Vashon Youth and Family Services Programs
The Playspace is the home of the Family Education and Support Services program. It is the hub of early learning and parent education and support on the island. The program offers parents, some new to the experience, an opportunity to participate in regular play groups with other parents and their children. This allows them to interact, exchange ideas about parenting and to obtain some often needed social interaction. It also gives the staff an opportunity to observe the parent child interaction and to model various parenting techniques. In addition to the playgroups, specific parenting instruction is provided using best practice curricula, Nurturing Parent Program, Guiding Good Choices and Incredible Years. Individual classes are also provided to parents addressing a wide range of topics related to child development and parenting as well as family and couple relationships. For families and parents most in need of assistance and support individual coaching is available. This may take place at VYFS facilities or in the home.
The Vashon Kids program operates on the grounds of Chatagua Elementary School. It provides before and after school care for kindergartners through fifth graders. The program operates from 6:00 AM until school starts and from the time school is out until 6:30 PM. It is also available all day during school breaks and every day during the summer through a series of week long summer day camps. Vashon Kids is more than child care. It provides individualized interactive activities for children, some with special needs and unique challenges. In addition to play time and art projects the program offers meals, tutoring and group sessions. The summer camps provide opportunities for many program participants to have their first experiences at movies, museums, the zoo, carnivals and other such activities. Approximately 50% of the families utilizing the Vashon Kids program receive at least a partial scholarship.
The VYFS Counseling program provides an array of services for community members needing mental health treatment and counseling. Those receiving counseling services range from the chronically mentally ill with very severe diagnoses to those experiencing mild anxiety and couples with relationship issues. Treatment is provided through individual counseling sessions as well as group sessions and using such techniques as art therapy and play therapy. In the summer kayak adventure camps and art camps are provided for young clients. The Counseling program serves children, teens, young adults and older adults. Couples, individuals and families participate.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
Allison’s story is a typical example of our wrap around approach to services. Allison is a 20 year old mother with a history of family substance abuse, abandonment and homelessness. As a homeless teenager, she engaged in drug and alcohol use with her boyfriend, an abusive, meth addict and dealer. She periodically attended counseling services at VYFS through her teen years to manage anger, depression and gain support to end her abusive relationship. At 19 Allison discovered she was pregnant after a brief encounter with a married man and determined to raise the baby alone. She resumed counseling services when her son was 7 weeks old. Her counselor referred her to the VYFS Family Support and Education Services program. In addition, Allison and her mother were referred to our VIVA (basic needs program)coordinator for help with their housing needs. As a client of that program she was eligible for other case management services.
Allison soon attended our mother’s support group (Baby Group) but reported to her counselor that she felt uncomfortable among the more mature moms. After consulting we decided to create a support group of her peers and she agreed to take a leadership role in its development. After participating in the Young Parents’ Group for a few months she scheduled 1:1 coaching with a parent educator to learn how to “not spank or hit my child when he does something wrong when he’s older”. By this time, Allison and her mother were living in their new 3 bedroom subsidized apartment from which she walked to her weekly counseling, parent education and Young Parents’ Playgroup appointments. VYFS has facilitated several wrap-around services to support Allison’s goal of “being a good mom to her son”.
When Allison’s son was not properly gaining weight and showing signs of hair loss, she and her parent coach worked with the Public Health Nurse to create a feeding plan that worked for her budget. In addition to the support she receives from WIC and the local food bank, other wrap-around services have been arranged. An infant massage therapist volunteered to assess her son’s seemingly hyper-active motor function and she has received regular donations from our clothing/infant equipment bank, and email requests through our parent resource network. As her son moved to solid foods, she expressed interest in providing healthy meals for her son but has little cooking experience. It was arranged for her to meet with a local Naturopath (free) and a Nutritionist to receive education and practice preparing healthy meals using ingredients from the Food Bank and WIC programs. As a result, her son’s weight has increased and his overall development is now within normal range and in some areas, ahead of peers.
Allison rarely misses a Playgroup, Parent Coaching or counseling session and continues to solicit participants for the Young Parents’ group. She has taken a leadership role in managing the baby clothing/equipment bank at our family center, The Playspace, and was able to discontinue her depression medication with the help of her physician, with whom we coordinate care.
Today, Allison is a resourceful, independent young woman who cares for her son, mother and their tidy apartment while facilitating a healthy routine for her son. Most importantly, while she may continue to struggle with her own attachment disorder, she is showing improvement in responsiveness to her son as a result of her education and supported practice in attachment parenting theory.