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Auberle pioneers SNAP program to address girls' behavior issues

| Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Behavior issues specifically anger problems tend to be associated with boys. But many girls also deal with that issue with many of the same negative results.

The first program of its kind in the country began a few weeks ago at Auberle to address that problem.

SNAP Stop Now and Plan shows girls ages 6-11 alternatives in dealing with anger in daily situations.

Two years ago, Auberle was chosen to introduce a two-year SNAP pilot program in Allegheny County for boys ages 6-11 and their parents. The Toronto-based program was designed to prevent juvenile delinquency by teaching the youth and parents effective problem-solving and anger/impulse control. The McKeesport site is one of only three in the country there's one in McKees Rock and another in Miami offering the program.

Diane George, SNAP program manager at Auberle, said several groups in Pittsburgh including the Pittsburgh Youth Crime Prevention Council, were looking for a program that would target youth 6-11 who were getting into trouble with police; 75 percent were re-offenders by the time they turned 18.

"SNAP originated in Toronto 25 years ago and we met with the developers of the program," she said. "Of the youth who have gone through the program there, seven out of 10 are not re-offenders," she said.

The success of the boys program and the need for one that targets the specific needs of girls in similar situations was the catalyst for Auberle being chosen as the only site outside of Canada to offer SNAP for girls.

"The developers in Toronto are thrilled with us because we are pretty much the experts in the United States. We are their premiere site in this country and we are very proud of that," George said.

Eight girls meet Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m. to learn ways to deal with situations that trigger an anger response. While they are meeting with SNAP girls coordinator Megan Defiore and Timnisha Moore, family worker Patty Lininger meets with the parents in an adjacent room while siblings are in another room with an aide.

When it's time to start, each girl enters the room one at a time and decides how she wants to be greeted by Defiore a "hello," high-five, handshake or hug.

The first task is to find out from each girl something hard and something good that happened to them during the week and how they dealt with the hard situation. They then go over their Way to Go goal sheet.

"Each girl makes a goal for the 12 weeks, whether it's dealing with anger, getting along with her parents anything she wants to focus on," Defiore said. "After they state their goal and how well they did in reaching that goal, they rate themselves."

During a recent session that involved the girls and parents together, the girls were very forthright in rating themselves on a scale from 1 to 3. In most cases, they gave themselves a 2 and admitted they had to work harder.

They also are given a homework assignment that is reviewed to see how an anger situation was handled. The four Ws are the focus who will help, what are the steps you need to take, when will you do it and where will you do it.

The skill topic focuses on problem-solving methods and encourages the girls to open up about issues they may be facing and how they are dealing with them.

Role playing gives them a chance to put those methods to work. "We'll role model first," Defiore said, "then we let them do it. We'll let them get started, then we stop and ask what their plan would be and then we let them role play using that plan." During the combined session, role playing gave the mothers and daughters a chance to work together on a project which both seemed to enjoy.

Positive reinforcement can play an important role in dealing with anger issues and that's what circle time strives to accomplish.

"This is where we practice listening skills," Defiore said. "Not only do they have to give the person beside them a compliment, that person has to repeat the compliment and thank them."

The last five minutes is spent relaxing. "They use the pillows and lay down on the floor with the lights out and music playing softly. We have one of the girls read some information about relaxation," Defiore said.

While the girls are learning anger management techniques, the parent group is in an adjacent room learning how to deal with their anger issues and how to implement those techniques at home.

Explaining the need to help girls deal with anger issues, Defiore said, "Girls can have anger issues and aggressive behavior and be socially aggressive with other girls. There's also more bullying that goes on with girls. Girls can be really harsh to one another. We are trying to teach them ways to deal with those issues. We give them a lot of positive reinforcement because that's what they need."

The impact of the boys program and the early success of the girls program has resulted in a waiting list for the fall girls group, with the intake process expected to begin this month. "The parents love our family worker," Defiore said. "She is wonderful with the parents and she turns everything into a positive. To get them coming back each week is really amazing."

Melissa Ernst takes part in the parent program while her daughter, Alex, 8, is in the girls class. "I absolutely love this," she said. "It's working wonders to teach us methods to deal with each other and the tension at home has really eased up. I was really skeptical at first but now I am seeing how it is working. I am a cynical person but this program really works. I've seen results in three weeks and my daughter is now getting good student awards."

Her daughter also enjoys the program. "I love working with Miss Megan and Miss Timnisha and Miss Patty. I've learned a lot since I've been here, like being nicer to family members and not yelling as much," she said.

This is the second time Keri Konik has gone through the program. "I love it. My son was in it and I did the parent group and now my daughter is it and I'm doing the parent program again. I know how good the boys program was so when I heard about the girls program, I really wanted to get my daughter in it. She has some anger issues with some stuff going on in school. I could see a difference really quick in her behavior. It also teaches us as parents how to use SNAP and how to control our anger so it doesn't turn into something else."

Her daughter, Dashaiylah Konik, 8, says the program is "great. I love the role playing because you get to go up and do it and have fun. I'm learning how to stop now and plan and my listening skills have gotten better."

Stephanie Gould has two daughters in the program, Christine, 8, and Kimberly, 6. "I really love the program because it's helping me a lot. What I'm learning is helping me control my anger by learning how to stay calm when I get aggravated," she said. "I'm learning how to breathe and walk away from a situation then go back to it. In the past I would scream and it was a bad situation."

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