Children and Youth

Be Bold, Be Heard: helping foster children voice their concerns

The San Benito County Behavioral Health Department program begins March 3.
Patterson Emesibe with foster children. Photo courtesy of Patterson Emesibe.
Be Bold, Be Heard. Coutesy of SBC Office of Education.

A new weekly program, Be Bold, Be Heard, is being offered through the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department starting March 3. The goal is to provide foster children in grades K-6 with a place to meet, play and be counseled at the same time.

Sponsored by the department’s Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program, it will take place every Thursday afternoon at 3-4 p.m. at the Esperanza Center in Hollister. 

“I am trying to create a safe space for social and emotional learning,” said Care Coordinator Patterson Emesibe. “Kids tend to learn things through play. They learn about social cohesion, navigating peer relationships, and how to regulate their own emotions. We are working with youth who have experienced trauma or neglect in their lives and they might be missing out on these crucial experiences that help with their development.”

Emesibe, a former foster child himself, said the games they play during the program help to bring a sense of order and understanding to the children.

“For example,” he said, “there are games we play that do not introduce any rules at first, they just mirror what I am doing. And that leads to a discussion about ‘how do you know what the rules are?’ I will have them running around bumping into each other and ask them, ‘is bumping into each other one of the rules?’ And we get them to understand that bumping into each other can lead to someone getting hurt.”

From that, the children begin to find better ways to act with and around other people.

“What you will see as it goes along is they start to move in a way they have group-negotiated,” Emesibe said. “Kids learn that kind of thing growing up in the playground, but we are creating a safe container for them to do these things here, to help them learn more about being ‘human.’”

The children will also be creating artwork reflecting important moments in their lives.

“We might ask them, ‘what does your house look like?’ which can lead to a discussion about their separation from their family,” he said. “We can ask them what kinds of things they used to do with their families to have fun and then bring that into this space to create those same kinds of positive environments.”

This first phase of the Be Bold, Be Heard program is geared to younger children and runs through June 2. The second phase will focus on children in the seventh through 12th grades starting June 9. There is no set end date for the second phase, which Foster Youth Services coordinator Jill Camron said will depend on the interest level and participation of that age group.

“We have never done this before, so it is kind of new for us,” said Camron. “We are hoping they connect with the activities, which will give them a voice and help us to find out their needs. We want to know how they are doing mentally.”

The goal of the program is to provide better counseling for foster children at the school level.  Camron said they hope to help with one of the biggest challenges for foster children: their feelings of instability.

“They are constantly moving from home to home,” she said. “Often, they will tell us that they want one consistent person that they can speak with at the school who can understand their specific needs and support them academically and with their mental health. We want them to know we are looking out for their best interests.”

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.