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Building and Sustaining Positive Relationships

JV AmeriCorps member Caitlin Shehane serves at The Center for Children and Families in Billings, Montana. She shares her experience being a part of a community that supports and empowers children and families to overcome hardships and reach their full potential.

I am currently serving as a Children’s Services Aide at The Center for Children and Families in Billings, Montana. The Center provides full family treatment for women recovering from chemical dependency and substance abuse as well as mental health counseling and services for youth transitioning out of foster care. My role in treatment is to supervise parenting time for parents and their children who are in foster or kinship placements and are working towards reunification.

Billings Photo 2
Caitlin proudly shows off a child’s art project

The majority of the children involved in the program are behind developmentally in some areas due in part to the trauma and neglect they have experienced. To address this, I facilitate weekly parenting classes called Teaching Strategies. At these classes, I complete child assessments and plan activities for parents and children to complete together that target specific areas of challenge for each child. I also provide care for children during treatment groups and transport children and clients to and from their appointments.

There have been many moments of heartbreak hearing the stories and witnessing what the children involved in the program are going through. At times, I have been hard on myself, wondering if I really am making a positive impact on these families’ lives. After all, I am not a case manager, clinician, or addiction counselor. However, serving at The Center has shown me I do have the skills and abilities to take on the incredibly important role of creating and sustaining positive relationships in these children’s lives.

Many of the children involved in the program are lacking positive role models and loving, caring adults in their lives. Some children come from homes where they are rarely seen or heard. Many of them have had to navigate alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, violence, and separation in their families. I’ve realized something as simple as providing them a safe place where they can be carefree kids, further develop their unique gifts and talents, form positive relationships with parents and siblings, and become educated on addiction goes a long way in acquiring resiliency. Seeing their huge smiles when I greet them and call them by name has shown me how important it is for children to be reminded of their infinite worth and how truly precious and loved they are.

JV AmeriCorps members located in Billings
JV AmeriCorps members located in Billings

One child I have worked closely with these past six months fills me with tremendous hope. She was removed from her home and placed in foster care about a year ago. Her mother is currently in treatment and her father in prison. When I first began, she was struggling significantly academically, emotionally, and socially. Since then, she has made amazing progress. One afternoon I waited in the office to pick her up from school and transport her to The Center for parenting time with her mother. She had the hugest smile on her face as she grabbed my hand and pulled me down the hall to a display of art projects. There was her name followed by “First Place Winner!” She is a naturally talented artist, and we have been working on this strength together at The Center.

Art Project from Children and Families
Children’s art projects

A couple of weeks later, I picked her up from school.  She was beaming as she held out her report card for me to see. All A’s and B’s! I told her how proud I was, and she told me she thinks she could be the first in her family to go to college. She also said how proud she is of her mom for going to treatment, remaining clean, and turning her life around. She mentioned that she never wants to try drugs. Since her mom and dad were addicts, she already has a higher chance of becoming an addict too. She said she wants to accomplish so much in her life. I truly believe that she can break the cycle of addiction that has been in her family for generations. I feel so lucky to know her and be a part of the loving and caring community who is there to support and empower her to reach her full potential. It is my hope and mission to provide this for every child that walks through The Center’s doors. This is why I serve.

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