By Erin Grabinger
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
Because of how and where they were raised, many kids come to the Ranch without basic health, self-care, and hygiene skills. Some haven't had a toothbrush. Others weren't told, or didn't have the opportunity, to shower or experience a sit-down meal. And or others, seemingly simple daily living skills triggered the trauma they experienced. Children also arrive at the Ranch with little to no histories of going to the doctor, dentist, or eye doctor.
The 4-6 months children typically live at the Ranch facility gives Ranch nurses a chance to catch them up on their health, dental, and vision care, and to teach them basic self-care skills. The nurses teach and model these skills so Ranch kids can become experts at caring for their own health.
"Much of what our kids know about their health has come from peers, the internet, or other unreliable sources," said Amber Meidinger, a registered nurse (RN) at the Ranch's Bismarck campus and founder of a biweekly Nursing Group. "Now is a good time to correct any misconceptions or misinformation."
During the hour-long group, the facilitator highlights important health topics, like nutrition, empathy, ethics, influenza, and personal hygiene. The nurses who facilitate the program find engaging ways to teach kids how to take charge of their own mental and physical health.
"It is not always easy to engage kids in learning about their health and wellness," Meidinger said. "What I find interesting and useful is often different than what our youth find interesting or useful."
Meidinger has developed several new techniques for teaching the kids about their bodies and health. She shows movies to launch discussions about nutrition, fast food, concussions, influenza, empathy, and ethics. They play interactive games to learn more about human anatomy and physiology, personal hygiene, and the common cold. Meidinger also uses hands-on activities and interactive presentations to teach kids about medications, going to the doctor, and vital signs.
One topic the kids find especially interesting is the importance of protecting their skin from the sun. Because of the medications they take, many of our kids are extra-susceptible to sunburn. One week, the group focused on important sun safety techniques, such as using sunscreen and wearing hats and long sleeve shirts. They also talked about choosing the right sunscreen and the importance of checking expiration dates.
Another way Meidinger and other Ranch nurses make it interesting is by inviting guest speakers to group. Most recently, guests have talked about the dangers of vaping, self-piercing, and self-tattooing. Because the guest speakers are "the experts," and aren't with the kids every day, they are able to engage the kids more fully. The program constantly evolves to target the interests and needs of the kids in the program, while staying true to the core focus areas of illness/disease, anatomy/physiology, and health/wellness.
Meidinger said physical ailments can create a lot of anxiety, especially if the cause and treatment are unknown. "Knowing about the human body, illness, disease, medication, nutrition, wellness, and health promotion can alleviate some of our kids' anxiety and give them healthier ways to cope when concerns arise."