In preparation for April’s child abuse prevention and awareness activities, I have been looking at a lot of child abuse numbers . . . statistics etc. I do not believe that the numbers ever tell the full story.
In Jackson County in 2013, there were 707 child victims of abuse or neglect. These are not the “grey void” cases. Grey void is what I call those cases that fall into the category of not good parenting decisions that do not rise to a level of founded abuse, but still have a negative impact on a child’s life. There are many cases that fall into that void.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County served 601 new child clients in 2014. (“New” is defined as first point of contact, but does not include clients receiving services that are continuing from the prior year.)
But the question is — what does this really mean? What story do the numbers tell you? What do you see when you read those numbers?
I will tell you what I see. I see sad small child faces. I see the children who go to school with my son. I see the children who sit with me in church. Those 707 live with me in this community.
What do you hear?
I will tell you what I hear. I hear silence. The kind of silence that speaks volumes. Most children do not report their abuse. Most depend on others to speak for them. Most depend on others to know what to look for and report on their behalf. Their silence screams HELP ME!
There are more numbers: 44.7% of cases of abuse and neglect founded across the state were in families where substance abuse was an issue. The next highest stress factor across the state was domestic violence, followed by financial stress. I think these numbers speak for themselves, but do not tell the full story of what this means for kids.
There is great debate across the county about what the numbers mean. Many will tell you the numbers of child abuse are decreasing. Others will tell you they are increasing. Some will cling to the decreasing numbers and tell you that “we” are doing something right. Others will tell you that the increasing numbers mean we need more in the trenches working on addressing the issue of child abuse. That debate becomes more political than I care to weigh-in on in this forum.
What I do believe is that 707 children in my world is too high.
What I know from experience, is that number will increase and decrease from year to year as we get better at identifying child abuse and as the community gets more skilled at reporting abuse to be investigated.
What I know from experience is that if you, as a system, “look” for abuse you will find it. If you are not proactive in trying to remedy the problem, you will not see that the problem exists. If no one believes, then no one reports. If no one can provide protection and safety, then no one will seek it. Crazy how that works.
I daily make a commitment to be vigilant on behalf of the children in my world. It is a struggle to balance that commitment sometimes with my family and during times when I grow weary that the issue is too big.
My son, who is 6, and I have conversations that make it seem so simple. When he was three, and I had to work late, he wondered where I had been. He asked me why he had to stay with a sitter. I thought quickly of some lie I could tell him to save myself from the larger conversation. And, if I am honest, I only told him the truth because I was too tired to be creative. I told him that I was at work. He asked me what I did at work. I responded that there was a little girl that needed me to help her be safe.
He then asked, “Why?” (Don’t you, as a parent, hate the whys?) So I sat down with him on my lap and said that sometimes adults hurt kids and there has to be someone to work to try to keep them safe and that was what my work was about. He looked at me and said, “Ok.” I saw clarity in his eyes beyond his then three years. I was sure he did not understand.
He continued the conversation and asked would I keep his friends safe if they needed me. I said. “Of course.” Thinking at that point that the conversation was over, I started to move on and he grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye and asked again. Only this time, he began to name his preschool class mates off one by one. Each time I responded, “Yes, of course I would do everything I could to keep them safe.” He wasn’t asking me as a “forensic interviewer” or “advocate”. He was asking me as a “mom”.
707 children in your world is too high. Don’t you agree?
The question that lingers is not CAN you help them, but rather — WILL you help them?
Many will read this and say that they cannot help. I challenge you that you CAN in the following ways:
• Call the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County and sign up for a child sex abuse prevention class.
• Learn the signs of child abuse.
• Be vigilant. When you see something that makes you feel like a child is unsafe, make a report to the Department of Human Services or to law enforcement. If you don’t want to do it alone, then call me at the Center and I will help you.
• When a child tells you he/she has been hurt by an adult, do not blame the child or dismiss it. Let someone figure out if that child is safe.
• Do not discount the impact on a child that witnessing domestic violence has. If you suspect that a child is living in a home where domestic violence is occurring, then make a report.
Want to do more than that? Make a donation to the Children’s Advocacy Center to support our prevention program, or to support direct services. Want to do more than even that? Call the Center and become a volunteer. We need you.
Will you help the child in your child’s class?
Will you help the child that sits next to you in church?
Will you help the child you see riding her bike on your street?
How many is too many for you? What is your bottom line?