of services to one client) of just over $11.00 in the parenting program and $16.00 in the sexual abuse treatment program.

These services were delivered by five full time staff (three professional, two clerical), thirty part time, and twelve plus volunteers and students. Part time staff is paid hourly to lead groups for adults and children, and as parent aides. Other donated times comes from Board members and community professionals.

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