• Three Ways Our Prevention Specialists Are Protecting Community Youth Against Violence

    School is out for the summer. But for some neighborhoods, this time of year is anything but carefree. A wide breadth of scientific studies and reports reveal a positive correlation between violence and temperature (i.e. crime spikes with the heat), and in areas already suffering from violent crime, summer brings a new set of safety concerns.

    Though June is National Safety Month, our prevention specialists work in different Southern Illinois schools and communities throughout the year to keep youth protected on multiple fronts.

    Here are three ways we’re helping reduce violence in communities, starting with youth:


    Understanding community issues

    There are several communities where violence prevention efforts are focused, two of which are Cahokia and Dupo, both low-income, neighboring communities. In some ways they differ; Cahokia is predominantly African American community and the majority of Dupo’s population is Caucasian. Throughout both, violence is considered the norm.

    The norm is family and friends taking drugs and being violent. A lot of them have trauma and, unfortunately, they’re seeing things they shouldn’t be seeing. And we’re going in to show them that life doesn’t have to be that way,” says prevention specialist, Yvonne Petito.


    Teaching concrete life skills

    To combat the prevalence of drugs and violence in these communities, Hoyleton prevention specialists rely on the Botkins Life Skills curriculum to teach kids how to deal with these issues. Due to the connection between drugs and violence, the Botkins Life Skills curriculum includes coping skills and decision-making strategies, with a focus on substance use and violence issues. For the latter, examples of lesson topics include Violence In the Media and Coping with Anger.

    This valuable information is taught to middle school students, while they’re at this critical developmental point in their lives. Youth from 6th to 8th grade go through this curriculum, with a varying number of sessions per grade.

    They both go hand in hand – when you’re on substances, sometimes those substances provoke violent behavior,” says Petito. Student surveys about the program indicate that they are finding this information to be beneficial. Petito theorizes it’s because it’s the only place they have to turn – “they’re just not getting this outside of school.”


    Providing support from all angles

    Though the Botkins curriculum has already received positive feedback, Hoyleton prevention specialists are taking further steps toward prevention. Petito regularly works with teachers to tackle issues that may crop up, such as bullying, and helps to incorporate strategies from the curriculum to address them.

    Her goal is to increase interaction with parents in the coming months. The first opportunity for this interaction will be at an upcoming health fair, and at a violence prevention program, ‘It Takes A Village,’ to be held at Oliver Parks in Cahokia.

    With teachers, I make it a point to sit in the teachers lounge to have those conversations with them. I really want to give parents a chance to meet me, and talk to them about what’s going on, so I’m trying to make that happen.”


    These are just three ways Hoyleton Youth and Family Services is working in the collective goal to protect youth from community violence and prevent this widespread issue from growing any further.  

  • Puentes de Esperanza: Ruth & Fabio’s Journey

    Puentes de Esperanza (Bridges of Hope) helps Spanish speaking individuals navigate the system, that can be quite intimidating at first. Ruth and Fabio are two individuals who have been impacted by our mission here at Hoyleton Youth and Family Services.

    Ruth, who came to the United States in 1993, heard of Hoyleton Youth and Family Services through family. “It’s really helpful when you move to a new place, where you don’t know anything, anyone or have a way of navigating the system, that there is someone that can help you along the way to make new connections and familiarize yourself with your surroundings,” said Ruth.

    Ruth and Fabio met through their work, where Ruth introduced Fabio to Puentes de Esperanza. Through our Puentes program, we were able to help Ruth and Fabio and their three children navigate the system by hiring lawyers and interpreters, helping them with taxes, studying English and connecting them to recourses to become citizens. Because of our Counseling Care team, we were also able to connect their family with counseling services and help with insurance information. Lastly, we were able to provide Ruth and Fabio with the right resources to get married.


    As we have worked with Ruth and Fabio throughout the years, we are able to witness their personal growth and increased knowledge. “I think one of the great joys of working with any of the people we help is when they begin to feel comfortable navigating systems on their own. I love when I can help someone with their problems, but ultimately we want them to be able to have that knowledge and confidence to do it themselves,” said Jovany, Bilingual Family and Community Advocate.


    We enjoy getting to provide resources to Spanish speaking individuals and families who are in a vulnerable state. By building their confidence from within, we are bettering our community and the lives of those around us. If you know a Spanish speaking individual or family who could benefit from Puentes de Esperanza, contact us.


  • Ways to Advocate for LGBTQ Youth In Foster Care and in Our Communities

    Foster youth who are coming of age, are more likely than their peers to battle mental and/or behavioral health issues and encounter difficult issues like homelessness, unemployment and incarceration. Foster youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are more likely to struggle with these challenges to an even greater degree.

    For all youth, statistics indicate that LGBTQ-identifying young people have a 120% higher chance of experiencing homelessness and make up 40% of the total homeless youth population in the U.S., despite composing only 7% of the total U.S. youth population.

    In 2003, Illinois DCFS became the country’s first child welfare agency to develop an LGBTQ youth policy, and later added policies that require training for those working with the care of LGBTQ youth in 2017, and clarified protections for transgender youth. Though these policies were created to ensure the protection for this often underserved population, LGBTQ youth needs are still great and require a high level of support and attention – at both federal and local levels. Here are just a few ways you can support LGBTQ youth, starting in your own community:


    Create A Safe Environment

    Though more spaces are opening up for LGBTQ youth to gather and safely come into their own, it’s necessary to make efforts to expand those safe, inclusive environments. Look into already existing programs and community centers and contact them for ways to advocate for and amplify the work they do. Seek out Southern Illinois civic centres like libraries or schools and contact them to encourage the development of LGBTQ-centered programs, create more inclusive policies, and offer supportive services that cater to LGBTQ-specific needs.

    Support LGBTQ-owned businesses

    Although donating toward causes that matter provide resources, programs, and services that can greatly benefit a specific cause, sending money doesn’t always feel like a meaningful way to show support. The good thing is, there are ways to give back to important causes like LGBTQ youth rights, on a local, yet financially impactful level. Support fundraisers, bake sales, LGBTQ-owned restaurants or stores (like Rainbow Cafe), where the proceeds go toward supporting services that uphold a mission that aligns with your values of inclusivity and equality.

    Attend LGBTQ Events

    One of the most fun ways to support LGBTQ youth in your area is by attending community events, like Metro East Pride in Belleville this Saturday, June 8th at noon on Main Street, and PrideFest 2019 in downtown St. Louis at 11am, Saturday, June 29th and Sunday, 30th. Though Carbondale, Illinois’ second annual Southern Illinois Pride Fest already occurred, the event’s Facebook page regularly posts information about upcoming events within the Southern Illinois and Missouri area, including ongoing gatherings like a parent-family support group, Unconditional, which means every third Monday of the month at Rainbow Cafe. As a proud ally and supporter of inclusion, Hoyleton Youth and Family Services hosts LGBTQ support groups. Join the next one June 26th at 5pm!  


    These are only a few small, yet meaningful ways to start supporting LGBTQ youth in your community!


  • How to Build Strong Sibling Bonds Between Biological & Foster Kids

    Foster kids and biological children are brought together to become siblings under a variety of circumstances. When a foster parent receives a new placement, they view that child as their own for the duration that the child is with them. It is imperative for each child to get along and earn a mutual respect, appreciation and love for one another.

    Regardless of the family dynamics, relationships between siblings are greatly impactful. Here’s a guide for parents to help handle these relationships:


    Start a Dialogue

    Many foster children have endured traumatic circumstances and may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms and behavioral issues, as a result. Due to this, it’s easy for parents to direct the majority of attention to the foster child and, by comparison, it can seem that biological children are “fine.” But just because biological children may not require this additional attention, it does not mean they aren’t experiencing a whirlwind of feelings prompted by this adjustment.

    According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, these feelings can include a sense of loss of family closeness, fear of physical harm or having belongings stolen, and feeling the effects of higher stress levels within the family. Families should be intentional about talking and expressing feelings at the onset to avoid building resentment that’s much harder to remove later.

    It’s important to let each child know they are being heard and that their opinion matters. By letting my children know they are heard, I am also able to see how I can be a better parent for them.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Keep It Balanced

    Life can get so busy that parents struggle to complete the daily necessities, much less adequately divide their time between the children in their homes, but even if certain mental, physical or behavioral needs skew the balance of time spent toward one child, there are other ways to ensure that each child feels equally valued.

    One simple way families do this is by holding both biological and foster children to the same standard of behavior. If special needs exist, they should be accommodated, but it’s important to avoid using either child as a positive or negative example to the other.

    Each of my children have different needs and that’s what I love about them. They are each unique in their own way.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Create Meaningful Moments

    The importance of siblings spending time together may seem obvious, but those moments of bonding can be more impactful than parents realize. Children are living through one of the most formative periods of their lives. Life’s moments and experiences are deeply felt and carried throughout life. If children are coming from a traumatic environment, creating these supportive moments is all the more valuable.

    Parents should begin new traditions with input from both children. Promoting these kinds of positive interactions creates a sense of belonging for foster children and helps biological kids adjust to the shift in family dynamic. Overall, this reinforces the family unit and creates a level of stability both biological and foster kids can benefit from.

    My husband and I made it a point to have at least one day dedicated to our family and building a strong relationship between all of our children. By doing this, it’s connecting our family together and allowing our foster children to know that they are a part of our family.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Each family dynamic is different, but we hope these tips and insights can help parents strengthen the bonds between their children. If you would like to find out more about fostering or how we support families, contact us.

  • 3 Memorial Day Weekend Activities for Southern Illinois Families

    At this time of year, we are rewarded with more warm weather,  more sunshine, and bit more time to enjoy it with those we care about. And with Memorial Day weekend kicking off, there are plenty of opportunities to make more of these good times to look back on fondly.

    Here are three great outings to enjoy during the long weekend:


    May 24th – May 25th | 34th Annual Bonifest | 4pm

    This weekend, on Friday and Saturday, St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville, IL will host two days of festivities including food, raffles, live music, carnival rides and games. This festival will take place at the parish located at the intersection of Vandalia and Buchanan Street. Come out to take part in the celebrations with loved ones of all ages! Tickets for food, drinks, and games are 80 cents in advance, and $1 at the festival. Tickets for rides are $18/24, and wristbands will be offered for Saturday from 11am – 4pm (during “Bluejay Family Day”) for $28. Purchase tickets in advance at St. Boniface Parish Office, Edwardsville KofC, Bank of Edwardsville (4 locations), Town and Country Bank, Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop ‘n Save, Market Basket

    For more information, click here


    May 25th | The Run for Bonifest | 8:30a – 10am

    This 5-mile and 2-kilometer run is a tradition in the St. Boniface Catholic Church community, and known as “one of the oldest and largest annual race events in the Metro East.” Beginning on the church campus, this RFID-timed race takes runners from all levels throughout the scenic route of Leclaire Park, before returning to the church’s main stage on campus. Bring out the family for this fun opportunity to bond, while staying active!

    For more information, click here.  


    May 27th | Alton Memorial Day Parade | 10am – 12pm

    Beginning in 1868- just three years after the Civil War’s end – this annual parade celebrates those who served and the history of Upper Alton and Pie Town. This year’s celebration will mark the parade’s 152nd anniversary. Before the parade starts, gather friends and family together at Alton Middle School where the parade starts for a fun, yet meaningful outing!

    For more information, click here.

  • A Parent’s Guide for Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

    Talking to teens about drugs can seem intimidating, but having these conversations can be greatly impactful. Now that they’re older and have a bit more freedom, they’ll likely encounter situations or environments where drug and alcohol use are prevalent. However, parents have more influence over their kids’ choices than they know.

    Here are a few steps from our substance abuse prevention specialists that can help parents work with their teens in order to help them make smart decisions regarding drugs and alcohol.


    Regularly asking your teen questions opens up a dialogue about the things going on in their lives, which may include experiences with drugs and alcohol. Even if the subject of substance use doesn’t immediately come up, asking open ended questions creates those opportunities for be responsiveness. Additionally, knowing who their friends are and checking in on those friendships establishes a familiarity of those relationships.

    If your teen is at a party or outing where they are encouraged to use drugs or alcohol, creating a safe word (via a text or phone call) that signals they want to leave, can give them a way out of a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Because they are older and may have more responsibilities attributed to them, using an excuse like, “My parents need me to pick up my sibling” or “I need to leave early to help my grandma’ can serve as a plausible reason to exit an uncomfortable situation.

    Beyond discussing drugs and alcohol use with teens, setting expectations in the household about drug and alcohol use can be highly influential in their decision to not experiment with substances. Whether it’s the understanding that alcohol will not be consumed in the home until 21, or that cigarettes are not to be used regardless of the legal age, setting expectations promotes an understanding of acceptable standards that teens can be encouraged to uphold.

    Adolescence can be a fraught time, and teens may end up turning to substances to cope with the stress or social pressures they may be dealing with, or to gain social capital with their peers. Make a plan with your kids about new ways to cope through yoga, journaling, music, exercise, drawing, or other healthy outlets. Also, parents should be mindful of their own usage so that their teens can follow a good example. Parents prefacing a glass a wine or a can of beer with a comment about how stressful a day it was, sends a signal their kids that drinking is an appropriate way to cope with stress.

    It’s valuable to check the news and research what drug and alcohol use trends are currently popular across the teenage demographic. Despite the misconception that teens don’t want to talk to their parents, their desire to be heard will often prompt them to share. Ask teens what they know about a certain drug, what it is, and if they know anyone who’s tried it. If a child knows that their parents are aware of a certain drug, they’re less likely to try it.


    In the end, parents cannot control their kids’ actions, but through communication and preparation, they can assist them in having the right tools to make smart, informed decisions.

  • A Parent’s Guide for Talking to Kids, Aged 11 – 14, About Drugs

    As children grow, so does their concern for the approval of their peers. Despite this, parents often have more influence over their children than they realize. A talk with kids about drugs is not necessarily an easy one, but it can be an invaluable conversation to have as they approach the age of curiosity about drugs or first use.

    Here are some steps parents can take to be proactive in preventing drug use in their children:


    Step 1: Take the Lead

    Around the ages of 11 to 14, kids are at a period where they may have heard things about certain drugs, and are curious. More than ever, now is the time to inquire about what children already know through their own research, from peers, or the media. Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic to them and ask what they’ve heard about a specific drug at school, in music or on television, and ask if they have any questions.  

    Step 2: Create An Open Dialogue

    A lot of times adults ask questions, but then quickly try to answer themselves. By giving youth the the chance to speak, it reveals what they do or don’t know. Listening to what kids have to say about drugs is a helpful opportunity to expose their misconceptions on the topic and replace them with the proper information, which can be put into a context they can understand.

    Step 3: Write A Script

    In their youth, kids may find themselves in situations where they are faced with peer pressure. Helping them to come up with a safe way to get out of uncomfortable situations can give them the confidence to navigate these difficult moments. Help them practice what they will say if they encounter someone who wants them to use drugs or alcohol. Another strategy is creating some sort of text script that kids can send to their parents, which signals for their help to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Role playing these scenarios not only helps prepare kids for what to say, but also helps them get more comfortable navigating those moments of peer pressure.  

    Step 4: Get Familiar With Friends

    Most often, kids from ages 11 – 14 are using substances in someone’s homes – not out in bars – therefore it’s important to get to know the people a child is spending their time with. Even if parents are familiar with the parents of their child’s friends, it’s important for them to get a sense of what substances are or aren’t allowed in the house, and what the attitude is in regard to the use of those substances.


    This age range, 11 – 14 years old, can be a pivotal time in life, and it’s important for parents to lend their guidance to help their kids through it. These points will create effective dialogue with kids. 

  • 4 Upcoming Hoyleton Events to Attend

    Our goal is to provide supportive services and resources that give people the tools they need to build healthy, happy, stable lives and family connections. Within the next couple of weeks, there are several upcoming events to attend that offer this to families and individuals, through valuable information or exciting family activities:

    Helping Young Adults Thrive 

    4/25, Thursday, 6pm – O’ Fallon Public Library

    From discussions about common experiences and healthy behavior during this phase of life, to information about how to identify unhealthy patterns, our workshop is designed to equip parents with the information they may need to ultimately help their teenagers thrive. The workshop will close with a forum for any questions on the topic of teenage mental and behavioral health.

    Register here.

    Mental Health First Aid Course & Certification (Free)

    4/26, Friday, 8am – 5pm – St. Joseph’s Hospital

    Identify Potential Risks and Warning Signs

    Mental illness is prevalent, but lack of knowledge and stigmas around the topic don’t always make the signs easy to recognize. This nationally accredited course, iMental Health First Aid, will teach trainees how to identify symptoms of various mental illnesses in the people the interact with in daily life from loved ones to co-workers, as well as guide an action plan to assist someone in crisis. Learning risk factors and identifying early warning signs is a great way to learn how to be pro-active in helping individuals with their mental health.  Perks for this course include free certification, free lunch, a free book, and free continuing education units for LSW, LCSW, LPC, & LCPC (available upon request).

    Register here.

    National Drug Take Back Day 

    4/27, Saturday, 10am – noon – Doehrings Pharmacy

    This year, Hoyleton Youth and Family Service is once again teaming up with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to allow people to dispose of their expired, unused and/or unwanted prescription drugs to prevent drug abuse and theft. In its previous 16 Take Back events, the DEA and its partners have collected nearly 11 million pounds of pills – join in this Saturday to see if you can help top this number for the 17th Drug Take Back Day.

    Register here.


    Hiking & Biking for Hoyleton

    5/11, Saturday, 9am – Maeystown, Illinois

    May is National Bike Month, so it’s only fitting that our favorite biking tradition takes place this month. On May 11, walkers, runners, and bikers can travel across the beautiful countryside surrounding Maeystown, Illinois through a scenic two, five or 15-mile route. Proceeds from this event allow our youth to go on outings like fishing, swimming, visiting the museum, and even allows them to attend Hoyleton Day Camp at Dubois Center. Please join us in Mayestown as we continue to Build Stronger Communities, One Child at a Time! Included with your registration fee are your Hike & Bike t-shirt and a hearty lunch.

    Register here.


  • How Puentes de Esperanza Celebrated Easter: 5 Highlights from Fairmont City’s Easter Event

    For over seven years, Hoyleton’s Puentes de Esperanza program has participated in Fairmont City’s annual Easter-related events, including a vibrant parade and an exciting egg hunt. We’re proud to be a part of such a special day that brings such joy to the community each year with the support of local institutions like the Fairmont City Library, the local police and fire departments, and other sponsors, like Puentes de Esperanza, who want to provide Southern Illinois’ Latino community with a fun day of holiday festivities.

    Here is a quick recap of this special day:


    1. It gets bigger each year

    Each year, this event grows exponentially. This year, over 1,000 individuals were in attendance.


    2. Supporters were as sweet as candy  

    All candy for Puentes de Esperanza’s Easter eggs was donated by Kevin Woelffel, who regularly volunteers for Puentes events.


    3. There were treats a plenty 

    A Place of Grace members helped stuff eggs with treats for the children, while our interns helped coordinate toys to give out. 


    4. Goodie bags aren’t just for candy  

    In addition to the typical Easter treats, Puentes de Esperanza handed out flyers about upcoming events and workshops for the community to attend, and distributed Deterra drug deactivation bags, which allow for the safe disposal of old medication.


    5. Scholarships were the greatest prize of all

    The Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois awarded a $500 scholarship to a high school senior, which was matched by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, so that two students received scholarships for their bright futures.


    Overall, it was a great day of fun – we can’t wait to celebrate again next year!

  • 5 Great Podcasts About Youth Behavioral Health

    Every parent hopes to raise happy children that grow up and lead independent, healthy lives. But, life’s challenges sometimes make this more difficult. Fortunately, there are many different services and resources designed to guide parents along that child-rearing journey through difficult behavioral health issues that arise as a result of a variety of circumstances.

    Read our list of five great podcasts with insights from child behavioral experts, parent testimonials, and more.


    1. This is Normal

    As part of USA Today Network’s Kids in Crisis series, this podcast invites youth people to share their struggles with mental health, and how they overcame them. This ‘for youth, by youth’ podcast offers an authentic look into the real struggles of young people, which can help others in similar situations, to feel empowered.  


    1. Child In Mind

    This podcast was produced by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, which focuses on making mental health services effective and accessible for UK children and families. With episodes focused on topics like help for children with ADHD and how trauma affects the young brain, listeners can find useful information that can help a child dealing with behavioral issues.  


    1. Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) Podcast  

    With so much information about youth mental health and development, and most of it verbose, it’s easy to get too overwhelmed to take it all in. This podcast aims to bridge the gap between academic studies and research, by discussing ways to put them into practice with experts.  


    1. The Behavioral Observations Podcast

    Though not limited to one set demographic, this podcast regularly covers severe behavioral issues as they relate to youth, hosted by Matt Cicora and featuring topics discussed at length with behavioral analysts. Such topics include potential treatment for “aggression and self-injurious behavior,” as well as how to get kids more involved in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for children with autism.


    1. inSocialWork Podcast Series

    The University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work has a podcast series, inSocialWork, that covers a range of topics that social workers commonly encounter in their careers, often including various youth behavioral health issues. This series includes interviews with experts, conversations with social workers, and other critical perspectives from experienced voices in the field on how to address these issues that affect youth.


    There’s no road map for raising a child, but hopeful you’ll discover some useful pieces of guidance and wisdom on your childrearing journey through these podcasts.