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Review for Northwest Family Services, Portland, OR, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

“I have permanent nerve damage in my arm because my dad used to throw knives at me,” recounts 15 year-old Benjamin, one of our children of incarcerated parents (CIP) kiddos. “I never really had a childhood because as young as five years old, I was expected to take care of my younger siblings. I was angry a lot and showed it because that’s how my dad acted.”
Benjamin has been a part of our CIP program for several years. Northwest Family Services’ CIP staff provide constant support for the children and families/guardians. On a 10-point scale that measures childhood trauma, our CIP children have an average score of 9. This means they are more likely to engage in risky behavior and their future health is in jeopardy. That is where we comes in to provide support, skills, resources, love, and build resiliency and hope. And it works!
Benjamin is one of hundreds that we have supported. “I love football. NWFS connected me with Coach Jeff to be my mentor. He has taught me to be what it means to be a man. I’m doing well in school now, I have goals, playing football, and the CIP team took myself and some other kids to tour a university. No one in my family has gone to college, but I want to go now – be the first one. They help me in so many ways I can’t even describe how it feels that they care so much. I’m a different person.”
Our CIP students face countless burdens every day; most of them experience homelessness and food insecurity – School is the last thing on their list because they are just trying to survive. Our program offers long-term support that includes a caring, stable community that connects them with many resources along with a solid mentor, just like Coach Jeff. We start working with them as early as kindergarten. We provide an 8-week program for young children in Kindergarten-4th grade called, “Big Challenges.” Here are a few comments from the little ones: “I don’t want this group to end. I feel safe talking here.” “We get to talk about how we feel and you understand us.” “I like everything! Mostly the support from everyone – I thought I was the only one with a mom in jail.” This short intervention allows a space for the children to express themselves and to “feel they aren’t alone.” It removes the stigma. Unfortunately, the funding was significantly cut, so we had to drop the program for younger children and reduce the number of children and youth served.

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