By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
I worry that children who face trauma inflicted on them by their parent or trusted adult might never become inspired, but stay defeated.
When I was a case worker, I would often wonder why some children who suffer enormous abuse go on and accomplish great things and others spiral into self-destruction or destruction of others. If you lined up two case records next to each other…they may read the same, but have very different outcomes for the children.
I once asked one of the young people I worked with, who not only survived in the aftermath of his abuse — but thrived, why was it that he did so well when others in similar circumstances did not.
I really didn’t expect an answer. It was a deep discussion we were having over pizza after his 8th grade graduation. He looked at me shrugged and didn’t answer at first. I had attended the ceremony and we were out celebrating his accomplishment. They had sung a song at their graduation. Maybe some of you remember this song, “I Believe I Can Fly”. It was corny. It was expected. It was what you did at eighth grade graduation ceremonies.
He fidgeted a bit. He dropped his eyes. I smiled at him in the awkwardness. I went on to tell him I knew he was going to do great things. I didn’t mean to put him on the spot. I let him know I just wanted to know what could be different for those kids who aren’t doing okay, who are in similar situations. I apologized for making him feel uncomfortable.
He slowly began to talk and I got very quiet and listened intently. He told me that he didn’t feel like he was doing okay. He was surviving. He was focused on getting through. He told me he felt like a fake because, when he sang with his classmates, he didn’t believe he could fly.
I actually fought back my tears in order to keep this conversation with this young man going without distracting him with my own feelings…in my head questioning why I ever started this conversation. We sat in silence a little longer eating pizza. He looked at me and he said he thought the difference…the thing that made him different was that someone thought he was worth it. I smiled. I actually for a moment thought he was talking about me. I thought he was talking about that I thought he was worth it. I was young and still full of ego.
He went on to explain that whoever called in his abuse saved his life.
If they didn’t save him from being beaten to death, they surely saved him from ending his life prematurely. He told me he had no idea who it was. He talked about how if someone took the time to save him, then he felt like there must have been something worth saving. The only way he knew to repay that debt was to move on and do something with his life. He said he only had two choices: to begin to believe in himself or to totally come undone.
We left that pizza parlor with the radio blasting, singing “I Believe I Can Fly” at the top of our lungs. I am sure that was a sight to see and probably worse to hear.
I took him back to his foster home. Not long after that, I think he went to live with a relative. I moved on to another case and another child, but not before reading through his file to see who had made the report.
It was a teacher.
It was a teacher that I had met that day at the graduation. According to the report, the teacher had actually made two other reports that didn’t get assigned, before the final concern that led to this child being removed.
I reached out to that teacher to thank her for making the report. I wanted her to know that her phone call saved a life. While talking to her on the phone, she burst into tears. She asked me which child I was talking about. She had made a dozen calls dealing with dozens of children during the school year.
I told her I had made a mistake. She had saved a dozen lives.
I could hear her releasing her breath very slow and could hear a small sob on the other end of the line. She quietly said thank you and then went on to relate a story of how a colleague always tried to talk her out of making those calls. The argument was always that kids want to stay with their parents, kids won’t talk anyway, you don’t want to ruin a life by making a mistake…all the familiar reasons.
I encouraged her to always make that calls. To make it because her students mattered. To make the call because abuse victims suffer in silence and need someone to stand up on their behalf. To make that call because they need to know they are worth the ten minutes it might take to make a report.
What is the take away?
As April’s Child Abuse Awareness/Prevention month draws near — remember that every child counts.
Remember that your call may save a life. If you suspect abuse report it.
Every child is worth it.