Shelter disproportionately focuses on adults and adult children ages 18 years or older. Parents are required to do 30 hours a week of job and housing search, work, school, and/or training program, and receive weekly case management where they discuss barriers to housing like credit or CORI issues, arrears, etc. as well as savings in order to help families become stabilized and, in turn, find housing. On a monthly basis, parents, adult children, and their case managers review their re-housing plans, which cover everything they need to do in order to become stabilized. These plans contain accomplishable goals that advance families on their journeys home. While we do provide opportunities to support children, they are material goods like holiday gifts and new clothes to begin the school year.
Homelessness is destabilizing and traumatic, especially for children.
Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to suffer from severe acute and chronic health problems and have less access to medical care. Additionally, these children are more likely to experience asthma, hyperactivity/inattention, and behavioral problems. More than a quarter of children experiencing homelessness have witnessed violence and more than half suffer from depression or anxiety. These factors and many others cause children experiencing homelessness to be twice as likely to repeat a grade, receive a suspension, be expelled, or drop out of school.
Out of this need, we have tried to be more thoughtful in our approach to working with children. We created Jayden’s Camp Fund in order to provide more quality summer activities for school age children who tend to fall behind their peers in September.
Horizons for Homeless Children installed Playspaces in a few of our congregate sites, and PALs visit regularly, building relationships with children in order to help them grow. PALs, or Playspace Activity Leaders, are local volunteers for Horizons
We have begun to do a lot more at congregate sites during minor holidays like holding Easter egg hunts, and potlucks. Our Mental Health Clinician, Jackie Wallace meets with both parents and children. And further, case managers have done more coordination with public schools by attending students IEP meetings.
“This year, we made a significant effort to focus interactions with children to provide more meaningful play interventions,” said Kelly Duda, Director of Programs. “We borrowed theories of therapeutic play and worked to incorporate some of these ideas in our interactions. Instead of providing childcare during parent-workshops, we were able to send staff members to some Therapeutic Play Intervention training so they could bring back ideas to help target opportunities with children.”
During The Parenting Journey workshop series held from October to February, Cecilia, the Social Work Intern, and Brooke, Case Manager, turned childcare into a therapeutic play intervention opportunity. They created a safe space for the children to play and interact with one another.
Thanks to many generous donations from parents at Beacon Hill Nursery School in Boston, we were able to upgrade the play space and toys. Using bean bags and comfy chairs, a quiet space was enhanced for the youngest children and those that wanted to relax for the evening. Bubbles, sensory squares, books, squishy fidgets (similar to stress balls but with lights and neon colors!), coloring, Legos, puppets, essential oils, and sand play were also used for relaxing play. For more active play, Cecilia and Brooke created an active space using duct tape to create a recreational court. In this space, the staff and kids used fake snowballs to play “messy backyard,” four corners, and other high energy games.
Towards the beginning of the Parenting Journey, Brooke remembered one of the children saying that they felt like they were “at school,” which led us to reevaluate the ways in which the space could give kids autonomy over their therapeutic learning instead of following the strict routine of day-to-day classroom life.
“There were some weeks that were particularly difficult, especially as the stress of the holidays came upon us halfway through the workshop series,” Cecilia reflected, “but we worked through the tough days together and our bonds strengthened our personal connections with the children as we accompanied them through their struggles in that moment.”
One day the children were having a collectively difficult time, so Brooke used the sensory squares. The children rubbed these cloth squares, ranging from corduroy to fuzzy to suede, on their arms. Immediately, the entire mood shifted and the children sat in a circle while listening to nursery rhymes. The last half of the evening was stress and anxiety free, and they returned to their families with a calmer state of mind.
“After spending three months together once every week, we all learned how to positively interact with one another during group activities and individually. As we learned one another’s personalities we were able to engage during the entire session and practice transitions from activity to activity catering to each child’s needs,” Cecilia said. Cecilia and Brooke aimed to give each child their care and attention to support them during this difficult time in their lives. The toys and space served an important piece of the therapeutic play intervention, but the most rewarding aspect for everyone involved was the human connection made with one another.