Child Program Info
This is a letter about pregnancies and adoptions at Twin Oaks that we want all potential members to read.
Twin Oaks wants to provide a quality environment for rearing children. The community is also committed to providing the resources to care for children until they are adults. For these reasons we do family planning.
A crucial part of our family planning is preventing accidental pregnancies. Every member by joining agrees to practice some method of birth control. Birth control is free and abundantly available at the community. For those who desire it, the costs of tubal ligation and vasectomies are also covered for full members. Should a full member have an unwanted, accidental pregnancy, the cost of an abortion will be covered. Twin Oaks has never been so severe as to require a member who had accidently gotten pregnant to abort a wanted baby and there is a policy against forced abortions.
The community has a group of people charged with overseeing the policy side of child care at Twin Oaks called the child board. A person or couple wishing to acquire a kid (one way or another) first come to the child board and make their interest known and to be interviewed. The interview changes depending on the members of the child board and the people applying. One goal of the interview is to make sure that the applicants have thought about all the ramifications that having a kid could have in their life (lives). The applicants are also informed of any other people who want to have kids and if there are enough resources and enough space in the child program to have a child.
The applicants then talk to the metas. (The group of people who care for children from babies to school aged kids.) The child board takes the metas recommendation in considering a pregnancy or adoption request.
Most members want an applicant to live at Twin Oaks for at least two years before having a child. It is also strongly encouraged for anyone considering having a child to be a meta for at least a year and to spend one on one time with different children before getting pregnant or adopting.
The harsh reality is that having and raising a child is an irrevocable act and vastly more work than any other project. Many, perhaps most, of the people who initially think that they want to have a kid, change their minds either before they even make their desire publicly known or at some point in the community process. Our processes are not meant to discourage people from having children who clearly want kids and will do a good job of raising them. Our approval processes are meant to educate applicants about the reality of raising children to encourage a well thought out decision.
The central point of this letter is this: The community is well within it's rights to ask someone considering bringing a child to the community to talk to designated groups or people about the decision and to ask that they gain experience within the community and with children FIRST before making a pregnancey or adoption request. The community also has the right to delay approval or deny the request.
The community has occasionally asked that members commit to repaying some or all of child related expenses, either because of an accidental pregnancy, extraordinary expenses, or for some other reason. If the member stays at Twin Oaks then the costs will be absorbed by the community. These agreements are made before the costs are incurred, of course.
All of the members who were clear and confident of their interest in and ability with children have been granted approval. Some have been asked to wait a year or two, though.
Twin Oaks isn't the place to be if you want lots of our own kids. Most members who want to parent, only want one child. There have been a small handful of people who wanted and were granted permission to have or adopt a second child. To raise children well takes resources and Twin Oaks does want to model responsible child bearing, so having more than one biological child is iffy. Twin Oaks gives priority to first children over second children.
The ratio of children to adults has hovered around five adults to one child. This is not a fixed number, but it seems that the community isn't likely to deviate much from that range.
If you have any questions about all this, talk to someone on the child board or one of the metas.
written by the child board March 94
written June 1995
This letter is meant to give an overview of both Twin Oaks' structured child program and the role of the children in the community to families interested in visiting.
Our child care philosophy reflects our communal values, in particular equality and nonviolence. We see each child as an individual and we try to gear our child program to help them fulfill their individual potential. We try to be aware that children, even infants, are human beings and treat them with the respect we would accord any other human being. We attempt to not pressure the children or impose our expectations on them.
Many of us are familiar with and use STEP training. The behaviors and techniques described in the book "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk" are typical of how adults interact with children here. Other books that inspire some parents are: "Don't Shoot the Dog" and "The Continuum Concept". But no book has yet been as important as experience, common sense and our communal wisdom.
Twin Oaks is committed to providing the basic resources for the health, safety and education of the children who live here. Parents are expected to do, or arrange for, one on one care for their child when there are no scheduled child care shifts. Parents do not get full labor credit for taking care of only one kid. Parents are expected to be the bottom line for planning for the future needs of their child.
All members must have adoptions or pregnancies approved by the community. For a member with an approved pregnancy, the community covers the costs of pregnancy, prenatal care, the birth, hours for support people and rooms specifically designed for and set aside for nursing mothers. The community also covers all costs of approved adoptions.
Child care is provided from noon to 6 pm every day of the year for kids from around 9 months to around 5 or 6 years old. Depending on the interest and energy of the parents and other child care workers. Child care may be provided from 9 to noon as well. At least one parent of a child is expected to be part of the child care group.
We have one building, Degania, (named after the first kibbutz), that was designed specifically to be a children's center. Degania has many different rooms that are meant to meet different learning and play needs of children. Degania has a large enclosed play yard with a large swingset, climbing equipment, a playhouse and a small concrete "track" for little kids to run or ride around. Children's communal clothes are also kept in Degania.
Two other rooms in the community are set aside for older children's play and study. There is also a dining room that is set aside for children to use. This is primarily used as a place for children who are being, or inclined to be, noisy.
From 7am to 9pm parents can claim some partial work credit for taking care of their child. Currently there is no structured care for children beyone the age of six. This is at the request of the parents who feel that the children need time to play with other children since they have enough structured time in their lives with school, homework and extracurricular activities.
Each adult member has a room. A couple will be given two rooms and they can choose how to use those rooms. The specific age a child is eligible to move out of the parents room is dependent on the parents and the housing situation at the time. Certainly by the age of five a child is eligible for a room, either of their own or sharing with another child.
Three of the residences at Twin Oaks are specifically geared to children (total of 59 adult and child rooms). Two other residences are open to children on a case by case basis (total of 30 adult and child rooms). Two residences are, essentially, adult only (total of 22 rooms).
Schooling is determined primarily by the parent(s). Some children are home schooled, some go to public school and some go to private (Montessori) school. There is currently no school at Twin Oaks, but there is some interest in someday starting a school at or close to Twin Oaks. There is no guarantee that a child will have any funding provided for post high school education.
Historically, the community has preferred to accept children who were young and have them grow up living communally, rather than deal with the issues of integrating a child who has grown up with different norms and expectations. For that reason, most of the kids who have lived at Twin Oaks over the years have been young, 6 years old or less. The community has had very little experience with teenagers at all.
PROBLEMS AND ISSUES
While parents here typically have less time pressure than parents in mainstream society; the truth of the matter is that parents work more (and get less sleep) than members who aren't parents. This is sometimes a source of resentment on the part of parents.
Additionally, the rest of the community, since they are, in fact, helping pay for the care and education of children feel that they should have some say in how those resources are spent. Some people want some say in how kids are raised, too, but that is typically much less of an issue than resource use.
What is difficult for many parents who move here is that they have less control over their child's environment than they want or re used to. The resources that the community provides are typically generous, but the limits are absolute. It is very difficult (or impossible) for a parent to provide more resources for their kids through their own efforts. (Sometimes people ask relatives or friends for gifts to help cover additional expenses).
T.V. is prohibited in the community. Children do see TV because there are many friends of Twin Oaks kids who live nearby. Videos are shown on a limited schedule.
There are some public places in the community where everyone gets together that are too dense and crowded to allow for what some consider normal levels of kids boisterousness, so kids are asked to be quiet or take the boisterousness elsewhere.
While there are many non-parents in the community who are involved with one or some kids some of the time, it is rare that a new family immediately has all the support and childcare that they need. A support network tends to develop over time.
Finally, not everyone in the community is child focused. There are some people who feel a need to be away from kid noise and kid clutter sometimes, so there are some parts of some buildings where kids are allowed only if they are with an adult (there are other parts of the community that are totally off limits to kids for safety reasons). There are some people who won't interact with your kid from one year to the next, other than an occasional nod.
AND NOW THE KIDS:
Here are the names and birth dates of the kids who are currently living at Twin Oaks.
Devon (girl) 23 April 1982
Chris (boy) 28 Feb. 1984
Dusty (boy) 1 Aug. 1985
Maia (girl) 29 Sept. 1986
Alyssa (girl) 14 March 1986
Harper (girl) 16 July 1988
Simone (girl) 19 Sept. 1988
Zoey (boy) 3 March 1990
Elijah (boy) 20 Aug. 1991
Cora (girl) 25 Oct. 1992
Imani (girl) 22 Nov. 1992
Ayden Rain (boy) 1993
Arlo (boy) 9 July 1993
3 kids are adopted
5 kids were born at Twin Oaks
2 of the kids are African American, the rest are caucasian.
Acorn, an offshoot community of Twin Oaks is 7 miles away. They are beginning to have kids and we are beginning to coordinate childcare between the communities. This will probide for more peers and various other opportunities for kids and adults.
As you can probably tell, while this letter is meant to be informative we also mean it to be somewhat discouraging. There are many people with kids who would like to live here and we don't have many spaces for kids. We don't want you to have a disappointing visit, so we want to be sure that you don't come with unrealistic expectations. If, in spite of all these problems and drawbacks and limits, you still think that you want to come to Twin Oaks for a visit, I and other people will be happy to tell you all the good things about raising kids at Twin Oaks when you're here.
VISITING TWIN OAKS WITH A CHILD
Twin Oaks has established a ratio of about 5 adults for every child so we have limited spaces for new whildren coming into the community. Our preference is for families whose kids are ages where they are likely to be peers of the kids who already live here.
We tend to be in correspondence with people for a while before we schedule a visit for membership. An official visit to join the community lasts five weeks, but we encourage prospective families, if they can, to come get a look at Twin Oaks for anywhere from a day to a week before committing to a five week visit.
We have a structured visitor program that runs for three weeks that all prospective members must go through. We ask that a visiting family come a week before the "official" three week visit begins in order to get settled in and get acquainted with the people and practices of the child program. The visiting family goes through the workshops with the other visitors and stays on a week after the other visitors have left. This last week is usually spent living in one of the member residences rather than in the visitor cottage.
There will be someone who will be your official liaison with the child program who will introduce you around and answer your questions. But, really, visiting families have to be self motivated to fully understand and fit into the child care program.
If your child is between one and five you will be participating in our group child care, the meta program. Initially you will be expected to be on meta shifts with your child and then, when the child seems ready, your child will be on meta shifts without a parent being right there.
You will get some labor hours for taking care of your child during the visit, but you will also have to do work in the community and attend the workshops that are part of the visitor program. All this can be a bit of a juggling act, and it is an accurate reflection of what is can be like living at Twin Oaks with a child.
We probably have all the resources needed to take care of your child while you are visitng. The community provides diapers, band aids, food, we have lots of toys and books which you can borrow during our visit. For older kids there are kid sized bikes. But we ask that you bring all the clothes that you think your child will need for the five weeks.
If you have any questions, please contact me:
Rt 4, box 169
Louisa, VA 23093
TWIN OAKS CHILD PROGRAM
INFORMATION FOR PROSPECTIVE MEMBERS
As of May, 1987
History and Over-View
Our children's program started in 1974, when the community first felt that it could afford to have and support children. In the beginning it was communal in most ways. The children were thought of as belonging to the community and not to co's parent or parents. Even naming the children was left up to the community.
A the years have passed, (Twin Oaks's child program has become less communal- Parents have more responsibility) We still encourage all people interested in child-rearing to take part, whether or not they are parents. We strongly believe it is good for children to grow up with other people besides their parents. However children spend much more time with their parents than they used to and many more decisions are now left up to parents, such as the names, whether or not to circumcise baby boys, whether certain foods or medicines are appropriate, etc.
One reason that responsibility has shifted from the community to parents over the years is that Twin Oaks has a fairly high rate of membership turnover (although our overall population remaining fairly stable at 60-75 adults). We feel that children need food and consistent emotional and interpersonal care and that this is better provided by the parent(s) and the community, not the community by itself.
Visiting Twin Oaks With Children
A family interested in Twin Oaks as a potential home must visit with the child or children for a number of weeks. During their period, children and parents are integrated as much as posible into the appropriate aged childcare group. This helps acclimate them to the child program and helps us all get to know eachother. Parents come to the various child program meetings to experience our decision-making process. Also, during the visit the family will have a contact person who will keep in touch with the visiting family and act as tour guide, question-answerer, and all-around good buddy. Several times during a family's visit, a special social "tea" will allow the visiting family to get to know the child area workers in a non-work setting.
There are three parts to the process of a family actually joining the community. First, the visitng parent(s) will make up their minds if Twin Oaks is where they want to live. If yes, then Twin Oaks' child workers will decide if the child or children are compatible with our program. Included in that decision is a assessment as to whether the parent's relationship witht he child is similar enough to what we do here to fit in reasonably well.
If the child is accepted into the program, then the adult(s) go through normal community membership process. This usually includes the new member(s) going away for at least a month. Most people need to do this anyway in order to clear up their own affairs. Twin Oaks encourages this time of absence in order to give applicants a chance to evaluate their decision quietly and slowly, without the immediate pleasures and pressures of the community environment. However, there are situations when this month away is a physical or financial hardship which the applicant can't manage and we sometimes waive the requirement.
Community Policies: Prior to Conception and Birth
Every incoming member should understand that the decision to have a child must be approved by the community. Twin Oaks puts a great deal of resources into its children and needs to do "family planning" just as individuals do. Approval is given by the Child Board (a group of 3 who deal with policy and direction in the child program). Usually, several people want to become pregnant in a given year and are approved. (Not all eventually have a child: some change their minds, some don't get pregnant when they expect, etc.) If there are more requests than we can handle at a time, the Child Board tries to schedule them over a couple years basing its decisions on such things as length of stay at Twin Oaks, the age of the woman, etc. Refusals and postponements have been very rare.
During the pregnancy and for 18 months afer birth, the mother gets labor credits to compensate for the time she can't do regular work.
The trend has been to have home births whenever possible, but this decision is left to the mother.
Degania and the Metas
Degania is the building that was built for the care of the children. (It was named after the first kibbutz in Israel, founded in 1910.) It is used as a play space, eating facility, and overnight sleeping. A child may start spending the night at Degania when it is old enough to sleep through without a feeding but the actual decision of when the child moves there has been the mother's.
At Dagania we encourage cooperation, egalitarian norms, non-violence, fairness, awareness of nature, and sharing. It is also a hang-out space to simply feel at home in. Degania is staffed by a group of adults called "metas." (This is short for the kibbutz word "metapelet," which means child-care worker.) They do the daily housework and laundry at Degania as well as caring for the children. An adult sleeps there each night. There are currently 15 metas each doing an average of 12 hours of childcare a week.
We group the children according to their development. Currently in Degania we have ___babies, ___toddlers, and ___preschoolers.
Lots of what a child needs in everyday life is at Degania: love and attention, books, toys, clothes, food, etc. Degania is designed for young people, and many items, such as sinks, tables, mirrors, light switches, and the like, are placed at a convenient height for them to reach. The children also spend time in other parts of the community. As they get older and can take on more responsibility they can go more places and do more things unsupervised. Twin Oaks is a big place with lots of stimulating things going on.
To give you an idea of the guidelines expected of both children and adults at Degania, here are samples of specific agreements among the metas. (Of course we don't live up to these all the time, but they are something to aim for.)
Specific Meta Agreements
--Metas are expected to give and receive feedback freely.
--One meta shouln't interfere in an interaction of another meta with a child. If there is disagreement or feedback about how the interaction was handled, it should be discussed later, not in front of the child.
--At each shift change, Degania should be left with (1) laundry caught up; (2) rubber pants and diapers washed out; and (3) active play room and kitchen neat.
--When coming on the job each meta should check to see that house keeping is done satisfactorily before the previous meta leaves, or that work then becomes the responsibility of the meta coming on.
--We try to reserve the word "No" for important situations.
--We try to give the children as much autonomy as possible, invoking few rules, expressing many directives as our preferences rather than musts.
--Kids at Degania can chose their own clothes with no restrictions except (1) when they are sick they have to dress warmly, and (2) they can't wear clothing that is so much too large or too small that it will be damaged. What kids wear when they are with a parent or other primary adult is worked out by them. (By the way, nudity is fairly common at Twin Oaks though we are careful not to offend or alienate our neighbors or other outsiders.)
--We never hit the children!
--Degania cleaning is rotated among the metas.
--All metas are expected to do night meta with the exception of very pregnant women and nursing mothers.
--Disinfecting the bathroom and diaper changing area is done daily on the late afternoon (nap) shift. The night meta leaves the meta room in order and clean.
--Books in general are to be treated gently. A child can lose book priveleges for ripping, throwing, chewing, or otherwise mutiliating the books. A child can take one or two books to bed at naptime and is responsible for bringing them out afterwards.
--Metas take responsibility other than on shifts. If we see a child having problems in public spaces, it's our business to help out.
--No gum, balloons, coins or tiny objects that a child could choke on are allowed in Degania.
--Metas write in the meta notebook what happened with the kids, what they ate, whether they peed or pooped, their moods, all in black or blue ink. Health related items are written in red ink.
--Children wash hands with soap and water before coming to the table to eat.
--Kids can eat food or drink indoors only while sitting at the table. Outdoors they can eat anywhere. Adults try to follow these norms as well. (If table is too crowded, adults may sit away from the table.)
--Kids who don't eat lunch or breakfast can be offered the meal again at snack time, or can be offered a nutritious snack.
--We don't stock sugar, table syrup or very sweet jams in the Degania kitchen, only honey, molasses and sorgum. Meat is not served by the metas (but may be served by parents or other primaries to kids who eat it). Whether a child gets fluride is a parental decision.
--Kids who are finished with lunch earlier than other either play quietly indoors or go outdoors, but don't engage in activities that disturb kids that are still eating.
--Kids teeth and hair are brushed after breakfast.
--Metas are expected to be able to work with all other metas. There will be a feedback meeting for any meta whom as many as four other metas choose not to work with. There is a strong expectation of a commitment to work things out.
--Children are expected to put away toys they are playing with before they get something else out. Kids who want a toy another child is playing with may either wait their turn or try to trade another toy for it. Toys that become objects of envy (two or more kids can't work out a dispute over who' playing with what when) are put away and out of reach for a time period at the meta's discretion.
--A child's toys that the child does not with to be shared must be kept either away from Degania or in the child's bed area.
--Time Outs (a certain amount of time away from everyone else) are given for aggression or violence against other people. The meta who gives a Time Out is expected to talk to the child about why co got a Time Out and how to handle a similar situation int he future. Inappropriate behaviors are "not okay," but a child is never "bad."
The metas meet weekly to discuss and decide upon issues that come up. Decision making is usually by concensus of the metas present. Sometimes these meetings go smoothly but other times they are strained.
When they reach the age of 2 or 3, our children start going to a Montessori-style preschool on Twin Oaks property and taught by our members. It runs three hours a day, three to five days a week and emphasizes basic skills, cooperation, nature and lots of play! Several non-Twin Oaks children from the surrounding area also come. We welcome this contact between our kids and other kids under these conditions and also we value the contacts it gives us as adults and parents with others in our area.
In addition to being cared for by the metas, every child has a number of "primaries" who give special one-on-one attention to that child. Parents are usually the most important primaries, but they are not the only ones. Non-parent primaries are chosen by the parents, with the hope that the relationship will be a lasting one. Most metas are also primaries to one or more children; many parents are metas. But it is not a requirement in order to work as a meta.
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. . . .children in private schools and others in the public school system. The community, of course, pays all the bills.
Policies Around Mega-Age Young People
In many ways, our children are being raised in an experimental and utopian way: they have many adults and children to learn from and to be emotionally involved with; they learn a great deal about life, death, birth, happiness, sorrow, relationships, conflict and so on. We do the best we can to give them a chance to talk about what they are experiencing, and to help them deal with it all.
In other ways, we are raising our kids much like any other group of concerned parents, and we do set limits for them. These include:
--No drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
--They must get permission from a parent or mega before leaving the property (not just another member, the office worker, or a meta), and when riding in a car or truck must wear seatbelts.
--They go to school.
--On school nights (Sunday included) they do their homework, prepare their lunches, and have bed-times.
--Until they pass the swimming test, they can't go to the river unsupervised. (Supervision means keeping a watchful eye on them the whole time they are in the water and being prepared and able to rescue should there be a problem.)
--They sleep in their own rooms, unless an exception is cleared with a parent or mega (no overnight guests in their rooms unless cleared, also).
--Heavy equipment (farming, woodworking, automotive) use and exposure must be cleared with a parent or meta.
Services and Benefits for Children
at Twin Oaks
Here is a partial list of the services and benefits that the community provides for its children:
--normal support (food, clothing, housing, etc.)
--all medical and dental costs
--cash allowance ($13-$30/month per child depending on age, to be spent under parental guidance)
--schooling as appropriate
--many recreational events
In addition, there are substantial non-material benefits, like:
--No crime or danger from other humans
--Boys and girls treated equally, with strong examples of non-sexist attitudes all around.
--Freedom from racism. Children taught to value people on the basis of behavior, not appearance.
--No television, and therefore much less bombardment by the manufactured urge to buy, buy, buy as well as less exposure to scenes of violence. (We do have video movies, some of which may be considered unsuitable for children. Parents or other primaries make this decision with the child.)
--Values of kindness, sharing, conservation, consciously taught.
Twin Oaks hasn't enough experience with this to have clear policies. The community has provided labor credits for some adult members to go to college but those individuals had to get the money they needed through grants and loans.
It is difficult to absorb teen-agers into community life if they are accustomed to television, dating, hanging out in malls, spending a lot of money on clothes, and the like. It is not absolutely out of the question that some teen-ager might fit into Twin Oaks, so we have no absolute policy against it. However, this step would have to be taken with great care, after an extended visit, and certainly with the enthusiastic cooperation of the teenager him/herself.
A person 15 years old or older, living alone without parents, is eligible to join the community as a regular working (adult) member, provided schooling has been completed or abandoned, and given permission from whatever guardian may be involved. Such a person would be treated exactly like any other membership candidate.