This guest Success Story was written by the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, a grantee of ACF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, Family Violence Prevention and Services discretionary grant, Specialized Services to Abused Parents and Their Children (SSAPC).
The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) began the Empowered Families Kansas Project in 2016. Five domestic violence advocacy programs in Kansas serve as project sites, providing mentorship to youth ages 8 to 18 who have experienced domestic violence, teen dating violence, and co-occurring bullying. Each site has a youth advocate mentor who works one on one with youth and their non-abusing parents and caregivers.
Youth advocacy mentorship focuses on helping youth improve their well-being and personal connections, their communication with non-abusing parents and caregivers, and their personal safety. Mentors build long-term, supportive relationships with young people and their families. These connections help youth make healthy life choices and responsible decisions as active members of their communities.
Mentors, program directors, youth mentees, and non-abusing parents and caregivers say, “This program is working.” Many participants have shared stories of growth, success, and hopes for healthy futures in the program. Youth advocate mentors have planned several activities based on common themes identified by the participants. These include promoting the parent/child bond, healthy relationships, and self-care. Mentors provide creative learning opportunities and healing moments for youth mentees and their families.
The program includes many activities to promote positive family interactions and bonds. Youth advocate mentors have helped families to share feelings, thoughts, and praise in a safe and focused way. Youth mentees and their mentors stream songs and music videos together to view aspects of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Youth also take the relationship quizzes on the loveisrespect and Break the Cycle websites to understand healthy, unhealthy, and abusive aspects of their own relationships.
One of the most popular activities has been making self-care boxes. These crafts promote emotional regulation, healthy coping, and self-compassion. Many youth report decreased anxiety, improvements in sharing their feelings, and positive responses to upsetting situations thanks to their self-care boxes.
Youth join in many other activities with their mentor at their side. They enjoy outdoor adventures like nature hikes, yoga, visits to the zoo, and bike riding. Teens participate in local PRIDE events, volunteer work, and job hunting. Youth mentees talk about relationships and what it means to be in a healthy relationship. They work on setting goals and expressing creativity and healing through art. They also share these moments of learning and growth with their non-abusing parents and caregivers.
Many youth mentees and their parents at the project sites have been involved in the program for more than a year and say they want to continue. Non-abusing parents and caregivers and youth mentees feel they have grown while in the program and are better able to communicate with their families, control their emotions, and have successful family, peer, and intimate relationships. Youth mentees and their families have shared the positive impacts of the program and their continued use of the tools and knowledge they have gained. Evaluation of the program also shows its effectiveness.
Positive impacts of the Youth Advocacy Mentorship program have spread throughout the communities of the project sites, growing the number of youth and families seeking to join the program.
As the third year of the project begins, project sites are looking at how they can serve more youth and their non-abusing parents and caregivers through volunteer mentors and additional staff members. The need has been identified, the method has been implemented, and the survivors receiving services through the Youth Advocacy Mentorship program have voiced the positive outcomes.
The next two years of the project will inform best practices when working with youth ages 8 to 18 who have been exposed to domestic violence, teen dating violence, and co-occurring bullying.
Have questions about our Youth Advocacy Mentorship project? Contact Carolyn Allred, Child and Youth Project Manager, Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence at firstname.lastname@example.org.