Click here to access Stuart Shanker's guest article: Expanding our Understanding of the Meaning of "Safe."

FOCUS ON: Supporting Alberta’s Homeless Youth This Season of Caring

December’s Guest Perspective is by: Rohan Nuttall, Director of “Through My Eyes” and Youth Advisor to the Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities. Rohan is also the 2014 recipient of the HEROES of a Safe and Caring World Youth Impact Award (Northern Region).

December 11, 2014 - FOCUS ON - Supporting Homeless Youth

Cozy fires, freshly wrapped gifts, the sweet aroma of pine needles and rich cooking. That’s how most Albertans might describe their holiday season this year. With streets decorated with tantalizing lights and glistening ornaments, Christmas is a time that kindles warmth in our hearts and homes. This year, however, brings with it troubling news of rising rates of youth homelessness. Edmonton, for example, saw a 17% increase in homeless youth, according to Homeward Trust’s 2014 Homeless Count. Among the 2,252 people counted to be living on the streets of our capital city, a startling 562 are aged 24 or younger.

This dire news also comes at a time when Alberta has been identified as the most unequal province in the country, with income inequality surpassing that of the United States (according to Statistics Canada). Though there has been progress through Alberta’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and in policy domains such as affordable housing, early childhood development, education & workplace skills development, there is just so much more that we can do.

It’s time to ask ourselves: How can a province that generated 80% of all jobs in Canada this year have so many displaced and struggling youth? This is especially important for the well-being of our society because homelessness still costs the Canadian economy around $7 billion each year in support services.

According to the Williams Institute, about 40% of homeless youth identify themselves as LGBTQ and nearly 68% indicated that family rejection was a major factor contributing to their homelessness. It becomes less about living and more about surviving; less about happiness and more about loneliness.

No one deserves to live under those circumstances, and it’s time that, not as a single government, or a business, or an organization, but as a community, we come to terms with the fact that this is one of the most prominent issues facing our society today. It’s time that we recognize poverty isn’t supposed to be a modern problem. We’ve got to make its elimination a social priority and not solely a political or economic one. If we don’t start taking this issue seriously and on a personal level, we limit our chances of ever being successful.

Take it upon yourself this holiday season to try these twelve things to play your part:

  1. Learn about the causes of youth homelessness by watching the documentary “Through My Eyes” by the City of Edmonton Youth Council.
  2. Sign up for the #8000Mentors project @ ntors.
  3. Donate funds to local organizations that provide services for those who need it most.
  4. Read the “What We Heard” Report from the Mayor’s Symposium on Poverty. It’s important.
  5. The next homeless youth or adult you see, look at them and say “Hello” and ask them how their day has been.
  6. Spend 30 minutes identifying how you can apply your skills to make a difference in the life of one homeless youth.
  7. Donate to your local food or clothing bank. Alberta winters are cold.
  8. Be respectful and courteous. Make eye contact. Smile.
  9. Talk to your family, friends and colleagues about their ideas on ending homelessness.
  10. Email the Alberta Poverty Reduction Strategy team at to share your thoughts or find out how you can get involved.
  11. Spend an evening at an organization like the Old Strathcona Youth Society or other youth organizations in your own communities.
  12. Be a voice of encouragement. Strike up a conversation and talk to homeless youth about their dreams and aspirations. Ask them how you can be of assistance.

Eliminating an issue like youth homelessness cannot be solely accomplished by action plans and top-down strategic mandates. Seriously. If we ever want to change anything, it’s so important for us to get thoroughly involved with the realities, the lives of these youth. To become friends with them.

This article appeared in our December 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

FOCUS ON: Culture of Caring

by: Susan Hopkins, Ed. D, Executive Director of Safe and Caring

The conversation is changing. As we continue to work towards making our schools and communities safe, caring and inclusive places for every child and youth in Alberta, the landscape is shifting away from anti-bullying, one-size fits all and zero-tolerance approaches. Safe and Caring is contributing to the changing conversation in all of our work, and has embedded a philosophy of caring and healthy relationships into our strategic directions for 2015.

This year, we reframed National Bullying Awareness Week as #CaringWeek. Over the course of the week, we announced the Honourable Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Human Services as the Society’s new Honourary Chair; we brought together community leaders from across Alberta at our 8th Annual Creating Safe Spaces Waffle Breakfast, live-streaming for the first time ever to a live satellite event in Calgary; we co-hosted the Alberta Safe and Caring Schools Forum with keynote speaker Dr. Stuart Shanker; we hosted a spoken word poetry event to celebrate healthy relationships; and we facilitated the Government of Alberta’s National Bullying Awareness Week webcast. Advocating for a collaborative focus on healthy relationships as a foundation for creating safe, caring and inclusive spaces for children and youth has been and continues to be the core of all our work. We were therefore thrilled when the Government of Alberta released their Plan for Promoting Healthy Relationships and Preventing Bullying during the National Bullying Awareness Week webinar.

As the holiday season descends upon us, we are reminded of how important the relationships in our lives are to our happiness, our health and our well-being. A time of joy for some is a time of hardship and loneliness for others. Giving of ourselves isn’t just the right thing to do, it is actually good for our own well-being! Arthur Brooks at Syracuse University found that “givers” are 42% more likely to describe themselves as being “in excellent health.” In 2006, Jorge Moll discovered that the act of giving uses the same part of the brain that releases affiliative neurotransmitters in bonding: a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “Helper’s High.” When we give, we help others, but we also feel good in return.

Let’s continue to foster a culture of caring for ourselves, our children, our neighbours and everyone else we come into contact with each moment of this holiday season. #cultureofcaring

This article appeared in our December 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

YOUTH PARTNERSHIPS: Reframing the Word “Bullying”

by: Dada Alice Mwemera and Ben Tsang, Youth Engagement Coordinators

Dada and Ben, Safe and Caring's Youth Engagement Coordinators

Dada and Ben, Safe and Caring’s Youth Engagement Coordinators

“Bullying” is a word without much strength behind it today.

In the past, I have personally shared my concerns about bullying with an adult and their reply would often be “it will get better,” “it is part of growing up,” or “sometimes you just don’t get along with everyone.” This response made me feel powerless, as though I was being overly emotional and needed to just accept the situation.
Somehow the word “bullying” did not communicate to adults the pain I felt and lasting damage that it was causing.

It is time to realize that bullying is a serious issue, linked to depression, low self-esteem, bad grades, anxiety, aggression and even suicide attempts among many children, youth and adults! Bullying is not harmless. It is not the same as teasing or just a little fight, nor should it be viewed as an accepted and natural part of growing up.

Before we make lasting changes, we need to really understand what we mean when we say “bullying.” Bullying is very common among children and youth, therefore instead of approaching the word and the concept of bullying from the typical mature adult perspective of “it will get better,” or “it’s a normal part of growing up,” we need to engage youth in a discussion.

We need to listen to their struggles, to the traumatic emotions they face so that we may fully grasp the impacts of bullying on them and develop solutions together that will work to restore positive healthy relationships in their lives.

This article appeared in our November 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!


by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Coordinator


Dr. Kris Wells, Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Director of Programs & Services at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS), University of Alberta

As a champion for diversity, equity and human rights in schools, Dr. Wells is a true advocate for bringing research to practice to build more vibrant, respectful and caring schools and communities. He is a celebrated researcher, a founding member of and special advisor for Safe and Caring, co-founder of Camp fYrefly and author of the Government of Alberta’s new resources on homophobic and transphobic bullying and GSAs (Gay Straight Student Alliances).

Dr. Wells is a particularly passionate proponent for GSAs in schools. GSAs are school clubs that provide a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about issues related to sexual and gender identity, and work together with teachers to combat homophobia and transphobia in schools. Although GSAs can take many forms, they are all intended as “a critical space where it is okay to be different and where students can reach out to trusted adults and peers to find support.”

What’s so interesting about GSAs is how they work to actively change school cultures and attitudes from within, so that all students, staff members and teachers can feel safe, welcomed and respected in their work and learning environments. The value of a positive and diverse school culture is incalculable. Research shows that belonging and attachment to school has a direct impact on students’ feelings of safety and academic achievement, and improves high school completion rates. Schools with GSAs also have better education, health and safety outcomes for students. According to Dr. Wells, “We all need to step forward and become part of the solution. We need to look within to examine our own personal beliefs and values. We need to reflect not only on the purpose of GSAs, but also on education. Education should ultimately be about personal and social transformation. That happens through the kinds of relationships and connections we build in our schools.” By fostering a space and respectful school culture where students can reach their full potential, GSAs not only transform important relationships; they also save lives.

In partnership with the ATA and Safe and Caring, Dr. Wells is hosting the 3rd Annual Gay-Straight Student Alliance Conference on November 22 at the University of Alberta. The conference is free for students, teachers, trustees, superintendents and parents who are involved in a GSA or are interested in learning how to start one at their school. Beginning as a small gathering of about 50 people in 2012, it has since expanded to draw over 250 participants from across Alberta. This year, Dr. Wells and his team at iSMSS “hope the conference will be a call to action. Ultimately, the lives of our students may be at stake. The option of silence no longer exists. We need to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes and break this long held silence. We cannot afford to lose another life.”

To learn more about GSAs and other iSMSS programs, please visit and discover how Dr. Kris Wells, Dr. Andre Grace and the rest of the iSMSS team are working to inspire social change and improve the lives of all students in our schools and communities.

“We all need to step forward and become part of the solution. We need to look within to examine our own personal beliefs and values. We need to reflect not only on the purpose of GSAs, but also on education. Education should ultimately be about personal and social transformation. That happens through the kinds of relationships and connections we build in our schools.” – Dr. Kris Wells

This article appeared in our November 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

COMMUNITY: Changing the Conversation About Bullying

NBAW Banner for NBAW page_2014by: Susan Hopkins, Ed. D., Executive Director

The issues of bullying and safety in schools are a serious problem. Despite the fact that over 47% of Canadian parents report having a child that was a victim of bullying & Alberta youth report bullying as one of the most significant problems they face today, 1 in 3 adults in Alberta think that bullying is a normal part of growing up. With this in mind, this year we at Safe and Caring are using National Bullying Awareness Week (November 16-22) as an opportunity to change the dialogue around bullying. To refocus our attentions and efforts on how we can reduce bullying by helping our children and youth feel safe and cared for.

Bullying is not a natural social behaviour, nor should it be an accepted part of growing up. When children and youth act out against their peers, this is a result, in part, of external factors and experiences that have blocked their natural social instincts. Children and youth are naturally predisposed to be caring. This is not just a nice thought, it’s science. We are all hardwired for empathy and to care about one another. So why is “caring” so natural for some children and youth and so seemingly absent in others? If a child is not experiencing empathy and demonstrating caring relationships, we can change the conversation from “what can I teach this child” to “what is blocking this natural process” to find new solutions.

Dr. Stuart Shanker, our keynote speaker for the Alberta Safe and Caring Schools Forum on November 24th in Edmonton, argues that the answers lie in the heightened stress reactivity of a child and that in his experience, when the stress on a child is reduced and the child is gradually taught to reduce stressors for himself, empathy naturally emerges.

As we move towards National Bullying Awareness Week, we invite you to listen to the stories of children and youth that have experienced or participated in bullying, to reflect on and reexamine what exactly the words “safe,” “caring” and “bullying” mean to you, and to find ways to help our next generation flourish.

This article appeared in our November 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

COMMUNITY: National Bullying Awareness Week, Resources for Teachers

Did you know that Alberta’s new Education Act recognizes National Bullying Awareness Week (NBAW)?

National Bullying Awareness Week is always the third week of November and it’s fast approaching! What is your school community/district doing to recognize NBAW and start the conversation about creating welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environments?

We know the only effective way to create and maintain a positive learning environment is a comprehensive, school wide approach that involves the entire school community. National Bullying Awareness Week is a great opportunity to begin or reignite this work.

For more information on creating healthy relationships and preventing bullying, visit

Here are some ideas and links to help you plan your own events:

Distribute Safe and Caring resources to teachers and students.

Promote positive behaviours and healthy relationships and shift the focus away from “anti-bullying.

Organize a day or week of kind acts.

Organize a flashmob.

Have students and staff plan an assembly or cross-grade activity day with a focus on building relationships amongst students. Have students generate ideas about what they can do to contribute to a positive school environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Use National Bullying Awareness Week to kick-start a positive school environment committee of students, staff, parents, caregivers, families and community partners. Plan a kick-off event: a barbeque, hot dog lunch, etc.

Read stories or positive messages over announcements or in assembly that emphasize positive and peaceful solutions and strategies for bullying situations.

Visit to learn more about the Week and find ideas from previous NBAWs!

Safe and Caring is building a bank of ideas for National Bullying Awareness Week. Send us your stories and photos to include on our website and we’ll share them with our community!


CHAMPION PROFILE: Dr. Christina Rinaldi

by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Coordinator

Christina Rinaldi_webDr. Christina Rinaldi is  a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta. In addition to being a registered psychologist and respected researcher in the area of child and adolescent social emotional development, she is also a valued member of Safe and Caring’s Board of Directors.

What we at Safe and Caring love about Dr. Rinaldi is her commitment to research-to-practice – to taking her own and others’ research findings and using them to inform real-world educational policy and initiatives.

Dr. Rinaldi believes that there is tremendous opportunity in Alberta for thoughtful conversations about how to better use evidence-based knowledge to promote healthy relationships in all areas of children’s lives. School boards, parents, policy makers and community leaders are all looking for ways to better meet the requirements of the new Education Act, while trying to navigate the changing societal needs that have emerged in light of new digital technologies. Now is the time to collaborate and coordinate our efforts. Dr. Rinaldi suggests that we identify key stakeholders and decision-makers and come to the same table to agree on a common language and set a shared vision. We want our children to experience the same model of healthy relationships across contexts, to learn appropriate behaviour at home as they would in schools or at soccer practice.

Of primary importance, “the focus right now is: How to promote healthy relationships across systems, across the various supports for children – including teachers, coaches, community leaders, parents and peers.”

“All students and children deserve the right and opportunity to grow up in safe and caring environments, to reach their full potential.”  – Dr. Christina Rinaldi

This article appeared in our October 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!



YOUTH PARTNERSHIPS: Congratulations to 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

by: Dada Alice Mwemera, Youth Engagement Coordinator

A big congratulation goes out to the outstanding Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize! I have had the pleasure of reading up on the amazing work that both laureates have done and continue to do.  The journey they have walked is incredible and truly sparks inspiration for other young people around the world.

Malala’s work in blogging for the BBC portrays so much courage and strength. Her blog, “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl,” was originally published in Urdu and talks to the challenges of attending schools and growing up under Taliban rule in Pakistan’s Swat district. Many young women/men would not dare speak up in such harsh situations, risking their personal safety in an unstable country with so much turmoil. At such a young age of 17, her continued emphasis on the importance of education for children and women is outstanding. Her courage goes to show that if you truly believe in yourself, your voice will be heard. What a great message to others feeling oppressed and silenced.

Author and long-time activist Kailash Satyarthi is a wonderful example of a man driven to make a change no matter how long it takes! For over 30 years he has dedicated his life’s work to promote awareness and demand positive change for children’s rights, notably for labour rights. A child’s strength and resilience should always be treasured and nourished, not exploited and abused for monetary gain.

As a young person born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I am overjoyed and empowered at the success and work that has been done and will continue to be done by these amazing individuals. The Congo has long struggled with civil wars and is widely known as one of the world’s most unstable countries. I truly hope that the stories of Pakistani-born Malala and Indian-born Kailash will inspire others to realize their potential and unite for a change, no matter the age, gender or religious affiliation. More importantly, it is a privilege that more developed countries such as our own here in Canada can be educated on the struggles of others so that we may continue to develop and cherish the well-being of young lives across our nation.

On behalf of myself and the Society for Safe and Caring Schools, we once again extend warm congratulations to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. We are proud to see that the work we do here in promoting child and youth well-being in Alberta is also actively pursued in our global community.

CHAMPION PROFILE: Introducing Susan Hopkins, Ed.D., Executive Director of Safe and Caring

Guest Post by: Dr. Nancy Gibson, medical anthropologist and Senior Researcher with CIET


Susan Hopkins joined the Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities as Executive Director in August 2014.

As the new Executive Director of Safe and Caring Schools & Communities, Susan brings a rich range of experience to her position. With degrees in political science and educational leadership, Susan has been a K-12 teacher, an administrator in several school systems, a researcher in the area of resilience among at-risk youth and continues to teach additional qualification courses for Queens University. Most recently she held senior positions with the Northwest Territorial Government where she developed a play and culture-based kindergarten curriculum, co-authored the early childhood framework and was responsible for implementing the Early Development Instrument across the NWT.

Susan’s experience as a leader in these various arenas has provided her with the ability to understand issues from several perspectives, and to select the strengths of each one to create integrated strategies. She has worked both internationally in Italy and in Canada with Aboriginal children and staff. Susan is an imaginative, yet pragmatic mentor. The well-being of the community is always first in her heart and mind.

Please join us in welcoming Susan to Alberta and the Safe and Caring community!

FOCUS ON: Expanding our Understanding of the Meaning of “Safe” by Dr. Stuart Shanker

Guest Post by: Dr. Stuart Shanker

There are certain unmistakable signs of when a child doesn’t feel safe: the child is very withdrawn and subdued; emotionally volatile; overly anxious; highly impuls­ive; inattentive, or easily distracted. Or bullying other children. It’s this last sentence that should make us suddenly sit up and realize that we need to think seriously about what we understand by “safe.”

We have so much research now telling us how important it is for children’s well-­being that they feel safe.  We’ve tended to interpret these findings in terms of the need to stamp out bullying; yet if bullying itself is an unmistakable sign that a child doesn’t feel safe, then what exactly does “safe” mean?

Neuroscientists have come up with an important answer to this question. They talk about neuroception: systems that lie deep in the brain, which are constantly on the lookout for threats. And these threats come in all shapes and sizes.

There are emo­tional threats; threats to our ego; threats to our sense of what is right and wrong. A look, a vocal­iz­ation, a ges­ture, even a movement can be threatening; and so too can the lack of a look, vocal­iz­a­tion, gesture or movement. Sometimes what is threatening is the demand be­ing made on us; or not knowing how what we are doing or saying will be received. Some­times what is threatening is not knowing what someone is thinking, or an action whose intention we don’t understand. Sometimes the threat comes from a group’s shared under­standing that we ourselves don’t grasp. Sometimes the threat stems from our feelings of vul­nera­bility; or being removed from our comfortable routines.

What is common to all threats is that they cause the child’s alarm system to go off, releasing a surge of adrenaline that arouses the child to fight or flee. When a child feels safe, cortisol and serotonin are released, which counteract these effects.

Children all respond differently to having an alarm that keeps being triggered or that won’t turn off. As we just saw, some become very withdrawn and subdued. Some have problems in mood and anxiety. Some become very impulsive or easily distracted. Some become aggressive. And some go through all of the above.

The reason for these different kinds of responses lies deep in a child’s biology, coupled with the child’s history of interactive experiences, starting from an incredibly young age.

When we talk about how important it is to create safe and caring environments, we are talking about creating the kind of environment, emotional as well as physical, that turns off a child’s alarm. This produces a shift from what neuroscientists call the “survival brain” to the “learning brain.” The learning going on here doesn’t just con­cern what goes on in class. It’s learning about what’s going on inside your body; understanding your feelings and emotions; knowing what others are thinking and feeling; recognizing the impact of your actions and utterances on others.

The reason why it is so important that we expand our understanding of “safe” is the shift this promotes from thinking that what children need is greater self-control to recognizing that what children really need is better self-regulation. For the above skills are what self-regulation is all about.

The problem with seeing “safe” solely in terms of stamping out bullying is that this may lead us to think that this is simply a problem of self-control. But it’s not. Children can only exercise self-control when they are calm, and that requires knowing when and why they are agitated and what they can do to return to being calm. In other words, when they self-regulate.EDMONTON CONFERENCE BANNER-02.fw

Dr. Shanker will be delivering the keynote address at the upcoming Alberta Safe and Caring Schools Forum. The Forum, hosted in partnership by the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN) and Safe and Caring, will be taking place on Monday, November 24 at the Alberta Teacher’s Association Barnett House.

Visit the CSSN webpage to learn more about and register for this exciting event!