Your Community Is Safe

By Jason Nowa

Being there for each other in a community can be burdensome for families trying to live in a safe environment. With Utah’s ever growing population there is more criminal activity throughout the years, and families tend to lean upon the local police for safety. This can be a constant concern for worried citizens. Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank (Voices of Utah) says “We are here for you. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

Burbank spoke recently to students at the University of Utah about the Salt Lake Police Department and the efforts his officers put forth to keep the state’s largest city safe.

Burbank, 46, has been on the force nearly half of his life, or 21 years on the job.

Burbank emphasized the need for the eyes and ears of all Salt Lake City residents in fighting crime. Last year alone there were 12,000 burglaries, he said. There are only so many police officers to go around, but, he said, many more citizens are able to see and report criminal activity. Everyone in a community can be a watchdog.

“Our role is to prevent crime,” Burbank said. “ We can only truly prevent crime when the community helps us and gives us a call.”

Communication skills can help descalate a tense situation very quickly if an officer can get into the mind of an individual. In spite of stereotypes from TV cop shows, most real police officers will never fire a service revolver in the line of duty, Burbank said.  The chief’s philosophy is to calm a difficult disturbance in various ways before ever thinking of drawing a weapon. In an unruly crowd, for instance, popular wisdom might demand police put on riot gear and use mace at any sign of danger. Burbank said the use of these measures at first puts on a defensive tactic and might quickly enrage an already excited crowd.

“Pepper spray is a use of force. There are other ways to calm a conflict,” he said.

He wants to remember to observe every person’s constitutional rights and the ability to voice opinions. Burbank’s approach would be to first have a conversation with people to help them, followed by telling them their options and then to put into action the safest decision possible.

Burbank said there is gang violence (Voices of Utah) in the Salt Lake area, mostly in Glendale and West Valley City. There are about 5 officer shootings a year. The law defines a gang as two or more people gathered and involved in criminal activity. Burbank said the majority of officers involved with shooting someone usually don’t last beyond five years on the job after an incident.

The gang violence in Salt Lake has become more silent in recent years with gangs staying off the police radar and drug dealing mostly. During his tenor he said the biggest gang he had to deal with was a Tongan Crip gang in Glendale but they are mostly nonexistent nowadays. Anybody that is involved in any way with gang activity whether they commit an actual crime or not are considered suspects and will be jailed for whatever involvement they have. Burbank emphasized this would help crack down on the friends who are just along for the joy ride.

Ethical dilemmas occur daily as Burbank emphasized, “We are part of the community, and we work for the public. And my responsibility is to not allow racial stereotyping. I will not allow my officers to act as such.”

Salt Lake Police officer in charge of Public Relations, Cary Wichmann, mentioned that police officers jobs are very serious in nature and that any help the community can ever provide is helpful information.

The Metro Gang Unit (Voices of Utah) was created to establish identity, control, and prevent criminal gang activity. This force provides data and assistance to all law enforcement agencies. This unit also provides helpful information for youth on alternatives to being involved in a gang, and provides education for the public about the destructiveness of the gang lifestyle.

The Metro Gang Unit works in part with the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.

The UPD is a helpful specialized force that serves various communities within suburban Salt Lake. These participating cities share the costs with neighboring communities which save local governments and reduce the tax burdens of citizens. The pool of services that the UPD provides is SWAT, forensics, records, dispatches, K-9, and media services.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is the CEO of the UPD. Winder oversees local precincts but that each precinct has their own commander which was chosen by the given city. Commanders are those who run the precincts and have authority over traffic, patrol, and crossing guards. Winder explained the organization of the UPD. Eight elected officials from participating communities serve as the Board of Directors over the UPD. They oversee global and local policies along with operational, budgetary, and human resource issues.

The Executive Management has Winder as the county sheriff serving as CEO. There are also financial and human resource management advisers. The various communities have joined together to have the UPD serve their cities. Operational and cost efficiencies are achieved by the sharing of resources that ordinarily wouldn’t be fully utilized by a single community.

From India to District Attorney; Sim Gill fights for Salt Lake County

by TODD PATTON

As a young boy in India, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill developed a metaphorical theory from a real life experience.

Gill, 52, spoke in a faint Indian accent of a formative moment from his youth, to a classroom of 13 students recently at the University of Utah.  At the age of “eight or nine” in his native India, Gill said, he witnessed the brutal beating of a man accused of stealing jewelry from a neighbor’s home, and in the end, the beating of an innocent man.

“That left a very strong impression on me,” Gill said, “that when you have that authority, when you have that power, when you have that capacity to alter and impact people’s lives, you have to really use that with a great level of deference and responsibility.”

Gill immigrated soon after that with his family to the United States. Years later, Gill studied history and philosophy at the University of Utah and as a young prosecutor, this memory would influence his practices.  Gill’s background in philosophy was the obvious reasoning behind his principles as a liberal prosecutor, pronounced when he wrote the term “Restorative Justice” on the classroom whiteboard. That phrase, he explained, helps to explain his approach to addressing certain chronic crimes in Salt Lake County.

Since Gill took office in 2011, initiatives such as drug and mental health court are examples of how helping a troubled person is a much better option than simply incarcerating him.

Rehabilitation courts, Gill said, are one  solution to limited resources.  Having a “zero tolerance” policy is one thing many citizens want, but Gill described that model as “doomed to failure.”  Writing  on the whiteboard, again, Gill emphasized that a “zero tolerance” model would require unlimited resources, a limited number of cases and unlimited time.

Advocates for rehabilitation not only come in the form of Sim Gill, but organizations and individuals who have first-hand knowledge of addiction.

Volunteers of America (VOA) is a non-profit organization in Salt Lake City that deals with the homeless, directly on the street.  And former VOA employee, Kyle Patton, has similar sentiments towards Gill’s approach as a district attorney.

“It’s important to have those types of resources for the homeless. I think drug and mental health court help to put their [homeless population] behavior into context,” Patton said. “People get all up in arms about institutionalizing the mentally ill. But I think resources like these courts are one of the solutions to that problem.”

In late February, a rally at the Utah State Capitol was held for those, who like Gill and Patton, champion the issue of rehabilitation.  “Drug Court Works. Ask Us how,” one homemade sign read. Held by a woman among the hundreds of people who had gathered to implore Utah legislators for more funding.

“Hope=funding,” was another common sign at the rally, as recovering addicts and public officials spoke to echoed cheers.

“Not everybody needs treatment, but we all need an opportunity to have it,” said one recovering addict named Shannon. “Your story matters, so find your representative and tell them why recovery is so vital for our future. We can all work together to change the system.”

Gill’s ultimate mission is to help those who can no longer help themselves. And in the United States, the prison population is made up of 17 to 21 percent of mentally ill inmates, Gill said. This statistic that is the driving force behind rehabilitation courts for those afflicted with substance abuse and the mentally ill who no longer have support.

Utilizing these initiatives is completely voluntary, but those in dire situations can no longer say  they didn’t get a break,” Gill said. “Restorative justice” ultimately presents a solution, instead of simply viewing those who lack support for their issues, as a problem.  Organizations like VOA and rallies at the Capitol can help present opportunities to those in need of help, but Gill has actual power to change the way things work.

Those two hours that Gill spoke about his beliefs, he didn’t have to convince the students to vote for him, or find a way to get funding for a project.

It was just simply two hours of Sim Gill being exactly who he is.

Healthy food available for day cares

Story by JOHANNA WISCHMANN

Helping Hands Inc. is a nonprofit organization that works with day care homes to provide a healthy and nutritional diet.

The program works with children under the age of 12 in day care homes. It strives to improve the day cares, mostly run by low-income families, to afford better quality meals for the children.

Helping Hands works with Child and Adult Care Food Program, known as CACFP. CACFP is a federal program that gives healthy snacks and meals to children and adults involved with day care programs.

According to the Helping Hands website, the program helps the caregiver have the funds to purchase better quality of food, such as milk, breads and meats.

It also reimburses homes for healthy meals given to the children, like a breakfast of fruit, vegetables or milk. To get reimbursed for a meal provided for children, a provider has to make a claim.

Day cares and providers can claim up to two main meals and two snacks per child per day.

Susan Ison, executive director at Helping Hands, said that when a provider follows the USDA nutritional guidelines, Helping Hands works with the Utah State Office of Education to receive reimbursement for food given to the day care children and a lot of times the provider’s children.

An estimated 98 percent of providers that Helping Hands supports are from low-income families, Ison said in an email. An estimated 75 percent are from different cultures and ethnicities and don’t speak English. To qualify the providers have to have proper licenses and they must be caring for at least one non-residential child.

Once enrolled, a provider must complete paperwork, including a daily record of the food that the children ate and which children ate what food. This paperwork is given to Helping Hands monthly.

To ensure that the funds provided to the caregivers are being used correctly and to help maintain a healthy, nutritional diet and a healthy environment, Ison said. Helping Hands staff makes an unannounced visit about two to three times a year.

Not only does Helping Hands help with financial situations, staff also offer training on sanitation and nutrition.

“We provide nutrition and care giving training both, in actual training classes at our office and in-home during home visits,” Ison said.

“The biggest help we could receive is letting people know that this program is available to all day care providers, both those who are legally licensed for day care and those caring only for related children,” she said.

Helping Hands has a full menu available with healthy options for families and providers to choose from, like celery sticks, strawberries and peanut butter.

It also keeps information accessible to families by keeping recipes readily available for everybody interested in a healthier diet.

According to the website, Helping Hands also provides more information for providers by using the CACFP site that allows plenty of information and tools to make the use of the nonprofit very easy. For example there is a “food tracker” available for providers to use.

“In the current economic environment, it is more and more difficult to afford good, quality, healthful foods for our children,” Ison said in an email. “I, personally, would not have my child in a day care – whether in a residential day care home, or a day care center – that was not participating on the food program. I feel it is that important!”

Helping Hands has staff available for contact through email or telephone.

To  join Helping Hands fill out a form of information online or visit the location on 2964 W 4700 S, Suite 111 in West Valley City.

Gay minorities in Utah can face double discrimination

Story and multimedia by KAREN HOLT BENNION

Watch Jerry Rapier direct a reading of “The Scarlet Letter” for the 2011-2012 season.

Listen to Jennifer Freed talk about Jerry Rapier, director of Plan-B Theatre Co.

Jerry Rapier has made a name for himself in Salt Lake City as an award-winning producer and director.

This is the 11th season of Plan-B Theatre Co. which he founded in 1991 with Cheryl Cluff and Tobin Atkinson. Rapier has been given many honors, including the Salt Lake City’s Mayor’s Artist Award in the Performing Arts in 2008. In 2009, he was given the title of Alternative Pioneer by Salt Lake City Weekly. With many successful plays, a rewarding career and a loyal partner who has been with him for 15 years, some might say that Rapier is living the “American Dream.”

However, despite his current success, he still remembers facing trying times in his past. Jerry Rapier is Asian-American and he is gay. Consequently, he faces a double hardship in Utah.

He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, to an alcoholic mother. When he was 8 years old he was adopted by an American family and went to live with them in New Mexico. Life with his new family was trying at times because his family was “very, very LDS,” he said in an e-mail interview. When he was 23, he mustered all of his courage to come out to the family. Rapier says it was difficult for a few years because they needed time to adjust. “They are great now,” he said.

As a minority who is gay, Rapier is part of a small number of gay minorities in Utah. He says the main reason for the low figure is due to demographics. “This is not a very diverse place, period,” he said in a recent interview. On the other hand, he believes that minorities who are also gay fear coming out because they could be ostracized from their families. “But I will say that I believe this to be changing, slowly, surely,” Rapier said.

“I think it’s almost impossible to live your life now and not know a gay person — and that changes your perspective,” he said in the e-mail.

He remembers how isolated he felt as a teen and is upset by the bullying that is escalating against gay teens today across the country, with some ending in suicides. As a result, Plan B joined 40 other local Outreach Partners to put an end to bullying. The event on Sunday, Nov. 14, was called “Different is Amazing.” The fundraiser included theater, songs and dance. The festivities opened with a short dance by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s Step Up group, which consists of dancers from Salt Lake City high schools. All proceeds went to the Human Rights Education Center of Utah.

Another advocate for civil rights is Cathy Martinez. She is the director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center at the University of Utah. She agrees with Rapier about the small number of gay minorities in Utah. While she acknowledges that Utah is predominantly white, she says gay minorities are trapped in a stigma of being “a minority within a minority.” They are virtually forced to live in two communities.

Her experience with international students at the U has led her to realize some Asian families do not embrace or encourage members who have different sexual identities. “We need to talk about race too when we talk of sexual discrimination,” Martinez says. She recounts helping a  gay couple, who were international students studying at the U from China and Korea. When the Korean student’s family found out he was gay, they immediately st0pped paying for his schooling. Without money to continue his studies,  he was forced to return home.

“Not all cultures look down on homosexuality,” Martinez says. Thailand is the Asian hub for sexual reassignment surgery. Moreover, before missionaries arrived in early America many Native American tribes respected gay and transsexual members. They believed them to be two spirited.

Plan B’s latest production, “She Was My Brother,” which was directed by Rapier, is about a government ethnographer who is sent to study the Zuni Tribe of the Southwest in the late 1800s. The government official becomes attracted  to a male transgender tribal member. The tribal member is revered by the Zunis as very wise. Ironically, the Native American calls people in the “white society” uncivilized because of their intolerance to its citizens who fall outside of what society deems normal.

Martinez feels that education about race and sexuality and ability level (blind, deaf and disabled) must filter down to more high schools, junior highs and communities. She is working hard to educate people at the college level.

Brandi Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, says her office is working on educating the public as well. She says that being a gay minority is enduring “double marginalization.”

“There is not state for federal protection in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Balken says.

Protection is available for those based on race, age and gender under the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, the Americans with Disabilities Act helps those with different levels of ability. However, people at Equality Utah are continually working with local legislators to pass state and federal laws to help all citizens of Utah gain the same rights to fair housing and employment.

Gay and transgendered citizens in seven Utah cities and counties have some protection regarding employment and housing rights.  They include: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City, Summit County, Logan, Taylorsville and West Valley City.

With the help of Jerry Rapier, Cathy Martinez and Brandi Balken, the future could look brighter for people of all races and gender identities who are in need of support.

Job outlook positive for injured, unemployed workers

by MADISON RICE

Finding a job in this economy can be tough for anyone. Fresh college graduates are considered lucky to get their foot in the right door, and there’s little telling what’s available for a person with a high school diploma. Even more unsure are those unemployed with a disability.

Fortunately, John Holt, 40, an injured construction worker from West Valley City, recently found a job working for a contractor. After applying for disability because of the lack of interest from employers, Holt landed a four-day-a-week job doing what he loves most.

But after a few days, things weren’t looking good for Holt.

“I was doing tile, and one day walking up a hill I heard a pop and a tearing noise in my calf,” Holt said. “It all swelled up and I can’t put weight on my toes and I can’t walk. I have to use a cane.”

And so this self-described action junkie is back on his quest. He wants help from the Disability Law Center.

“If they say no, I will appeal. But I haven’t gotten an answer back yet,” Holt said. “I should have went on disability a long time ago. The doctors knew what they were talking about.”

The doctors Holt sees are providers for Primary Care Network’s health care insurance program. “They accepted me right away for insurance. They will still help me with meds, which are about $400 a month. That’s basically my house payment, so it really helps,” Holt said. “Some prescriptions I only pay $25 for.”

Emma Chacon, a representative for PCN, said there is a significant population of adults like Holt who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These people are welcomed at PCN.

“The Primary Care Network is essentially a waiver program under the larger Medicaid program to provide preventative care to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” Chacon said. “We pay up to four prescriptions a month and life-and-limb emergencies. We don’t pay for in-patient hospital or specialty care.”

While Holt can get by paying for his pain medications with help from PCN, the PCN’s program cannot help him get the back surgery he needs.

“We don’t cover that, but we do have specialists that will go out and try to get donated services for recipients with significant issues,” Chacon said.

After receiving an MRI a few months ago, granted to him by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Client Assistance program, Holt knows he needs to see a doctor — not only to fix his back, but also to allow him to heal.

“The person I seen was a pharmacist at the pain clinic and he told me to see a physician next time about procedures,” he said. “But the visit will cost me extra and what I should do about the results will cost, too. If I do get disability insurance then I will definitely go to a physician and get a procedure done so I can go back to construction, where my knowledge is.”

Holt realizes that if his back surgery is unobtainable, he must change his occupation.

“I am still in the same position fighting injury after injury,” he said. “I need to do work that’s not so physical, and that’s the hardest part. My whole life, I’ve been outdoors doing a lot of things. But then again, I’ve been outdoors in car wrecks, getting hurt, playing games and getting hurt.”

So Holt has found himself back at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation applying for Vocational Rehabilitation’s services. He will take the aptitude test again, as he has before, in the hope of finding the right job placement for him.

“It’s really fun,” Holt said. “They have you do a bunch of tests to figure out career choices you should make.”

According to the Web site, USOR’s mission is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment and increase their independence. Its most recent council report states that 21,997 individuals were provided with vocational rehabilitation services and 3,310 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.

“I am a fairly decent artist,” Holt said. “But I’m 40 years old and there’s kids out there really confident on the computer and the programs they use. So I’m glad Vocational Rehab will pay for training.”

In fact, 64 percent of Vocational Rehabilitation’s expenditures go toward training individuals for jobs. Occupations include service occupations, sales and clerical work and industrial work. Holt will likely be placed in a clerical occupation based on his current abilities.

“I am not worried about the work. I am skilled with my hands and my mind. But to sit around every day with people that have nothing in common with me? It’s a change of lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t even know what regular people get paid and what a regular day is. What is the deal? Nine to five? What do you do for lunches? I mean, I don’t even know.”

More people are finding themselves in a situation similar to Holt’s. Whether unemployment comes as a result of injury or economic downsizing, finding a job can be difficult. However, the results can be fruitful for everyone. According to USOR, an estimated $16 million in annual taxes were paid by vocationally rehabilitated individuals last year.

Several organizations, like the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, the Department of Workforce Services for jobs and careers, and the Workers Compensation Fund are available to assist individuals seeking employment help.

Changing the way we think about mental illness

by MICHELLE SCHMITT

A young man was walking down a Salt Lake City street. Police spotted him and branded him a suspicious-looking character, so they pursued him. The young man ran. Officers caught up with him and took him in for resisting arrest. It turns out the young man was a diagnosed schizophrenic.

This is just the type of issue that Sherri Wittwer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Utah, is fighting against.

“It’s scary that this happens in this country. When you talk about this group [that] tends to lag behind as far as rights in the disabled community … I had no idea that this stuff happened until I started this work,” said Wittwer, who joined NAMI four years ago.

Wittwer became involved when her son was diagnosed with depression at 13 years old. She noticed something was different about her firstborn in his early years, but thought it was just a matter of personality. Now with treatment and mental health understanding, she and her family are able to cope.

“The mentally ill are the most overlooked in the disabled community,” said Janis Tetro with the Disability Law Center.

Wittwer said the mentally ill are neglected because of stigmas. Unlike a physical ailment, mental illness is not visible. She wants people to know that disorders such as obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia and bipolar, and illnesses including depression are biological brain disorders.

“I always used to say that these are not unlike diabetes and asthma, and yet, unlike diabetes and asthma you can be incarcerated for having an untreated mental illness and not necessarily because you’re dangerous, but because you’re ill, and that is a major difference,” Wittwer said.

Connie Hines, a spokeswoman for Valley Mental Health, said the Utah Legislature does not pay enough attention to issues of mental illness, which is one reason that VMH and similar organizations are drastically underfunded.

“The legislature considers us a black hole” when it comes to funding, Hines said. Because mental health advocates lack outcome data, which is information that demonstrates the effects of treatment, lawmakers are unable to see empirical evidence that treatment works.

But Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said it is not that Utah representatives are not sympathetic toward the needs of the mentally disabled, there just is not enough money.

“More and more representatives are becoming more and more informed about the mentally ill,” Moss said.

Moss sponsored H.B. 101 in the 2009 general session. The bill would have created a “pilot program” for individuals who transition out of a hospital or jail and back into society. The program would provide funding for health service professionals to visit mentally ill people in their homes for regular check-ups.

The bill eventually failed on the house floor due to funding issues, but Moss said she is still working on it for future passage.

We need to do “what we can to help the funding to make the program viable,” Moss said. Although the cost would be about $10,000 to $15,000 per patient, it is not high when compared to alternative fees, such as hospital bills, court fines and incarceration, she said.

Wittwer said a common crime committed by a mentally ill individual is disturbing the peace. She said police do not know how to handle the person, so they will just arrest the individual.

“Our jails and prisons are the largest mental health institutions in our country, far ahead of state hospitals,” Wittwer said. The real issue, she said, is criminalizing mental illness for those who simply do not have access to treatment.

NAMI focuses on trying to “break the cycle” of the mentally ill going to prison, not receiving treatment, being released and then going right back to jail. Wittwer said some people are booked in the Salt Lake County Jail up to 50 times a year.

“We can’t build enough jails to keep housing people. We have to look at this problem differently,” Wittwer said.

NAMI has begun to try to alleviate some of these dilemmas. Wittwer talked about NAMI’s Bridges Program in which people who are treating their own disorder participate in peer-to-peer counseling and go to the prisons to help the incarcerated.

Salt Lake, Utah and Cache counties have instigated mental health courts that are designed to facilitate treatment for the mentally ill, while still holding the individual accountable for the crime that was committed.

But the biggest challenge, Wittwer said, is to address the stigmas that go along with mental illness.

Janis Tetro, with the Disability Law Center, believes “people are scared.” “I think they see the headlines and assume the mentally ill are dangerous, and this is just not the case.”

In fact, Wittwer said the mentally disabled are more often the victim rather than the offender because their illness makes them more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves.

At VMH, Hines puts importance on responding to questions from the media and from schools. She thinks it is necessary to be available to clarify and respond to questions about mental health.

Another misconception is that mental illness is the result of “lack of will power, lack of character,” Wittwer said. She wants people to know it is treatable.

But Utah is not winning its battle to provide appropriate help to the mentally ill.  According to NAMI’s “U.S. report card,” Utah got a “D,” which is also the national average.

Wittwer said there are many reasons for our state’s poor grade. She emphasized the importance of educating hospital staff, law enforcement officers and court employees so they are better equipped to handle a person who has not received treatment for their illness.

Wittwer insists we must change the way we do things. “There are better, more effective, more cost-effective, more individual and family friendly ways that we should be dealing with these issues.”

Hines lauded the efforts NAMI has made to advocate for individuals and their families. She said while VMH focuses on treatment, NAMI has made significant efforts to spread awareness and provide training for families who may need to care for a mentally disabled loved one.

Tetro said a common problem arises when a mentally disabled individual tries to rent an apartment and the property owner discovers the individual has an illness, so the landlord does not rent the space. This is a scenario that Tetro chalks up to discrimination and lack of education.

“I think people would be amazed to find how many people who have a mental illness are productive members of our society,” Tetro said.

Wittwer said one out of four adults will suffer from a mental illness each year, and although those who suffer are often overlooked as members of the extensive disabled community, they are not part of a “fringe” group in our society.

“So that’s what we want people to know; that there is hope out there, treatment works, recovery is possible, and no one has to feel alone because there are others who have walked this walk,” Wittwer said.

Courts help children cope with the trials of divorce

by MADISON MURPHY

Kids just feel helpless. They call their feelings “mad, upset, disappointed and sad, which are all the right words, but there is always a profound tone of desperation in them,” said Diane Passey, a self-employed licensed professional counselor working at the Scott M. Matheson Court House.

In an effort to help children of divorcing parents cope with the separation, state court officials have stepped in to help.

Emma, Kate and Jane were all under the age of 9 when their parents filed for divorce. Their mother, Shannon Cheney, said they continue to feel these emotions years after the divorce.

Their situation is common. Out of the 13,000 divorce cases filed in Utah, 11,000 children are involved, according to Utah State Court statistics.

Cheney and her ex-husband, Matt Olson, made a great effort to loosen the tension the divorce was causing their girls.

“During those first few months, they all three felt sad, but they probably didn’t really understand what it all meant,” Cheney said. “They didn’t understand how this would affect them long term. Matt and I both tried really hard to reinforce how much we loved them. I think that helped them through those first few months,” she said.

Years later, Cheney and Olson remarried other people.

“I think we started on the right track, but when Matt got remarried, things became super complicated,” Cheney said. “I wish we could have maintained the civil relationship we had before Matt’s remarriage. The kids feel the tension. Matt’s wife is a very jealous person. The girls are not allowed to talk about me at his house. They are not allowed to talk about any of their activities or friends from [home],” she said.

Cheney explained how the changes brought back hostile emotions and feelings of confusion in her daughters. “My kids didn’t feel this way at first, but now they definitely feel it. They understand that they have to have two separate lives because Matt will not allow their lives with me to interfere with their lives with him,” Cheney said.

Court employees are able to observe the emotions children feel. Passey, the counselor who works at the Matheson Court House, said children commonly feel alone in their situation, guilty for the divorce and torn between loving both parents.

Judith S. Wallerstein, author of “Surviving the Breakup” and an authority on the effects of divorce on children, wrote, “These children will need the full use of their intelligence, the full availability of their capacity for love and compassion, and all of their courage in order to face the many perils along the way until the continuity of their lives is reconstituted within a reasonably stable structure and a new family home.”

The Utah State Courts created a divorce education course for children ages 9 to 12, known as the Pilot Program. These classes, taught by Passey, are held twice a month at the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Cheney’s children never attended the Pilot Program, but she said that learning how to communicate and how to express emotions would really benefit her girls.

The course has five main parts. First, the children must understand there are many other kids whose parents are getting divorced. It is important for a child to feel like they are not alone in their situation, and they have other people they can converse with.

The second point is helping the child understand that divorce is not their fault. “I display it on a board and make each kid say it out loud. ‘Divorce is not my fault. Divorce is not my fault,’” Passey said.

Many parents complain to their children about the other parent. The third point in the discussion explains to the child they can love their mom and their dad equally, just as their parents should equally love them.

The fourth point is an exercise to help the children learn how to communicate and express their feelings. The kids are given scenarios that other children might be going through, then they are asked how the child might handle the situation. They recognize what the parent does, how it makes them feel and why, and then they come up with what the parent could do to help.

Passey informs the children that their parents might not like what the child is saying and might get upset. But, if the child can learn how to express their feelings appropriately, they certainly have the right to do it.

Passey said too many kids begin to worry about grown-up things. “I tell them, ‘you should be worrying about whether you are going to play soccer during recess today, when you want to do your homework, or what snack to eat. You should not be worrying about whether somebody paid child support or if so-and-so had an affair.’ Parents should keep adult things to adults, but we make mistakes when we are in pain,” she said.

Toward the end of the course, Passey offers the children a chance to write a secret letter to their parents. They promise that what they write will not be shown to their parents because it is just an exercise to help them express their feelings. In one of the anonymous letters, a child wrote: “I feel sad when you fight. I wish that you two would keep it away from us kids. I love you both and I know it’s not my fault.”

Nancy Volmer, the public information officer for the Utah State Courts, said that out of 44 participants, 30 said they knew a third party who cares, 40 said they knew their parents care, 35 felt it was OK to talk about things with their parents and 36 said they knew the divorce wasn’t their fault.

Every parent survey conducted by the courthouse recommended the class for others. Providing their child with someone other than them to talk with was valuable, parents said.

The Pilot Program is a free program that has proven effective. Passey said most children are not ready to cope with so many emotions and taking the course can help them learn how to handle their situation better.

“It empowers them,” Volmer said.