Crisis nursery’s work meshes with Our Kids: Our Business
|Amy Knapton, Director of Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery|
As Our Kids: Our Business focuses on the role of the community to give children a safe, strong start in life, Amy Knapton, executive director of Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, emphasizes that everyone has a stake in children’s lives, and each person can play a positive role.
Our Kids: Our Business (OKOB) began in 2007, when Steven Smith, then editor of the Spokesman-Review, approached people in social service agencies with a plan for April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. He offered one story a day on topics such as the impact of child abuse and neglect, programs to combat it and success stories.
Media provided coverage, but found that the daily articles overwhelmed readers, Amy noted.
Leaders in the social agencies met to decide how to complement the news coverage with events. The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery became involved.
“It was an opportunity to spread the word about what our families and children face,” she said.
The program fell under the Spokane Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Council (SPO-CAN), a coalition of organizations, individuals and businesses that seek to prevent child abuse and neglect. Formed in 1987 as the Child Abuse Prevention Coalition, it changed its name in 1988.
Amy Knapton says pinwheels on nursery porch are way to welcome.
Organizers chose the name Our Kids: Our Business and a pinwheel logo as a symbol of childhood innocence—a toy children love to play with.
The pinwheel shifts the focus from the pain and sadness of abuse, represented by the month’s blue ribbon symbol, to every child’s right to be healthy and successful.
OKOB events raise awareness in the community so people act.
“It’s not just about our partners, social service providers or educators,” Amy said, “Who will lead our community—be our mayor, our doctors and our lawyers? We all have a stake in being sure our children grow up healthy.”
This year Robin Karr-Morse, author of Ghosts from the Nursery and Scared Sick will share her research on effects of adverse childhood experiences at the 11:30 a.m. luncheon and training from 1:30 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, at the Spokane Convention Center.
Robin says traumatic experiences in childhood affect health. Often society sets after-the-fact solutions and invests in larger prisons, she said.
“If we give children support and resources they need, will they be okay?” asked Amy. “Children need a fair start so they come to school ready to learn with their stomachs full, a place to sleep at night and freedom from violence at home.
“How do we involve our legislators, city council and business leaders to invest in the outcomes for our children?” she asked.
Investing in children as individuals can have an impact, she said. People can be the support system for children through the neighborhood, church or school.
Mentoring a child an hour a week, volunteering to read at a school or helping a neighborhood parent are ways anyone can help.
Even small actions, such as encouraging a parent in a grocery store, can help. Parents tend to be hard on themselves when they have a child having a tantrum in a store. They assume the world is looking at them and judging, when the stares may mean, “Oh, I remember those days.”
Showing support in that situation can affirm a parent. Amy suggests asking the child what’s going on or saying to the mother, “Hang in, we’ve all been there.”
“Never underestimate the power of what we can do as individuals,” she said.
Amy’s story of serving children is a testament to that power.
She grew up in a family of faith and has held onto that faith, believing God led her into social work and her current position.
She moved often, but called Montana home, attending the University of Montana in Missoula, first majoring in business. That program did not fit.
While trying to figure out what she wanted, she volunteered for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
In the interview, she became intrigued with the interviewer’s job and thought social work sounded interesting. She found it a natural fit.
After earning a bachelor’s in social work in 1996, Amy moved to Spokane. A former supervisor in her undergraduate work had been a social worker at the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, so Amy applied there, thinking graveyard shifts at the nursery would be a short-term job.
She found God had different plans. One Sunday she added a shift, hoping to interact with the children more, because night shifts rarely give that opportunity. A new mother called, asking to bring in her child with autism.
“Because of confidentiality, a family doesn’t usually come into the nursery, but we had no children that day, so we let her come and stay four hours until she felt comfortable,” Amy said.
This mother dispelled Amy’s ideas about who uses a crisis nursery. She had a husband, stayed at home and had a support system, but did not have a place to bring her child for a break.
After conversing, the woman left with her child, promising to return if she needed help. A month later she came. When Amy talked about her initial visit, she said she had intended to leave her son and commit suicide.
“That was my ‘Aha’ moment,” Amy said. “The nursery is more than just keeping children safe. We’re about the whole family.”
That moment made her feel there was a reason she was there.
As Amy went from graveyard shift to executive director, she earned her master’s in social work at Walla Walla University.
While the nursery is not a faith-based organization, Amy often meets informally with team members to pray and believes in the power of prayer.
“That’s why I can do this position,” she said. “It’s not me making this place successful, but somebody else has control over that. I just do God’s work.”
At the nursery, Amy sees firsthand its impact on children from birth to six and their families. Some return to say thank you.
One woman, who came to the nursery as the child of a single, working mother, returned three years ago, when she was 18, and said, “I want you to know that some of the happiest memories of my childhood were here.”
Amy said the nursery pulls children out of stress, anxiety and whatever is happening in the family to have a good time in a safe place.
A single father of three returns each year with a Christmas card picture of him and his children.
“We helped him through a hard time,” Amy said.
No matter the parents’ circumstance, the nursery receives and supports them.
“For parents, we’re a place of release and safety, meeting them with non-judgmental, open arms,” she said.
“It’s a place to feel surrounded by friends and family,” she said.