03/07/10 — Annual conference looks for ways to help children in need

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Annual conference looks for ways to help children in need

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 7, 2010 1:50 AM

Parents, service providers and concerned volunteers gathered Friday at the ninth annual State of the Child conference at Mount Olive College to learn new ways of helping children in need.

Guardian ad litem Program Director Colleen Kosinski knows that times are tough for families. Being a parent is full of challenges, and working with kids, especially children with behavioral concerns, comes with many questions.

"What I see is kids, of course, there's a lot of peer pressure, and that leads to things like bullying, it leads to drug use, it leads to gang involvement. Also it's hard to be a parent. Parents are struggling, and there's not a lot of resources out there," she said.

The conference, highlighting the latest information in providing services for children, was a way to provide answers to those questions.

"This was a great opportunity for folks who are serving children in our communities to get together and just learn the latest in what's going on as far as children are concerned, how we can help kids succeed," Mrs. Kosinski said.

By focusing on helping children before they become involved in drug activity or gang involvement, a community can prevent trouble later on when that child might end up in a bad situation, or even in jail.

"We need to be treating folks when they're young, or when they're babies, when they're little. ...We can build all the prisons in the world but that's not what we need. We need to be helping children when they're young," Mrs. Kosinski said.

About 270 people attended the event, which featured workshops, speakers and information on services for children, including foster care, counseling and other vital programs.

In times of economic hardship, agencies that normally provide training and services are often forced to cut back on how much they can offer to the community. This year's conference was especially relevant because of the economic climate, Mrs. Kosinski said.

"One of the first things that gets cut is training. We were able to offer really low-cost training and really good training, so hopefully people learned some things they can take back to their communities and help those they're learning with," she said.

The day-long event offered workshop training and guidance on how to work with children with autism, how to impact bullying, different types of treatment and therapies for kids and programs that can help adults support children who have experienced trauma. The workshops also covered teen pregnancy, stress relief in children and tips for working with younger children.

The conference was a much smaller gathering when the volunteer committee first founded it nine years ago.

"It started off as just maybe 100 people getting together and looking at needs of kids, this year we had to actually stop registration at 260, and we actually had almost 270 paid registration," Mrs. Kosinski said.

This year's conference also offered local vendors and providers a chance to set up booths and educate the public about mental health services and options for parents seeking help for their children, or mentors looking for more information on how to work with their charges. The targeted audience is really anybody who's involved with kids in the community, not just troubled children. And the biggest goal of the conference is to give attendees the knowledge they need to make a direct impact on a child's life, Mrs. Kosinski said.

"If we all learn just one thing that helps a child, that would be 260 kids that got some extra help," she said.