The vision that has always fed our work at COPA National is of “a world in which all children, all youth and all people can flourish and reach their full potential. In such a place, children and youth will be safe, both physically and emotionally; their strengths and capacities will be respected; and they will live freely, while respecting others’ needs to be so too.”
The truth is that our society is not organized in a way that promotes the flourishing of children, youth, or in fact, most of the rest of us. We live in a world of rampant economic and social inequity, and those who are most vulnerable live most precariously - for example, children, youth, women, LGBTQ+2S, racialized and Indigenous people, and those in difficult economic circumstances.
At COPA National we believe it to be our collective human responsibility to care for the most vulnerable in our society, and a significant pillar of our work is to mobilize the broader community to ensure that all children and all people can exercise their fundamental right to be safe, strong, and free.
On a recent episode of The Gray Area podcast, the host Sean Illich interviewed Gabor Maté about his new book, The Myth of Normal. Their conversation echoes COPA National’s unique approach and makes the link between trauma caused by interpersonal violence and the loss of personal rights (as in adults not respecting the personhood and rights of children) to this broader societal context.
In a society where so many children live in isolated nuclear family units, parents are overwhelmed with monumental responsibility, and face a lack of adequate support and resources. Communities that once may have offered some measure of support to families are now less able to do so, as they are experiencing increased partisanship, unrelenting economic hardship, ongoing racial inequity, anxiety due to COVID, etc. There are things we as individuals can do to empower children, but if society does not support families by providing supportive networks, safety nets, financial buffers and caring, compassionate services, then families will continue to be left to struggle through disasters like the pandemic on their own, and kids will suffer.
The COVID pandemic only exacerbated this problematic social context for families and children. During the lockdowns, families were subject to even more crushing isolation and increased responsibility due to school closures. Factor in the financial stress experienced by so many and the anxiety of being in the midst of a pandemic, and it is no surprise that the rates of domestic violence skyrocketed. We know that the consequences of these events and these environments for children (Adverse Childhood experiences, or ACEs) can be catastrophic and long term, and lead to Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
During the pandemic, the crisis in child and youth mental health exploded. One study found that after a year of the pandemic, the brains of adolescents in the study had actually aged and surpassed the participants’ chronological ages. In addition, the frontal cortex (in charge of executive function) had thinned, and the amygdala and hippocampus (regulators of fear and stress responses) had grown larger. It is no surprise either that diagnoses of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder increased, and rates of suicide in children skyrocketed. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health and called for increased funding to strengthen community systems to aid families and kids.
At COPA National, we are committed to creating a more supportive context for families, children, and youth. We promote communication, contact, and compassion in the child-friendly tools and strategies we offer to communities, schools, and families. We do not believe in or participate in parent blaming because we recognize the hardships they live with. We provide these tools and strategies to build the capacity of all adults to care for kids, and we encourage and reinforce their motivation to do so.
When everyone is equipped with tools and strategies, kids reap the benefits.
It really does take a village …
1) Bringing in families, caregivers, and the wider community
Most of us were raised to think of punishment as normal, natural, and even logical. At COPA National we encourage those caring for children to leave the path of punishment, shame, and blame and move toward a focus on learning opportunities. Empowerment Parenting is a website for parents and caregivers that offers concrete tools, strategies, and examples for how to do this with children from 2-12 years of age. Explore the website to learn more about being a positive parent, COPA National's strategies, and corporal punishment and its effects.
Problem-Solving Together is COPA National’s Tool for Empowerment. It outlines a clear and simple process for how adults can offer support to children who are struggling with a problem and at the same time help them develop their own capacity to solve problems.
Respect for You and Me is a guide about Consent for parent and caregivers (and all adults). It defines sexual assault, rape culture, and consent and explains how adults can support children and youth empowerment, reinforce resilience, and offer collective support to young people.
Another great resource for parents and caregivers (and all adults) is a series of animated short films that offer inspiration and motivation for parent engagement and greater home and school collaboration. Each film has a discussion guide to help jumpstart dialogues about the various subjects in the short films, for example: Reading with Our Children, Parent/Teacher Meeting, Believing in Our Children's Success, Equity and Diversity – Schools and Communities, etc.
The series of 3 blogs below outlines ways in which adults can understand and intervene helpfully in situations of bullying, while again, building capacity in children.
Listen Hard, Hug Softly is a free online course in bullying prevention for parents, caregivers, and all adults. Learn how bullying may affect children and explore our skill-building strategies for prevention.
One of the ways in which COPA National is unique is that we offer programming to children and youth, their parents and caregivers, and to educators – the whole circle of care surrounding a child. Again - when everyone is equipped with tools and strategies, kids reap the benefits, as the adults in their lives are collaborating to enhance their well-being. And when everyone shares a collective understanding, it is more likely that each child will be safe, strong, and free.
2) The role of educators
At COPA National we encourage educators to become more aware of their importance to kids. Teachers play a central role in helping students develop a core belief in their own intrinsic self-worth. Each school day presents a multitude of opportunities to interact with students in a way that allows them to accept and respect themselves and others. We have many programs, resources, and tools to support educators, and you will find a selection of them below.
We offer capacity-building programming to educators to help them learn more about violence prevention and how to reduce the vulnerability of children to violence and assault through empowerment-based strategies. To learn more about our programming for educators, visit our website.
Safe@School is a comprehensive website developed by COPA National in collaboration with the Ontario Teacher’s Federation. It features 4 Professional Learning Modules: Youth Empowerment, Bullying Prevention, Equity and Inclusive Educations, and Parents and Caregivers: Partners in Prevention. These modules have been designed to provide educators with resources and proven strategies to assist them in handling issues of bullying, homophobia, racism, and sexism in schools, and the specific incidents that schools must deal with daily. As its foundation, the modules use COPA National’s approach to prevention education and current research on, and best practices for, promoting a school environment in which all students can be safe, strong and free™.
Respect for You and Me (educator’s guide) is a tool that provides practical, hands-on strategies for educators to prevent sexual assault. The guide includes definitions of sexual assault, rape culture and consent and explains how educators can build empowerment in youth, model resilience, use intervention strategies, and work with communities to create a culture of consent and establish healthy relationships.
COPA National’s online bullying prevention course for educators is a practical resource filled with scenarios, exercises, and classroom and school-wide activities. Discover our unique approach to the prevention of bullying and building healthy and inclusive learning and working environments.
3) Empowering children and youth ...
We believe that social factors such as lack of information, dependence, and isolation increase the vulnerability of kids and other marginalized social groups, and we offer empowerment strategies to reduce that vulnerability. In all our programming for children and youth, we:
provide them with information about their rights in a clear, concrete, and realistic manner,
encourage them to identify potential sources of support – both peers and adults,
increase their capacity by offering tools and strategies for problem-solving that foster rights.
Find out more about our programming.
COPA National has created a series of 3 beautifully illustrated storybooks for young children featuring themes related to bullying prevention, belonging and support. They include gentle messages of listening, kindness, caring, compassion, and courage. Caring is the Universal Language is a reissued collection of these storybooks that have been translated into seven Indigenous languages: Cree, Inuktitut, Michif, Mohawk, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe and Oneida.
A Sticky Situation is a fantastically illustrated comic book for students in Grades 5-8 that can help start conversations with young people about peer pressure, bullying, courage, and support.
Respect For You and Me: Sexual Assault Prevention Strategies for Students is a guide with tools and ideas to help students learn about sexual assault, challenge the myths surrounding it, and promote the principle of consent. It includes definitions of sexual assault, rape culture, and consent and explains how students can develop healthy relationships, supportive friendships, resilience, and be an advocate for peers experiencing sexual assault.
COPA National’s long-term vision is that of a society with more cohesion, mutual support, and interdependency – one that provides a continual supportive context for families. We are working to create this positive and lasting change in communities by building capacity in people, families, schools, and organizations.
The Social Factors of Vulnerability is an analysis developed in 1978 by staff at a sexual assault centre in Columbus, Ohio. It has informed COPA National’s work since its inception and enables us to understand the connections and linkages between the oppression of various marginalized social groups.
According to this analysis, society is largely organized and structured by those in positions of power and tends to reflect their vision and understanding of what is important (for example, their interests, experiences, priorities and needs). People from marginalized groups may share a vulnerability to abuse (interpersonal or systemic) and discrimination due to their social conditions.
Women, people from marginalized ethnocultural groups and those with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities (and other groups) are increasingly vulnerable to abuse, assault, discrimination and other manifestations of inequity and exclusion the more they:
lack power and are dependent upon those who are most likely to have power over them, and
We mitigate factors of vulnerability and reduce the vulnerability of all marginalized people including children and youth, by increasing their capacity through information, support, and strategies and tools that empower and foster rights.
We invite all members of the broader community to learn and grow and change with us. Because it takes a village! It takes a whole school! It takes the whole community!