child abuse and neglect

A Heart In Pieces

Written by Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

I was in a local grocery store recently. As I entered the store, I was bombarded with signs that Valentine’s Day is once again upon us. Red roses with white bows. Balloons reaching for the sky. Bouquets of candy bars. Sweets for the sweet. As I wandered about the aisles, my mind drifted toward the hearts that will be broken on this day when love is celebrated.

Somewhere there is a young boy who will be taunted and shamed by other boys who notice the small valentine he has clutched in his mittens for the teacher. They will grab the delicate card he worked hard to make and they will stomp it into the snow as they call him names. He won’t shed a tear – at least not now. He has learned not to cry. He knows that showing he has a heart will only make things worse. The older boys will get bored and move on to other targets. He will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young girl who has loved being daddy’s secret valentine until the day his touches made her scared. They made her uncomfortable. They made her confused. Now, when daddy says “I love you”, she nods her head and prays that he will not want to come to her when mommy goes to work. On this day, she will think God must have been too busy and as her father leaves her room she cries her heart out – and then she will pick up the pieces and carry on.

Somewhere there is a young mother who has worked all afternoon to make sure the right meal is on the table. Her husband will come home and she will know the drinking began before he ever left work. Her efforts will be buried under criticisms of how the food tastes, how the house looks, how she has changed, and how she disappoints him. She has long ago stopped hoping for a card or a rose. She nods in agreement to every word with the hope that her gift on this day will not involve touches filled with rage and disgust. As she looks in the mirror that night, she thinks about how she will cover the new bruise. She will pick up the broken pieces of the mirror and carry on.

Somewhere there is a father who will lose his job today. He has been saving every penny to pay bills that have filled his mailbox since his heart attack last year. The company can no longer afford to insure him so it found other reasons to let him go. He sits in his truck in the parking lot and takes out the handful of singles in his wallet to see if he has enough to take his wife a small gift for Valentine’s Day. He knows he must have gas in the tank to look for new work so he heads home and knows the woman who sat by his side while he recovered will stand by his side through this new challenge. She has his heart and together, they will celebrate the gift of life and carry on.

Somewhere there is a family surrounding a young family member in a hospital bed. Each member of the family prays for a miracle that is getting harder and harder to believe in. Their hearts are breaking and they ask the questions – Why him? Why now? Why? If he passes on this day their memories will be forever connected to their love for him and the pieces of their spirits that will travel with him on his journey. They cannot imagine or trust in the strength they have to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Our world is full of people who celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of love, romance and endless possibilities. Our world is also full of people who see every day, including this one, as another day of heartbreak, fear, worry, and loneliness. Youth care workers, domestic violence counselors, workforce advocates, and hospital personnel are just some of the many hearts that do important work every day. They commit themselves to helping lift up others in times of need. On this day of love, please take a moment to thank someone for the gifts they share with others and know that the heart they lift up may someday be yours.

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Helpful Resource from Polaris Project

Polaris Project, an organization leading the global fight to end modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors, posted an article on their website intended to help enhance services provided for LGBTQ human trafficking victims.

Breaking Barriers: Improving Services for LGBTQ Human Trafficking Victims

Excerpt: “Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) may be disproportionately affected by human trafficking. They face higher rates of discrimination and homelessness, making them especially vulnerable to traffickers.”

Read the full article here: http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/resources/breaking-barriers-lgbtq-services

Polaris-logo

Why YOU Should be Teaching Online Safety!

By: Jenna Ryckebusch, Senior Programs Coordinator, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

For the past 31 years, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) has been the leading nonprofit organization serving as the national clearinghouse and resource center for families, law enforcement and the public to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation and prevent future victimization. As part of the services and resources we provide to educators, families, children and the public, NCMEC has made available and delivered thousands of Internet safety presentations to parents, young children, teens and youth-serving professionals. NCMEC’s presentations cover issues ranging from sexting to cyberbullying to being a good digital citizen. After several of our presentations, teens have approached NCMEC staff members looking for help because they were experiencing one of the issues we discussed.

According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” Just as teens are naturally vulnerable in life, they are also online. They often want to act older, crave attention and aren’t thinking about the long-term consequences their online activity may have. That’s why it’s so important for every teen to learn about online risks and have an adult they can go to for guidance.

Teens may not feel comfortable opening up to their parents, but may approach their friends or other trusted adults first. Teens may see YOU as that trusted adult, which puts you in a powerful position. If you raise the issue of online risks with teens before anything happens, they will be even more likely to come to you if they need help.*

This is why I advocate for prevention and teaching about these risks early. One of the best defenses children have is awareness. NetSmartz® Workshop, an educational program of NCMEC, offers many free resources your team can use to help educate and empower teens to make safer decisions online and in the real world. Use the following free resources to help you get started:

  • Teaching Digital Citizenship – Learn what digital citizenship is, why it’s so important, and how to teach it with this online educator training.
  • Online Safety Presentations – Deliver easy-to-use presentations that utilize the latest statistics, online resources, videos, and expert tips to empower teens to be safer online.
  • Real-Life Stories – Encourage teens to evaluate their own online choices with these videos of teens who have experienced online victimization or digital drama firsthand.
  • Tip Sheets – Distribute these after a presentation or at an event to educate others in your community about the main online risks.
  • NetSmartz News – Sign up for the monthly email newsletter to learn about tech trends and new resources.

And since June is Internet Safety Month, this is the perfect time to commit to learning more about child sexual exploitation and teaching teens to be safer and smarter online. Get started today!

*If a teen does disclose to you or a colleague that they have been victimized online, call police and report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline (www.cybertipline.org).

Breaking Down Barriers: Working with Children, Youth, and Families Impacted by “Disabilities”

By: Dee Blose, Executive Director, Youth & Family Services, Inc.

We all have a “disability” of sorts.  I wear glasses.  Without them I would be lost in this world.  Glasses are basically my accommodation to help me better access my environment.  They help me be the best that I can be!

That is the purpose of any accommodation for someone that learns, processes, or accesses the world in a different way.  If we could think of “disabilities” as mere differences, rather than a weakness, then we have made the first step to break down a barrier for our clients.

I have had the amazing opportunity to get to know a group of children, youth and young adults with a variety of “abilities” through some of our programing here at Youth & Family Services, Inc. in El Reno, Oklahoma.  We have a partnership with AutismOklahoma.org, a state-wide parent driven autism support system.  Through that partnership we assist with a couple of summer camps, and a year round social/entrepreneurial club called Bee’s Knees.

What we have found through working with a variety of children, youth and young adults on the autism spectrum is that they are more like the rest of us than different!  And that is where our common ground lies.  Finding those “touch points” where our interests can intersect give us the perfect space to come together and share, communicate, and grow together.  Music, animals, art, and hobbies all offer this common ground that we can join together celebrating.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had with Bee’s Knees was attendance at an art show showcasing their artwork.  Youth that are quiet, non-social, suddenly open up about their art, especially when their art is about an interest of theirs.  Art about computers, video games, electronics, movies, books, animals, whatever is their passion all the sudden leads to communication and socializing.  It is a glorious sight to see them engage.  One particular young man will take a strangers arm and gently lead them over to his work.  Although he has a stutter, he is adamant that he describes his work in detail.  It always seems to actually have a complete story, a beginning and an end.  One of his works describes the process of renting a video game, everything from ordering it on-line to the postman delivering it to his mailbox, to him enjoying it (artwork included below).

gamefly

Without common ground opportunities, this type of communication would be lost, never even heard in the context of a public event or public opportunity.  It would rather be a topic of a social skills conversation where a therapist would be challenging this youth to NOT talk about his video game, but to try and stay to more “socially appropriate” topics.  I don’t know about you but one of my favorite things to talk about are my current interests, so why would they be any different?

Developing programs that capitalize on their interest and their strengths opens up the world to new possibilities.  Suddenly these barriers become moments of enlightenment and new human interactions, new appreciations for different points of wonder, new experiences from both directions.

Consider as you are identifying “barriers” to participation for children, youth, and families impacted by “disabilities” that you look at it in an entirely different way.  If you were on their side of the “barrier” what would be important to you?  Where would you want to interface and engage?  What have you got to showcase to the world?  Then build a program or event or activity from that perspective, inviting all the rest of the world (or group) to join.  It may very well be that the barrier we have erected is basically only perceived from the original perspective.  You may very well now not see a barrier, but rather a bridge that connects us all together into one glorious group of humans that can laugh, sing, dance, and participate as complimenting spirits in the program we call “life”.

For more information about Youth & Family Services in El Reno, Oklahoma, visit their website: http://www.yfsok.org/

For more information about Bee’s Knees visit their website: http://beeskneesart.com/ 

To see a full length movie (one hour) about Swanky Art Camp, including meeting many campers on the autism spectrum, view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MMDSzqtwww 

To get more general disability accommodation information, visit this websitehttp://www.aucd.org/itac/template/index.cfm

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

By: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, RHYTTAC Director, NSPN

It is officially spring and as we look for the familiar colors of yellows, pinks, reds and greens, my mind can’t help but think of other colors. These colors aren’t prevalent during any particular season. They can be seen on any day of the year – no matter where you are in our world. These colors do not bring smiles or joy to hearts looking for something warm after cold winters. These colors do not adorn new outfits worn to church or school or community picnics. These colors aren’t the desired focal points for pictures taken at family gatherings to celebrate the time spent in laughter and love. These colors are black, blue, purple, red – bruises, welts scars – different colors at different stages of healing, disappearing from the surface but only to go deeper into the soul.

As April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, NSPN joins our other local, state and national partners in calling attention to the ongoing need for all of us to protect children and to work toward addressing the short and long-term consequences of child abuse.

Each of you taking the time to read these words already know the reality. While the majority of instances of abuse go unreported and unrecognized, we know that this hidden epidemic is ever-present in our communities. Reviewing news reports and statistics will confirm that children still die – every minute – from abuse and neglect. Whether the mechanism for the abuse is a belt, a hot car, a bathtub or the back of a hand, each tool is used to a frightening degree of proficiency until it is not – and the child dies. In other cases, the children quietly carry the marks and the memories. Imaginative stories of falling while playing X-Men or attempting to bake a cake are superficially acceptable until the observant care giver realizes the bruises and burns aren’t in the right places to match the story or have happened before.

Those of us working in the youth and family services field are mandatory reporters. These may be the two most important words in our profession. If we expect abuse or neglect, we must report it. Not because we are certain, but because we can’t risk waiting for evidence to be certain. As soon as we suspect an instance of abuse, we report so that the trained interviewers and legal experts can address the safety needs of the child. What about parent rights? Yes, those are critical. And, these rights come with additional responsibilities. Parents have the responsibility to address concerns when they are voiced via appropriate mechanisms and with good intention. They also have the right to file charges and grievances should these mechanisms and reports be misused by anyone with a self-serving agenda.

Dealing with abuse almost feels like examining an eclipse. When abuse occurs the bright sunlight is briefly covered by the moon. If you stare straight at it, the effect is disconcerting and can sometimes be harmful. When you look away, you miss it and it passes so quickly that you may not even believe it happened.  For the child, they will us to recognize their situations – even when they can’t put words to what is happening to them. They ask us to check on them – to ask what has happened to them – to be ever curious and involved. Every now and then, you look into eyes that say – see my pain and my confusion and my love. Help me do better or be better so that this doesn’t happen to me. Help my mom, or my dad or my uncle or my neighbor. Help my brother or my pastor or my aunt or cousin. Help the person who hurts me so that I can love them and feel safe in my world.

National Safe Place Network envisions a world in which all youth are safe. This means safe at all times in every place – not just those designated by a sign. Join us in this recognition of the impact abuse has on our children and communities and then pledge to do something specific this month to raise awareness. Together, We Can make a difference. Our children are waiting.