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Morningsong: helping homeless kids cope with change

In December, ParentMap announced its Giving Together Campaign benefiting Family Services, a nonprofit agency in King County committed to strengthening families and creating a safer community. This month, we profile Morningsong, a Family Services-sponsored specialized early learning child care program for homeless children.

Michael was 2-1/2 years old when he came to Morningsong. He and his mother, Karen, had become homeless after fleeing a domestic violence situation.

The teachers noticed right away that Michael had some emotional and behavioral issues and showed a high level of separation anxiety. In addition, he was not very affectionate toward Karen, and Karen lacked the parenting skills necessary to address his special issues. A typical morning drop-off included Karen bribing Michael with a bottle, food or toy to get him to come to child care. Once she signed Michael in, Karen found it difficult to leave because he would cry, scream, kick, curse or hit her. She would respond by yelling or cursing. A similar scene was repeated when Karen picked him up. Teachers modeled for Karen appropriate ways to speak with Michael and gave suggestions to ease separation from him. In the classroom, a teacher had to be nearby to help keep him calm and stop him from lashing out at his friends. Teachers worked intensely with Michael to provide him with ways to display anger other than by hitting, kicking or throwing toys.

Karen had also shared with staff that Michael would run away while they were walking down the street. Teachers worked with Michael on holding his mom's hand and not running from her. During the last few weeks of his enrollment, Michael ran happily into his mother's arms when she came to pick him up. He often directed the other children to better solve conflicts. He would say, "You ask for a turn and I'll say 'In a minute,' and then you can have it." He also learned to ask for a teacher's assistance when conflicts with others were difficult for him. He was more willing to play with others and was a leader in the group.

When Michael left Morningsong for a daycare close to their new home, Karen reported that his language skills had improved and that he overcame his separation anxiety. In addition, he was no longer angry or shy and was much more disciplined. A steady caring staff helped Michael to cope with all the changes that were going on in his life. To make a contribution to Family Services, contact Steve Winter at 206-826-3039 or swinter@family-services.org

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