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North Berkshire Coalition Forum Listens to Community's Kids
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
03:58AM / Wednesday, December 19, 2018
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Executive Director Amber Besaw speaks during the forum at First Congregational Church in Williamstown on Dec. 14.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Out of the mouths of babes.

At the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's December monthly forum — held for the first time outside of North Adams, at First Congregational Church in Williamstown — Executive Director Amber Besaw unveiled a six-minute video she made in conjunction with Paul Marino from Northern Berkshire Community Television in which several local children were filmed answering questions about their own families.

The airing of the video to the nearly 100 people in the church's Fellowship Hall kicked off the forum subject: "Re-Imagining How We Support Children in Our Community." The topics brought together people from all walks of life with an interest in the health and well-being of North Berkshire children, including school nurses and pediatricians, child care providers and social workers, education officials and many, many parents with first-hand interest and experience.

But even for those who don't have children or actively work with children, the community as a whole should support the healthy development of today's youth, Besaw said. She shared an anecdote about the use of the "our" in front of "kids" in the title of the video, "What 'Our Kids' Had to Say'" — the "our kids" used to mean the community's children but has come to mean instead one family talking about their own children, a shift toward isolationism and away from community.

"There are all of our kids in our community," she said.

The film led to a discussion in which breakout groups discussed the five "protective factors" of healthy families, a research-based, cost-effective framework developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy over the last decade. These five factors are enhancing parental resilience; providing an array of social connections; providing parents concrete support in times of need; facilitating knowledge of parenting and child development; and supporting healthy social and emotional development in young children.

"It's an approach," said Stacy Parsons, who worked for Child Care of the Berkshires until recently taking the job of education program manager at the Berkshire Museum. "It's not something you have, it's something you do.

"Kids need adults who can model these in a positive way."

The adults in the room — happily supplemented by a few teen voices, thanks to the presence of students from Drury High School's E3 Academy — shared thoughts and suggestions for how to support those protective factors in North Berkshire, from the need for parents to have solid support networks and to understand appropriate child development to the need for community members to be comfortable reaching out to help parents in non-judgmental ways.

"We need to create a healthy interdependence of all families," said Amy Hall, the program director of the Family Center, a part of Child Care of the Berkshires.

But it was perhaps the voices of the kids in the video themselves that highlighted the forum, even in a short six minutes. The children, ranging in age from early education to adolescence — were asked a variety of questions about their families and their parents, and their answers ranged from funny to sweet to inspiring.

In answering the question, "What makes your family strong?" several of the kids cited their love for each other. "We get along," one child said. When asked how parents learn to be parents, many of the kids intuitively seemed to understand they learned from watching their own parents or other parents, although one child said parents learn from their kids, too. And one child said, "they can make mistakes sometimes."

When asked how their families solve problems and how they go back to being OK after a disagreement, the kids mentioned working together to help each other or taking a breather in their rooms. "We work together to make things right," one child said, and another said, "We just try to keep it normal for a while."

At the end of the video, the kids were asked what they would want to tell adults it's like to be a kid. One child offered that "kids just need time away from their parents when times get hard" and another said, "sometimes we like to fool around and sometimes they don't like that so they might want to know that sometimes we want to fool around and sometimes they should just let us fool around."

And then they were asked what they would tell adults if they could only tell them one thing:

"They can't yell."

"Being a kid is fun."

"Never give up on your children."

"I love them."

"Kids' words are important."

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