“A lot of times, when they’re coming from domestic violence environments, children have a sense of anxiousness,” says Children’s Services Coordinator Teia Sherell. “They’re always on guard. There’s never time for them to kind of relax. Often, older kids will feel responsible for the younger kids, and they are just constantly on guard – worried about their safety or worried about their parent. When they come to our program, we give them the opportunity to just be kids. They get to express themselves openly in a safe, caring, warm environment, where they can be themselves and just relax, experience things oftentimes they haven’t experienced yet, or just be celebrated as children.”
According to the Domestic Violence Network, children are witnesses in 77% of domestic violence reports. In fact, Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that 60% of children from homes where partner abuse is present are also victims of abuse themselves. “They need time, space and that sense of safety,” says Teia.
Children’s Services is a vital piece of the Coburn Place mission, and it’s the piece affected most by COVID. We work with hundreds of children at a time, moving them – with their survivor parent or guardian – to stable housing and empowering them. Teia is responsible for planning and maintaining programming for children who live at Coburn Place, waitlisted child survivors and outreach clients.
Children’s Services include plenty of play spaces, therapy, support groups, homework help and tutoring, healthy relationship classes, after-school programs, and field trips. Right now, the indoor spaces remain closed and everything else is virtual. Teia, who is in her 15th year with Coburn Place, is looking forward to fully opening up. “We are doing this gracefully, gradually and safely,” she says. “That’s most important to me.” During Spring Break, Children’s Services held some in-person, outdoor events with virtual components and that will continue this summer.
“I’m watching the news constantly, and the numbers are ticking back up again,” says Teia. She’s concerned about a rise in COVID cases among younger children and the new variants that are affecting younger kids – the very kids in our care. What are survivors doing for childcare? Right now, a lot of our kids are school-age and are in school. Some of our kids go to Head Start; others go to other childcare providers.
But Teia calls herself Queen of Spin-on-a-Dime. “It’s going to be a STEAM summer!” she says. “For summer camp, there will be an in-person outdoor component in the morning and links associated with the topic of the day going out in the afternoon or vice versa. We’re bringing everything to us. Weather permitting, we will do in-person activities socially distant outside. When the weather does not permit, I’m hoping to be able to use our community room – currently under renovation – because that has more space.”
Teia is inviting more science and STEM providers to come and do demonstrations and says she’ll continue art classes in person in the summer outside. She’s also dreaming of tennis lessons on site and taking a smaller group of kids for swim lessons. And she’s optimistic – “It makes my job interesting. It challenges me to find fun things for the kids to do safely,” Teia says.
Teia says giving survivors resources and referrals for their children is something that hasn’t stopped. “We do what we can to assist our families in obtaining services,” she says.
Teia misses pre-COVID days when the kids bounded straight down to Children’s Services from the bus. “Sometimes I had to remind them to check in with mom!” she says. “They had snacks, and they chatted about how their days were – what went well that day, what they’re looking forward to and what they have concerns about. And they weren’t only talking with our staff – they connected with the other kids and the student volunteers.”
That connection is important. “Kids are so resilient,” Teia says. “If they’re going through a hard time, sometimes you can’t tell. But I could tell there was a sense of relief when they were outside at our recent STEM Fair. They were so happy to be there. And the parents were excited, too.”
Teia is looking forward to a bright future for Children’s Services. “We are very optimistic that we’re going to get back to business soon,” she says.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Did you know all Indiana adults are mandated reporters? Check on the at-risk children in your life. To report child abuse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, call (800) 800-5556. Find out more about how you can support the Children’s Services program at Coburn Place at coburnplace.org/donate.