Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Child Abuse

In the wake of the Casey Anthony trial and its outcome, I thought it might be appropriate to select these posts from April.  Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to help Caylee, but we can help all the other children who so desperately need us.

The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect statistics show that approximately 905,000 children were abused or neglected in 2006. A new report from Prevent Child Abuse America places the financial costs of child abuse and neglect at almost $104 billion for 2007. Each year these statistics grow, even with all of the efforts to address the issue.

Over the years I've worked with a lot of children who have been abused and neglected. It is heartbreaking to see the sadness in their eyes. If you have ever seen it, you will never forget. For most, hope is gone-if it ever existed. The possibility of a future full of wonder and good things, isn't even in their realm of comprehension. Merely existing and making it through another day without more bruises or being sexually assaulted is the only goal they can possibly imagine.

And, as if abuse from a parent or trusted friend (as it is in most cases) isn't enough, the child is often abused again by the system that is supposed to care for them. They are forced, once they tell someone about their plight, to retell and retell every social service worker, every police officer or sheriff's deputy, every county or city attorney, and every counselor. It is not uncommon for a child who has finally made the decision to tell, to be forced to repeat their story as many as 6-12 times and this does not count court preparation and testimony. Reliving the abuse is just as traumatic as the event itself, I can guarantee you.

I was fortunate to work with a group of people in northeast Nebraska who shared the goal of creating an organization in which we could limit the after-trauma inflicted on these children. We became affiliates of an organization called the National Children's Advocacy Center. This is an organization who's purpose is to train the professionals who deal with child abuse in our communities on best practices in working together to alleviate any further trauma to children of abuse. This means that when a child reports or someone reports a child's abuse, a team of people work as one unit to interview and provide all manner of resources for the child. Instead of being interviewed by each department, they are interviewed once by a trained professional who understands abuse and all its issues. They are questioned in a child-friendly environment instead of the police station or the DSS office. The team works as a unit to provide care and any other needs the child may have, short and long term.

Today there is an organization called the Northeast Nebraska Children's Advocacy Center in Norfolk, Nebraska. Any child who has been abused throughout the northeast corner of the state can be brought to the center and cared for in the best way possible by staff who have been specially trained. Unfortunately, not all communities have an organization like this and the children pay the price for it. It's really not hard to set one up. What is hard is crossing boundaries from one department to another to make the system more efficient. Sometimes our processes and old habits inhibit us from working together for the victim and that is what makes creating an organization like this difficult. We spent many, many hours attempting to show stakeholders the benefits of this type of procedure--for them and the children. It is difficult for long-standing systems to change and there were many of us sitting around that table that wondered whether or not we'd ever see it happen, but we did and I'm proud to say I was part of it.

All it takes is one person saying, "I think there might be a better way to do this." Getting people to the table is easy. Keeping them there is the hard part, but it is doable. It just takes dedication and your time to continue to build bridges. Remember, it's for the kids and these kids are our future. Don't they deserve the best that we can give them?

Visit the NCAC website for more information about ways in which you can help:

I'd like to share some of my kids with you. Yesterday I told you about an organization that I was privileged to be a part of here in Nebraska. I came to that organization as the director of a program created to mentor children who had been abused or neglected. During the five years that we were in operation, we saw more than 200 kids throughout the eastern part of the state. We created a phone line so that any young person could call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They could call if they needed help with their homework, if they were home by themselves after school, or if they just wanted to talk. They could call if they were being abused. We did no advertising. The children and their families came to us strictly by word of mouth.

Children don't always 'look' abused.

Kiddo number two was two years old when her mother's live-in boyfriend would dress her up in costumes and have sex with her while her mother was at work. Mom came home and caught him one day. Not knowing what to do, she called her sister who reported the crime. Two days later, the mother took the daughter and they visited the boyfriend in jail. I met this beautiful girl when she was 11 years old and throwing school desks out of the windows.

Kiddo number three was a 12 year old girl who was mentally handicapped, not severely or profoundly, but receiving special education services at school. Her mother, also mentally handicapped like her daughter, worked nights at the community nursing home doing the laundry. When she was at work in this community of 250 people, the mother's boyfriend would come into the home with this girl and her 14 year old brother, and force the girl to perform oral sex on him.

Kiddo number four was a 6 year old boy whose 13 year old babysitter would perform some of the most heinous sexual acts on a child an area counselor had ever seen in someone so young. She had been abused in the same way by her 16 year old step-brother.

I wish that these stories were unusual. I wish that I could tell you that I didn't have any more to tell you, but I've already shared that we served over 200 kids with stories all similar to these. It was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. We were able to provide these kids with an adult friend who was safe and who cared for them in positive ways. We made a difference for these kids, all of them. And then we were able to provide so much more for them by creating a network of people who could serve all of their needs.

Let me tell you how I came to know that I must do something for these children. When I was in college, I had my first school visitation experience in the ghetto community of Wichita. I spent six weeks in a classroom of mostly black first graders from the lowest economic community in the state of Kansas, outside of Kansas City. On the first day of my second week there, a young man age six, came to school late. When he entered the door of the classroom, I almost became sick to my stomach. His face was a bleeding, bruised, swollen mess. I had never seen someone so beaten. The teacher asked me to take the young man to a room across the hall and call the school nurse and social worker. While I sat there with the young man, he told me that it was his fault that his daddy hit him. When I asked him what he could possibly have done to deserve a beating like this, he told me that he had not eaten his bowl of cereal. I will never forget that young man and his beautiful little face before the beating and the face after the beating. I was shocked to learn that this was a fairly regular occurrence for this young man and that social services would probably make another trip to his home to visit with his parents, but nothing more would probably be done.

That was many, many years ago and, fortunately, the laws have changed. I've had the privilege to work with a lot of children since then fortunately not all abused, but I've never forgotten my little friend and that I promised myself that I would do whatever I could in my lifetime to help children like him. You see, children don't have a voice in our society. They can't vote so there isn't a politician that will pay attention to them. We, the adults of our society, must make the choice to be their voice. We have to stand our ground and make people listen to us. We must protect them because they cannot protect themselves.

Please do something to help the children in your community. It doesn't take much time or effort to make a real difference! Find some way to make a child's life better, safer. There are lots of ways that you can help. Just pick a place and start.

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