A caption isn't needed to understand the pain expressed in the drawing. The artists, 8-year old elementary school children, created their illustrations in a "Kids First" workshop.
Kids First was launched in Linn County after receiving a grant to create the curriculum in 2008. The following year, the program moved to Johnson County when United Action for Youth (UAY) staff used the curriculum to aid children whose parents were divorcing.
Kids First workshops receive glowing reviews from divorcing parents. A mother of four girls, ages 5, 6, 8 and 10 years, said, "The class for the children was incredibly helpful. It gave my girls power and the tools to express their feelings appropriately. In addition, the exposure to other children their age who are going through the same experience allowed them to see they're not alone."
The judges in the Sixth Judicial District Court (Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Tama counties) reviewed and approved the concept that requires children, ages 6 to 16, of divorcing parents to enroll in a court-ordered, mandatory workshop. Certification of attendance must be on file before a divorce case will be finalized.
Judge David Remley says the court is very aware of the impact divorce has on kids of all ages. "Our intent is to help children understand and cope with the separation and divorce. Kids need a neutral place to share their feelings without guilt of hurting either parent's feelings."
Cathy Pugh, UAY's Development Director and Coordinator of the Kids First program, says working with kids and making sure they are well represented in the court system is essential. "The workshops allow kids to discuss their feelings about divorce in a safe and confidential place. "The workshops let kids know they are not alone. Divorce is not their fault."
Pugh practiced family law before joining the UAY staff. She says the workshop teaches practical skills to handle emotions, which can help kids adjust to family changes, and understand what to expect in an age-appropriate way.
UAY offers Kids First workshops six times a year with help from University of Iowa College of Law Citizen Lawyer Program students. UAY staff and UI graduate law students help maintain a healthy ratio of supporting adults to children in the growing classes, which now number 45 to 50 kids a session.
In the workshops, kids are grouped according to ages and grades. Elementary school-age children attend a 2½ hour session and high school-age students attend a two-hour workshop.
United Action for Youth, a 42-year old nonprofit based in Johnson County, offers young people a host of services. Pugh says, "UAY has something for every kid. Everyone has a talent and UAY helps kids find their special talent. Finding their talent is important to every child's development."
CUTLINE: United Action for Youth staff Jim Swaim (left) and Cathy Pugh (right) instructions for a Kids First activity at the UAY office recently.