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Author Archives: Kristin Lennox

  1. Announcement: New Youth Development Program by Voices

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    We are excited to announce a new youth development program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. This new program is in the early stages of planning, and we’re delighted to be working with Tiara Whitfield, CEO of AdoLESSONS LLC, a Richmond-based consulting firm, whose extensive experiences in youth development programming have been an asset on this journey. This youth development program will enhance young people’s ability to engage with legislators and decision-makers to advance their communities through advocacy, storytelling, and community engagement.

    How It Will Work

    This August, we are launching several compensated focus groups with youth and young adults, to help determine everything from the program name to learning objectives. We are also spending time connecting with existing youth programs and partner organizations that have been leaders in this work.

    Our inaugural group will be open to Virginia residents between the ages of 15 – 25. Members will be paid a stipend for their participation throughout the year. In August and September, we aim to begin recruiting ten pilot group participants for our first cohort, with workshops beginning in September 2022. Program participants will take part in training that will prepare them for state-level legislative advocacy for the 2023 Virginia General Assembly. After the legislative session, this year’s pilot program will continue building skills and strategizing year-long advocacy initiatives and projects.

    What Participants Will Gain

    Through participating in this program, members will accomplish the following:

    • Understand the legislative process and procedures in Virginia.
    • Develop skills in leadership, storytelling, social change, advocacy and activism.
    • Inform and advise policymakers on legislation pertaining to young people, families, and their communities.

    Youth development programs benefit their participants in many ways, enhancing or improving soft skills, social skills, and social emotional learning. Our goal is to provide evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and economics and that further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others. We hope to hone participants’ public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills and empower participants to use their voices, passions, and skills to make progress in areas where change is slow or unjust and at moments when society’s most marginalized communities are underrepresented.

    How We Got Here

    In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children hosted our first Foster Care Advocacy Cohort, a landmark pivot towards truly incorporating young voices and lived experiences in our policy work and advocacy. In our mission to champion public policies that improve the lives of Virginia’s children, we have created opportunities piece by piece for young people to have seats at the table. For several years we continued to develop advocacy cohorts to center young voices and stories, culminating in this year’s inaugural Youth Advocacy Cohort, our youngest group of advocates to date, ranging from 14 – 25 years old. As we continue to convene young people and generate opportunities for them to participate in the change that would liberate us all, it is essential to empower and activate these young advocates and leaders. We began imagining a program that could mentor, nurture, educate, and train young changemakers. We dreamed of a space where youth could learn about power, equity, justice, storytelling, and the legislative process so that they would have the skills to not only take their seats at the table but also to lead the whole meeting.

    Young people are critical partners in the work of imagining and building a more just and equitable Virginia. With this developing program, we are grateful to be positioning ourselves to be the voices of Virginia’s children and young people and enhancing our ability to develop youth advocates. We are thankful to our partners and youth consultants in developing this program and are looking forward to what is to come.

  2. RTRW 2022: Themes and Presentations

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    We are looking forward to our third year recognizing Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, August 22 – 28, 2022. Each year, we intentionally select RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. This year is no different as we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice at the center of our own work. This year, we have also experienced the power and importance of letting young voices influence and inform decisions that will impact them, their families, and their well-being the most.

    This year’s themes are:

    • Good Trouble: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    • Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    • Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth

    This year, we are approaching RTRW with a renewed drive to incorporate community voices and stories. As such, we are announcing a call for proposals for each day of these themes.

    Presentations must be:

    • A minimum of 45 minutes and a max of 90 minutes in length
    • Presented virtually, August 23 – 25, 2022
    • In line with the Racial Truth & Reconciliation Mission & Goals

    If you or your organization are interested in presenting at this year’s Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week, read on to see which theme may be the best fit for you and your content.

    Good Trouble – Necessary Trouble to Enact Change
    Presenting on Tuesday, August 23, 2022

    “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.” – Congressman John Lewis

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating advocacy, activism, changemaking, etc.
    • Discussions of the varying roles in social change
    • Persevering through challenging political landscapes
    • Self- and community-care in the face of political and systemic adversities
    • Community roundtables/panels on how local leaders and community members are getting into “Good Trouble”
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating the spirit of “Good Trouble”

    Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates & Activists
    Presenting on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

    “There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up.” – Malala Yousafzai

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Community roundtables/panels comprised of young people
    • Workshops about outreach and engagement with young people
    • Discussions on how to effectively support and listen to young people
    • Presentations on the landscape of youth and young people in advocacy and activism
    • Workshops incorporating youth development, mentorship, etc.
    • Storytelling and/or artistry celebrating young peoples’ advocacy and activism

    Organizational Change: Reckoning & Reconciling Our Truth
    Presenting on Thursday, August 25, 2022

    “Unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization will not survive.” – Peter Drucker

    Proposals for this theme may include (but are not limited to):

    • Workshops incorporating organizational change theory
    • Community discussions on themes of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice
    • Presentations on organizational change, accountability, growth, etc.
    • Facilitated discussions on leading, managing, and embracing organizational change
    • Storytelling, truth telling, and/or artistry centering around organizational change and growth

    Proposals may be submitted here by Friday, July 15, 2022.
    For further questions or support needs, contact Kristin Lennox, kristin@vakids.org.

  3. Reflections From Our 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort

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    As the 2022 General Assembly session winds down, the Voices team is reflecting back on this session’s achievements, challenges, and future opportunities. Included in our reflections is the inspirational and incredible work of the young advocates in our Youth Advocacy Cohort. 

    15 young change-makers met with 15 legislators during the Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day during the second official week of session. Cohort members shared their reflections on the experience and offered some advocacy wisdom that would be valuable to any aspiring or experienced advocates:

    “We can make a difference…if we get more people to think like us or to hear us, it will inspire [others]. For as long as I can remember I’ve been speaking up for others…even if I am an introvert, even if I don’t like people knowing my life I’ve always spoken up because I know that…if you do it, it inspires [others] to do it…How are they gonna know what’s happening if we don’t tell them? If you don’t speak up, they’re gonna assume that you’re okay, or they’re gonna assume things on their own… That’s why it’s important to tell your story and tell them your experiences so that way they have an idea of what’s going on… and get an idea of how to help you.” – Naomi, 17 years old


    “Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t let anybody dim your purpose. Don’t let anybody dim what you really want to talk about, because you never really know who the right person will be that you effect… You could really change somebody’s life with what you talk about. Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let YOU silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old


    “They’re just people… They are just human beings… They have feelings and emotions and they can understand and grasp where you’re coming from… [Advocacy] isn’t something that has to be scary and hard.” – Grace, 14 years old


    “They need our perspective and they really appreciate what we have to say… It’s not just us coming to people that aren’t really interested and don’t really want to listen. They really, really want to know what we have to say.” – Chanel, 19 years old 


    “Just keep going… They don’t know what’s going on until you speak up, and who best to tell them what’s going on then the people that are going through it right now? I always say, even if your voice wobbles, even if you can’t speak English all the way, even if you don’t fully know what’s going on at the legislative level, you know what’s going on with you and you need to share that story with the people who are making those rules and those policies.” – Nicole, 24 years old


    “Talk about an honor. Literally, since the first meeting we had, you have been such an inspiration…you guys are really just inspirational. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. It could be the page in someone else’s survival guide.’ So, keep advocating, keep going…I know you guys shook any room that you were in. Just keep going. Never let anyone discourage you from whatever you’re passionate about… Keep fighting the fight.” – Drew, 25 years old


    Although this session and changing administration brought unique challenges, we’re grateful for the memorable opportunities ahead for all of Virginia’s young changemakers and advocates. Check out our pre and post-test results for the advocacy day below:

  4. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap

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    (Pictured above: Cohort members and Voices’ staff take a “before” picture before embarking on their legislative meetings.)

    “Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let you silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old, from Hampton, VA

     

    Our 2022 Advocacy Cohort completed their Youth Advocacy Day on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Fifteen youth and young adults, ages 14 – 25, divided into four small but mighty groups to meet with fifteen policymakers (a combination of Delegates and Senators) throughout the afternoon. Advocates presented on key issues impacting themselves and their communities such as the state of youth mental health, improvements for the foster care system, needed supports and protections for LGBTIQIA+ youth, and equitable access to health coverage.

    “I talked about being trans and the discrimination that LGBTQ kids face in schools, and the fact that we endure so much… People are really hateful and spiteful and say horrible things… I’ve been asking for there to be some sort of set punishment and just understanding of why [these protections] are so important.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “Whether we’re fighting for health care or mental health services or more inclusive classrooms or more inclusive language or anything of that nature, my main thing was just making sure that we’re considering our young people every step of the way, because the choices that our policymakers and legislators make today, we’re gonna have to deal with tomorrow.” – Elijah, 14 years old

    Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer

    (Pictured above: Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer.)

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.” – Aaliyana, 16 years old

    “I talked about how bullying is equated to hate crimes at the moment and how that’s just unacceptable because they are two very different things. I asked a lot of the people we spoke with to start building [more protective] systems into schools.” – Chanel, 19 years old

    Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey

    (Pictured above: Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey.)

    “There’s just a lack of help… because of language access. I also talked about health insurance and… the human right to just being able to access [medical and mental health treatment].” – Naomi, 17 years old

    Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney

    (Pictured above: Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney.)

    Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath

    (Pictured above: Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath.)

    Originally scheduled to be a series of in-person events and legislative meetings, the cohort quickly pivoted in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and worked together to support and encourage one another throughout the virtual advocacy day. Cohort participants worked with Policy Team members to practice storytelling and connecting their experiences to policy and upcoming legislation.

    This group of changemakers left legislators and the Voices’ team completely inspired, moved, and awe-struck. We know their courageous storytelling is making incredible impact and we were honored and humbled to support them on their advocacy journeys.

  5. Welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

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    Please welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

    We are so honored to introduce the members of our 2022 Advocacy Cohort. This group of inspirational youth and young adults is diverse in age, region, advocacy experience, and lived experience. They are excited, eager, and enthusiastic about the work ahead.

    The Advocacy Cohort is in conjunction with Pretty Purposed, a mentorship organization with community-based and school-based programming in Richmond, VA, and the surrounding counties. “Pretty Purposed inspires communities to empower girls and young women.”

    Ava, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    “Be the change you were created to be. Advocacy has no age or limits. You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

     

    Chanel, 19 (she/her)

    “The voices and experiences of the youth are essential for a better-quality future.”

    Drew, 24 (she/her)

    “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

    Elijah, 14 (he/him), with Hear Our Voices

    “When youth are able to come to the table on the issues that affect us, true and long-lasting systemic change is possible.”

    Nicole, 24 (she/her)

    “Fred Rogers says, ‘It’s easy to say not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond.’ Well here we are, and we are ready to respond and advocate! Virginia is a community worth fighting for!”

    Saniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.”

    Tayonna, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “I am the future for the positive change.”

    Grace, 14 (she/her)

    “I am a trans child and I have a voice that I need to use.”

    Melissa, 23 (she/her)

    “We must come together in one another’s shared experiences and differences as we start to rebuild our communities. It’s no secret it has been a tough few years, but for many the pandemic and ongoing racial injustice has added to the hurt and hardships. People are tired. We need support. We need solutions. We need a system that prioritizes humanity. We need to create a new ‘normal’ and take action that moves us forward.”

    Kennedy, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    Naomi, 17 (she/her)

    “I would say what most inspired me to join the cohort, was my history teacher. She made me see that my opinions matter and that I should fight for what I believe in, she teaches me every day something new and encourages me to keep fighting for myself and my community.”

     

    2022 Advocacy Cohort members not pictured:

    De’marya, 16 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed, said: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

    Aaliyana, 16 (she/her), said: “As young people, we have the responsibility of pursuing and advocating for change so future generations won’t have to experience the same struggles.”

    Jonathan, 15 (he/him), with Hampton World Changers Ambassadors

    Talia, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Brook’lyn, 14 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Oniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed 

     

    Supporting this cohort are:

    Lotoria Fowlkes, volunteer and mentor with Pretty Purposed

    Kristin Lennox, Advocacy & Engagement Manager with Voices for Virginia’s Children

    Sign up to receive news about our advocacy cohort and their upcoming advocacy day in January.

  6. 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers, to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff. The MLK Day Rally (January 17, 2021) and the advocacy day (January 18, 2021) are both in-person events.

    As the only statewide, multi-issue advocacy organization for children and youth, we have several policy areas that would center youth voice and advocacy. As youth apply, they are encouraged to consider their own lived experiences in the following areas. 

    • Foster Care & Child Welfare: You have personally experienced or witnessed a close relative live with non-relatives, relatives, such as grandparents, re-unification with parents or once been at risk of not being placed with family due to a lack of supports. You want to transform the way the world supports families and other young people so that they do not experience the same.   
    • Early Childhood Education: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions that decrease the ability for all children to experience thriving childhoods. You want to increase access to a quality early childhood education for children so that they can learn, play, and thrive. You want to transform conditions, such as childcare so caregivers can work, provide for their families, and youth are no longer having to choose between providing for their families, caring for their siblings, or attending school. 
    • Community Wealth: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions of poverty or racism. You want to build wealth for your community and generational wealth for your family by increasing community supports, including housing, more after school or out of school programs, and funding that connects families to resources that decrease poverty. You desire a more promising future for your community, regardless of where an individual lives, works, or plays. You wish to dismantle racism and envision world communities are not plagued by racial, historical, or environmental traumas that contribute to community violence.
    • Community Health: You have personally experienced barriers and challenges to healthcare or have used public health insurance, such as Medicaid. You believe everyone deserves access to quality health outcomes and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their cultural identity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age. You believe health should be viewed with a broader lens and want to champion solutions that increase access to care all children to transform conditions that communities of color unjustly experience, such as cancer, obesity, or diabetes.  
    • Food & Nutrition: You have experienced or witnessed challenges accessing healthy and nutritious foods, such as living in a community with no nearby grocery stores or financial challenges to putting food on the table. You want to create a society where everyone is healthy and well and believe in diverse solutions, including eliminating barriers related to one’s immigration status, increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods, drinking water in schools, and wellness days.
    • Mental Health: You have personally needed mental health or behavioral services or resources, such as substance use services, counseling, or in-patient hospitalization. You believe mental health and behavioral health should be normalized and envision a world where supports are no longer seen as a stigma. You believe young people should lead the input to increasing mental health in schools and in their communities, whether peer led, school-based, culturally appropriate, or safe. You envision a world where youth have access to quality mental health and behavioral health services in hospitals, schools, and in their communities.
    • Economic Justice: You or your family have personally experienced not being able to meet your basic needs or struggling to. You believe that every child should have access to food, clothing, and housing. You don’t believe people should be shamed for needing help and want to create general wealth for your families and equalize unequal starting places in life due to poverty or the way in which racism impacts access to financial wealth. You seek to create a world where communities can survive, seek stability, and thrive.
    • Racial Truth and Reconciliation: You have personally experienced or witnessed racial and historical traumas, such as slavery or the indigenous trail of tears and the long-term impacts of that which follow youth and children in their communities, schools, and institutions. You have additionally experienced or witnessed racism and the conditions it creates and want to dismantle racism in every society or system, including the foster care system, the school-to-prison pipeline, racism as a public health crisis, and police brutality. You believe that communities should be viewed as agents in the creation of their change and want to create systems that foster healing and resilience instead of trauma. You envision a world where every child has access to a just future, regardless of their race or ethnic identity.

    Youth (up to 25 years of age) must complete an application to be considered for this opportunity. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Deadline for submission is close of business Wednesday, November 24. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Events on January 17 and 18 are in-person, and masks will be mandated regardless of vaccination status.

    Please contact Kristin Lennox at kristin@vakids.org for more information.

     

    2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of virtual legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff.
    https://www.mypronouns.org/what-and-why
    Email(Required)
    Home Address(Required)
    MM slash DD slash YYYY
    Please note that the maximum age of advocates for this cohort is 25.
    The person listed will be contacted to complete a consent form for your participation
    Race/Ethnicity(Required)
    Which of the following is your area of interest/lived experience?(Required)
    Please see our blog post on the Youth Advocacy 2022 Cohort for more examples of each policy area.
    Are you affiliated with any organizations that you would also be representing as an advocate?
    Some of our trainings will be virtual through Zoom. Are you familiar with Zoom and have access to a device and reliable internet to engage in trainings through Zoom?(Required)
    Can you commit to the following dates and times for trainings? Monday, December 6, 2021, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 10, 2022, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 17, 2022 (after MLK Day Rally) in-person, times TBD; events on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, in-person, day-long event(Required)
    Events are subject to change as needed. Events on January 18th would require an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia, with hotel accommodations covered by us for non-Richmond-area residents.
    Max. file size: 300 MB.
  7. Talking to Youth After Violence

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    It is an unfortunate truth in this country that we must have difficult and scary conversations that follow acts of violence, including school shootings. These events stir up confusion, fear, and unease for ourselves as caregivers or parents who are witnessing our worst nightmare, and also alarm the young people in our lives. It is during these difficult moments that children and youth look to trusted adults to understand how to react, cope and how to trust the world around them again. As you embark on these challenging conversations, consider the guidance below:

    • Name emotions together. Anxiety. Hypervigilance. Name the things that are coming up and be open about what comes up for you as a parent/caregiver. Sharing like this demonstrates that a) emotions are acceptable and b) gives them an opportunity to model their coping styles after you. Reserve processing more intense emotions with other supportive adults. While it is good to be open about emotions, you do not want children to think they must care for you too, or that they are somehow at fault. Phrases like, “I’m upset about what I saw, it’s not you,” can also help ease heightened and worried young minds.
    • Consider what is developmentally appropriate. You are the expert in your child. For any child or youth, approaching the conversation with curiosity and playfulness will be most helpful, but there are some things to keep in mind depending on age.
      • Remember that younger children (up to Elementary School age) tend to think in more linear, concrete terms, so keeping things simple, clear and concise will be important in addressing their anxious behaviors. Accept and hold the full range of their emotions. Phrases like, “A scary thing happened here, and grown-ups are working hard to try to fix it and keep everyone safe.”
      • Older children (Middle to High school) are keenly aware of when they are being condescended to and already have access to so much information on their own. Begin by being curious about what they already know. Anchor your conversation in facts. Invite a check-in later, if needed. “This scary thing happened and it’s making me think about safety. We can talk whenever you’re ready.”
    • Reassure safety. School is supposed to be a safe place. Help the young people you are connecting with understand that school is still a safe place to learn and connect with friends and trusted adults. You can approach this practically by helping to identify the things that keep them safe day-to-day, like talking to trusted adults when they are feeling afraid or unsure. Reiterate their safety by reminding them that you are always there for them and that authorities are investigating. “It’s okay to feel scared, but know that your teacher(s) works with me and other helpers to keep you safe.”
    • Keep the news and any violent or potentially triggering media away. If you as an adult are eager for the information, practice discretion, or try distracting your child to shift their focus. For older youth, filter the news for optimal times of day (avoiding close to bedtime) and/or watch together. Consider youth-centered news resources as well, such as Xzya: News for Kids.
    • Maintain routines. Keep it as “normal” a day as possible. Regular schedules are reassuring and can reduce anxiety. Ensure plenty of sleep, regular meals, and movement. Encourage academics and extracurriculars, but if your child is overwhelmed, take those cues and suggest a more emotionally accessible activity to do.

    Navigating these conversations is not an exact science. You and the child you are supporting may have different needs depending on aspects like age, race and ethnicity, where you live, and the resources available to you for support. Let these talking points and recommendations guide you, but recognize when to ask for help.

    Sign up to receive emails from Voices. We’ll be sending out resources to support these conversations, and youth, via email and social media in the coming weeks.