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.