Through Their Eyes

 

By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County

I have a birthday in April. I have no qualms about the number. I will be turning 47.

26 of those years have been spent working in one role or another in the field of child abuse. Wow!

That equates to more than half of my life spent responding to child abuse and trying to bring awareness to one of the most pervasive public health issues of modern times (or at least in my opinion.)

The pendulum has swung from one end of the spectrum to the other and everywhere in between, as far as practice in securing safety and investigation of child abuse during my career. When I began, you were told to believe everything a child told you and then, later, it was to be suspicious of everything a child told you.

Somewhere along the way, there were guidelines put in place for talking with children in a way that invited an open narrative, that minimized contamination of the information and was more trauma informed.

There are still people who will never believe what a child tells them about abuse. If I had any advice for anyone trying to figure this out in their own life — it would be that it is better err on the side of keeping the child safe.

Here are some things that I have learned along the way about figuring out next steps and what to believe, and because I think ranking is overvalued, they are not in any particular order:

Most non-offending caregivers want to believe their child and want to believe the abuser because what does it say about their character to not believe their child? And WHAT does it say about their character if they allowed an offender into their child’s life. Those offenders are tricky and manipulative. You can do everything right and they still are able to slip into our lives. So what does it really say about them? Does it mean they are a terrible parent? I do not believe so. Does it mean they do not love their child? I do not believe so. Does it mean they are a horrible person? Nope. The really important thing is once they learn of the abuse, what is their response to their child? Do they do whatever needs to be done to keep them safe? Do they do whatever needs to be done to help their child begin healing? Do they engage in that healing process with them? We always hope so.

When faced with having to make a decision on whether to believe a child or the accused offender, you should never base your decision on what the offender tells you.

If there is an investigation (and there should be, because if a child tells you something, you should report it so that it can be fully investigated by professionals specially trained to do so, in order to get unbiased opinions and to secure the safety of your child) then talk to the professionals investigating, talk to people who work with offenders in a treatment process, talk to anyone involved who will talk to you. Listen to what they have to say. Listen to what their opinion is. Then carefully make a decision.

But don’t make a decision out of fear…fear of not having money to pay the bills, fear of being alone, or fear of the unknown. Don’t make a decision that is based on the least painful path.

Believing a child, keeping them safe, loving them, and giving them support does not sound painful, but it can be. But know that however painful it is for you, it is much more painful for that child. Children are very protective of the people they love. It is painful for them to hurt the non-offending people in their lives. They know that their words will change the world. They know their words can bring the walls in on top of them. They know their words will bring on a domino effect that cannot be reversed.

My birthday wish this year is that if you are struggling with making a decision of whether to believe or not believe your child…..that you will reach out …..to someone who is unbiased, who has some experience in dealing with this issue, to help you.

If you reach out to me, know that I will help you, but also know that I will make a report to either law enforcement or child protection. Your child’s health, happiness and future depends on my doing so.

 

Photo mother and child

 

 

 

 

 

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