For a long time, schools were seen as safe havens for children - a daily respite for kids whose homes were violent or volatile, a place where families struggling could secure breakfast and lunch for their children, and the source, so often, of trusted adults who believe in and encourage students. In some ways, that’s still true. Those facets of school still exist. But in a larger sense, it’s not. Schools are not and do not seem safe anymore.
Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas ended with 19 children and 2 teachers dead. It was the 27th school shooting in the United States in 2022, and the 212th mass shooting, according to NPR. It came 10 days after a mass shooting in a Buffalo grocery store that killed 10.
School shootings, like all mass shootings, have become a part of American life - tragedies that lead to sorrow and calls for action but almost never real change. That needs to stop. It is long past time for meaningful action.
Contact your representatives in the House and Senate. Pressure them to do . . . anything. And learn more about gun violence from organizations such as the Sandy Hook Promise foundation.
Throughout May, you might notice or already have noticed, companies highlighting Mental Health Awareness month through promotions like discounted mindfulness apps or social media breaks. L.L. Bean, for example, has wiped clean its Instagram feed and will not be posting again until June, encouraging its followers to go offline for mental health wellness. Cynically or maybe truthfully, these campaigns are marketing ploys if not direct sales techniques. But even though they’re being used to promote businesses, the messages have merit, as well.
As a society, if we talk about mental health, we tend to do so in terms of crisis. However, just like with physical health, mental health is best when preventative measures and healthy maintenance are a part of our every day. Regular exercise, mindfulness, decreased screen time and other similar actions have all shown to help with individual mental health. That’s not to say that a 30 minute walk will stave off depression or that an app can substitute for treatment. These things can, however, help us to be more in tune with our mental wellbeing and less likely to ignore internal warning signs.
As May winds down, take the time to think about your own mental health wellness. What do you do to care for yourself? If it’s physical activity, is it more likely to be consistent in the summer? If yes, what’s your winter plan? Are you more likely to take time for your well being when you aren’t stressed? How can you change that? And, is your mental health self care also self care for your physical health? Practices that sacrifice one aspect of health in favor of the other aren’t actually self care.
May might be a month of gestures from businesses in the U.S., but for you, it can be an opportunity for improved, ongoing mental wellbeing.
Sometimes, when people outside of the system picture a young person in foster care, they see a child completely alone - with nothing and no one to offer support. And in some cases, that may be true. Children of all ages enter foster care with no other relatives to turn to and unable to go back to their parents/guardians.
However, there are many youth who, when removed from their homes, are able to move in with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, etc. They are still in foster care but a form of foster care called kinship care. Kinship care is in fact the preferred placement for children when safe and able. According to Aysha E. Schomburg, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, “As foster care is a support to families, children should stay with family when possible. In many cultures, the "village" approach has been a longstanding value, and extended family is important to the development of children who feel surrounded by love and the continuation of cultural traditions.”
That’s not to say that kinship care negates the trauma experienced by young people in foster care. Nor is it always the right option. But when it is, kinship care can help children and adolescents process and address the experience of foster care and, ideally, offer them ongoing love, support, acceptance, safety and family.
As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, many of us will plan small celebrations - brunches, dinners or even just flower deliveries. It will seem like a simple day of commemoration, a way to thank the mothers in our lives for all that they have done (and will do) for us. But for so many others, this day is not simple. It is a reminder of complex emotions, challenging pasts, presents, and futures, and a feeling of being other.
This can be particularly true for young people who are or have been in foster care. While no young person has the same story or relationships, it is likely that Mother’s Day is complicated for those who have been in placement.
Over the past several years, acknowledgment of this complexity - for youth in foster care and others - has grown, as schools have celebrations for special grownups rather than a particular parent, and care is taken to remind all of us (on social media and beyond) that our family is not everyone’s family. However, these societal gains don’t automatically make Mother’s Day easier for all.
This year, we encourage you to take the time to connect with your friends and family - those who you know will have complicated feelings on Sunday and even those who might not. Ask them not what they’re doing for Mother’s Day but simply how they are. Remind them that love and connection comes from many directions, and that you are there for them on Mother’s Day and all the days that come next.