Listen to Children
In 1979, MHA partnered with Broward Schools to pilot Listen to Children (LTC), a mentoring program for elementary students, and the program has run continuously since. The premise is that children benefit from a supportive ongoing relationship with a caring, non-judgmental friend who is not an ‘authority figure.’ The Listener is someone who listens with the heart and tries to understand. In today’s busy and stressful home and school environments, one-on-one time is sometimes hard to come by. The Listener can help children relax and receive extra positive attention in their busy lives.
In 1994, Broward County Children’s Services Division funded the Listen to Children Program, but that ended in 2003 with a shift in funding priorities. For the 2009-10 school year, the program qualified for a Byrne/Jag Stimulus Grant. United Way of Broward supported LTC for a three-year funding cycle (2010-11, 11-12, 12-13), but funding was not renewed. Although MHA receives limited funding from the City of Pompano Beach, Coral Springs Community Chest, and Lauderhill Educational Advisory Board, funding comes primarily from the generosity of donors who support the Listener Program.
Program Model: LTC recruits and trains volunteer Listeners who undergo 12 hours of training, receive Level 2 FBI FDLE Security Clearance from the School Board, and receive ongoing support in the form of monthly Advisory Group Meetings. Parents or caretakers must sign consent for the child to participate. Teachers, School Counselors, or parents identify students projected to benefit. Common reasons why children get referred include difficulty with peer relationships, low self-esteem, and trouble adapting to life changes (recent move to a new school, divorce/remarriage of parents, illness/death of a family member). This is a prevention program and is not recommended for children with severe behavioral issues.
The Listener Program does not have academic focus. Although Listeners don’t tutor students (unless the child wants that), data collected from Teacher Pre and Post Surveys shows that readiness to learn and engagement in school activities do increase! It makes sense that children dealing with stressful situations or social issues can better focus when they have someone to talk with and trust. At times, it’s easier for children to share their feelings with a Listener than with a family member, like when a child is grieving but doesn’t want to upset family members who are also experiencing grief.
I’m Thumbody, a one-hour self-esteem program for Grade 2 students, has been presented in Broward Schools since 1983; over 372,550 children have participated to date. Originally offered as a volunteer project, the program was expanded in 1997 through a funding grant from DCF/SAMH. That funding ended a few years back, but I’m Thumbody continues to be offered to Broward schools. We are seeking additional funding at this time
The idea behind the program is that children are so special they have their own unique thumbprints. Children learn to respect themselves, respect others, be responsible for their attitudes/actions, and where to go for safe help. These concepts are helpful for bully prevention as well. The classroom presentation introduces the concept of good mental health and discusses the positive value of differences. The presenter teaches the second graders to change negative thoughts to positive ones so they can feel good about themselves. In addition, children learn that it’s good to talk about their feelings and ways to manage their anger.
In 1999, Broward County funded a pilot of Thumbody, Too which MHA staff presented at Family Central sites. Although successful, it became apparent that most children under age 5 did not have the attention span to get the full benefit of the program. Eventually, MHA applied for a United Way grant and received 3-year funding enabling us to present the program to Kindergarten classes during the 2008-09, 09-10, and 10-11 school years. Thumbody, Too is done on a limited basis to the cities that help fund MHA’s prevention programs for children, namely Pompano, Coral Springs and Lauderhill.
Thumbody, Too is a 45 minute Kindergarten classroom presentation which is a prequel to the Grade 2 version. A puppet resembling a thumb teaches the children they are very special, and everyone has different fingerprints. Themes include respect and responsibility. Not only do the kids love the puppet, they also enjoy the songs, the coloring activity and doing their thumbprints! The students learn that it’s good to talk about their feelings (happy, sad, scared & mad) and that they are special – even though some things might be difficult for them. They also learn some appropriate things to do when they are angry and what to do if they get separated from their adult in a big store.
MHA encourages you to support our children’s programs financially or to approach the cities where you reside to do so. Our children’s programs also need reliable volunteers. E-mail LTC@mhasefl.org or Thumbody@mhasefl.org or call 754-216-2070 for information.
Remember that mental health is a goal for everyone, and prevention is important!