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Question from Maria G, December 12, 2017 – Support group for children

My husband and I would like to start a support group with young kids ages from 10-15 years old. We can meet once or twice a month. We both have worked in correctional for youth; he did over 20 years and I did 11 years. We also have been ministering in several prisons and jails, and want to help some of these kids so they don’t end up in Prison. Any ideas as to what we should do or how we can start. There will be no charge all will be free.

Please if you can give us any information we live in a small town that everyone know each other and we have a good reputation. We have 3 married children they were all in sports and are doing well.

Thank you,

Blessings Maria


It is so wonderful that you are both dedicating yourselves to helping at-risk children.  Support at this time in their lives really can prevent them from going down that path towards criminality.  They are still young enough to benefit from sharing their stories and finding understanding and appreciation from peers. I’m glad you asked for tips and advice because child support groups are very tricky—one must always be on high alert to prevent an emotional situation that can psychologically harm some of the attendees.  These are things to consider.

My opinions are based on experience in the juvenile justice system, working with children and their families who are already on the slippery slope to prison.  I don’t know everything, but I do know that people like yourselves probably have good intuition about these issues.  Trust your judgment.

  • Ages 10-15 is a wide gap developmentally. The younger children (‘tweens’) are well behind the teens emotionally and physiologically.  They can learn things from the teens they shouldn’t, or they can be more easily scarred by things teens have dealt with or say.  Having a 10-12 age group and a 13-15 age group might make it easier to increase positive and reduce negative emotional outcomes.
  • Two people are needed to facilitate groups with young people. One person to guide the discussion and help kids tell their stories, and one to watch for signs that someone (or more) is being triggered by a discussion. I guarantee there will be children living with serious trauma and/or an emerging mental health condition.  Some will have a difficult home life they can’t escape, or histories they can’t escape (your dad robbed my dad, your brother raped my sister…).
  • Write a brief list of meeting rules for safety that is displayed at each meeting. First, confidentiality is paramount.  Ideas:  “We will respect for each other without judgment, blaming, or teasing”.  “We are here to help each other feel better and be a better person.”  “Everyone will get a chance to share if they want to.” (It’s important to prevent one or more kids from dominating a meeting).  Search on the web for sample meeting rules—there are lots out there.
  • For yourself, write a list of the values and strengths you are trying to cultivate in the support group. At-risk kids have been taught (or not taught) critical skills they need for growing up. These can be simple things like not to steal, stay in school, or to treat others how they themselves want to be treated.  Other important skills involve emotional safety or mental health and wellbeing.  “It’s OK to be angry; it’s not OK to hurt someone because you’re angry.”  “Stay away from people who tease, bully, or use substances.” “Find friends or a safe adult who supports you if-and-when you encounter others who make you (afraid, angry, hurt…).”
  • Have snacks and water.
  • An idea is to start each meeting by asking about a difficult subject.  In the second half of the meeting, ask about a positive subject.
    • Difficult subjects: anger, anxiety, self-harm, abuse at home, depression…
    • Positive subjects: What is your favorite thing to do? What’s great about you? What are you thankful for?
  • Now the hard part: you may discover something very upsetting in a children’s support group. When it comes to at-risk children, you may uncover something illegal or abusive in their life.  Have a plan for how this will be handled.  Do you talk with the child privately? Do you talk to their parent? or a family member?  Inform law enforcement?  And think about the consequences to the child.  This is tricky, but it seems like you already have information about how to approach this.

I hope this helps.  Bless you for what you are doing!  There is nothing so rewarding as helping a child escape a difficult future.  Someday, they will come up to you as an adult, and show you pictures of their spouse and children, and talk about their job.


Question from K, November 17, 2017 – Father who bullies his children

(Names changed)  My 7 yr old grandson, James, has a father who continually bullies and berates him in front of others, and I believe the father’s treatment is causing James emotional harm.  While my grandson is intelligent, he fails to finish his class work and does poorly, but is not disruptive in class.

During a visit, I once gave James and his brother juice after they’d been playing hard. I stepped away for a minute and when I returned, Dad had both glasses in his hand and said “oh that must be good juice huh?” and proceeded to drink it in front them.

James was crying and pleading for him to stop, but Dad finished both of their juices while laughing. He then berated James for crying over it. Later, I tried to make light of the situation by saying Dad was just trying to be funny. The 8 1/2 yr old brother laughed and looked at me incredulously and said no, he was just being mean.

Please tell me I have nothing to worry about. If there is something here, what can I do? My heart is breaking for them. They have a 4 yr old daughter that will not hug or kiss daddy, and he makes her feel badly about that because his feelings are hurt. Incidentally, she does not show affection for her grandfathers either, and gets very anxious when there is another male around.  Her mother was very shy but with her Dad or her Grandpas.


This is indeed heartbreaking and concerning.  Take a deep breath.  My opinion is a strong “yes;” you have much to worry about.  Dad is a narcissist, and his treatment of his children is child abuse.  My sense is that his mistreatment will get worse over time, and become physically assaultive if it hasn’t already.  Your comment about the young daughter is especially worrisome given the likelihood of molestation.  What’s curious is you didn’t mention anything about the mother except that she was shy.  Why not?  What does she think?  Is she concerned about her children or too afraid to stand up to the father?  Does he abuse her too?

Sadly, I’ve been part of 5 situations exactly like this as a counselor or case worker. This is the scenario:  one parent is a narcissist (mother or father) who abuses everyone and they all suffer mental health problems.  Next, the good parent or family members (like yourself) try to remove the children from the abuser’s care for their protection, and the abuser makes everyone’s life a living hell for several years.  This can be scary, and has sometimes required restraining orders.

This being said, there is reason for hope.  In each one of these 5 families, the parent or other family members were able to remove parental rights from the abuser and gain full custody of the children.  It took 3-5 years, and during that time the children and parent (family members) were more traumatized and all needed mental health treatment to cope.  After a 2-3 more years, the children and parent (family members) became closer and stronger and happier, and the narcissistic parent self-destructed—like literally self-destructed!  Of the 5 cases this meant one or more: addiction, unemployed, criminal charges, large financial loss.

Ask yourself these questions:  Are you up to this?  Can you involve other members in the extended family to help?  You’ll need help with court appearances, child care, appointments, and love and encouragement—positive family time together.  Are you willing to contact outside authorities repeatedly with your concerns until they listen?  These would be school counselors, teachers, principals, social workers, and possibly child abuse advocates and attorneys.

Take another deep breath.  Don’t panic.  Give yourself time to think.  Have hope, and receive many blessings.


Question from TS, October 17, 2017 – Daughter who reports parent to police

I have a daughter that stole a phone from a friend and took nude pictures and videos of herself and sent them to guys she does not know on the internet.  I told her she could have sent them to a sex offender and could be endangering the whole family and the neighbors. Then she started to get mad and throw things at me and became very mouthy, and we called the cops. She told the cops I hit her when I didn’t.  I was found not guilty but I still haven’t got my foster kids back. I was going for adoption, and now I have to write a letter saying what I would have done different, and I have tried everything for her.


This must be very frustrating for you.  I know other parents who were reported for abuse, including me by my own very angry daughter!  In another family I know, the daughter accused her father of sexual abuse when he called the police on her.  He too was found innocent, but it took 2 years and cost 1000’s of dollars in legal fees.

You meant the best for your daughter by warning her she was endangering everyone.  Us other parents got in trouble for the same thing–being good parents, but children like ours hurt us very much.  In fact, the parent they hurt most is the one they care about the most.

I can tell you this:  you have to stick it out and be the best person you can be.  Things can turn around.  I suggest writing the best letter you can.  Show the people working with your daughter (social workers?) that you are sincere and intend the best.  Caring parents lose it now and then, we scream and threaten because of our terrible stress.  This does not help the situation at all, but we must still try to be our best next time.




You Can Handle This.

You Can Handle This.

You are not alone. It's no one's fault. Behavior disorders are disabilities! Troubled children need a very different parenting approach than 'normal' kids.

Care for yourself first, then set new goals:
1. Physical and emotional safety for all
2. Acceptance of the way things are
3. Family balance, meet the needs of all
4. One step at a time, one day at a time

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