April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For obvious reasons, this blog post will focus on this aspect of trauma. Child abuse is a hard subject for many. This month’s post is meant to be brief and informative, and hopefully it will leave you with options to the question: What can I do to help kids?
Now, more than ever, the need for capable adults to serve their youth community is unprecedented. The affect of Covid around the world has impacted child abuse statistics, heightening the number of isolated or unprotected children in unhealthy and unsafe situations. We are facing a crisis with dire risks. Children who experience abuse are two or three times more likely to attempt suicide later in life. I agree with these statistics, but I also agree that numbers fail to address the invisible scars caused by shame cultures. When a society does little to confront the cause, victims are left holding the blame. We become immune to scapegoating when we’ve been conditioned to operate that way. Language is a social tool that shapes our understanding of the world and influences how we respond to various circumstances. Kids are especially susceptible to scapegoating. The culture of offloading unprocessed trauma often comes in the form of criticism and is typically indicated by they or you pronouns. They’re a piece of work. They’re difficult. OR: You are too sensitive. You are overreacting. You can’t take a joke.
By paying attention to language, we can avoid perpetuating a scapegoat culture.
In 2019, the United States, a report of child abuse was made every ten seconds.
In 2020, a study of pediatric trauma centers during the pandemic concluded grave results. From a pool of 39,000 children…
Again, some outdated statistics from 2019:
Researchers are still discovering the impact that social isolation had on children. The emotional toll of the global pandemic will undeniably be a steep price to pay in the future of mental and physical wellness. Now is the time to flip how we think about trauma and how culture influences mental health. TRAUMA IS NOT A CRIME. CHILD ABUSE IS. Victims and survivors of abuse deserve a future of integrity.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENS WITH ADVERSITY?: The devastation of child abuse is buried in the invisible landscape of the psyche, causing cerebral damage and significant long-term emotional, physical, and psychological repercussions. Read here to learn what happens in the brain.
We are not equipped to see what is happening inside people’s psyche, but to give you an idea, here’s what one doctor said about Will Smith and the Slap Heard Around the World (edited for simplicity):
Did this doctor’s perspective of Will Smith change your perspective of the event? Go ahead and leave a note in the comments.
OK. SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO PREVENT CHILD ABUSE? The challenge of transcending a crisis cannot be won by censorship or denial, but by building a culture of trauma integrity. Every child who survives abuse becomes an adult. The most important factor in being a trauma-informed citizen is learning to see difficult behavior through a sensitive lens and thinking more deeply about the root cause of behavior. Creating a dignified world for trauma victims provides a tangential bonus of self-respect and a life with meaning. Here are some things that will give children a better chance of feeling protected and safe:
- Live honestly with your own childhood wounds. Disassociated parents are often unconsciously complicit in repeating the treatment of their inner child to the outer world, usually, to those closest in proximity and familiarity. One way to address this is to confront a person’s behavior. Or, we can contribute to a culture of accountability by allowing honesty with grief and anger. There is no rule against owning our emotions. In fact, they are the only map to autonomy and freedom from societal expectations. We all do better when space is provided for emotional truth. Give this permission to yourself, and you will give it to others.
- Make charitable offers to community services. Donating time, treasure, and talent is a huge benefit to local children. Schools often have needs beyond their available resources. Ask around. Volunteer. The NextDoor app provides a Help Map (photo below) to offer or ask for services. We all have gifts worth sharing. It’s a win-win.
- Attend and support local events where kids are the stars. Here in Missoula, there are extra-curricular programs, distance races, track meets, summer camps, all to benefit kids.
I asked Twitter if they are affiliated with nonprofits, and here’s what people said:
- My day job is with a nonprofit that offers residential, clinical, school, and community-based services for youths who have experienced trauma.
- We just finished our pancake breakfasts (we tap our own maple trees and make our own syrup!), and the Civil War re-enactment is coming up soon. http://centuryvillagemuseum.org
- My wife and I founded a non-profit dance studio for under-privileged youth. 🙂
- I started one–@WritePittsburgh. We’re a member of Dave Eggers International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers.
The options for adult involvement are endless. Sponsor a kid, or simply show up to recitals and performances. Imagine if everyone gave one hour a month to be present. What a difference that would make!
Most importantly, be the gateway of what you allow in your life. Not everybody becomes a trauma-safe person without first establishing boundaries and doing some heavy emotional lifting. Empathy and compassion are the foundation that victims and survivors of abuse need to pursue their healing journey. If it’s safe to do so, be a trusted listener. Let their hurt inform your worldview. We all have so much to learn about the human experience. We can’t help kids without first helping ourselves.
Let me know in the comments how you help with kids. I’d love to share your ideas!
WHAT I’M READING:
Inside Passage by Keema Waterfield. This Missoula author ( I still have not met her) recalls her difficult childhood in Alaska with gut and grace. As her mother pursued the music scene, Keema followed along, growing into herself through the strum of guitars and the pulse of the road.
MY WRITING :
As you may have noticed, I updated my website. Exciting stuff!
Earlier this month, I took a class on long-form narrative, whetting my appetite to submit a piece to True Story before the deadline of May 15. What’s True Story? Watch the video below to find out. It’s one of my favorite subscriptions of creative nonfiction work. Wish me luck!
TRAUMA RELATED NEWS:
This NYT article discusses the trauma of Covid on families who have lost the middle generation. What happens when grandparents must take care of children? The answers are complicated.
A recent study determined that childhood trauma and genetically inherited trauma contribute to a higher risk of obesity. Trauma contributes to many other health conditions, such as heart disease and a shorter life span. ACEs provide a baseline understanding of important medical risks, and arming yourself with your score and the reality of increased health risks is an important component of self-care. Don’t know your ACEs score? Take the simple quiz here.
WELCOME: Melissa, Marcella
Thank you everyone for supporting a creative and international practice of trauma-informed citizenship. You make my heart full.
As a board member of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, and in honor of National Poetry Month, it gives me joy to share a poem written by fourth-graders at Lewis and Clark Elementary in Missoula.