National Children’s Alliance Position on Family Separation

national childrens alliance logoEarlier this year the Trump Administration began enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy that arrests and prosecutes all individuals who illegally enter the United States. However, because this policy applies to adults and not children, families that are attempting to cross the border together are being separated, with the parents being arrested and the children being placed with sponsors, in shelters or other facilities.

We are deeply concerned of the impact a policy of separating families at the border may have on children. Because Children’s Advocacy Centers have been on the front lines in protecting children and serving abused kids for almost 30 years, we see first-hand the effects childhood trauma can have on children, families, and communities.

Individuals may differ on the best policy prescriptions to address immigration and border security.  What is indisputable, however, is the potential for lasting harm to children experiencing family separation due to the implementation of such policies.

A sizeable body of research literature exists on the negative health and mental health outcomes of children who endure traumatic separation from parents and caregivers.  For a child to grow to a healthy and contributing adulthood he/she must be able to trust, feel safe, and form lasting familial attachments.  Threats to any of these seriously threaten healthy childhood development.

Children who are separated from their parents experience overwhelming fear, anxiety, loss of attachment, and terror.  That is greatly exacerbated when the separation is sudden, inexplicable, and neither the child nor parent knows the location of, nor can communicate with, each other.  Whatever the intended public policy outcome of such practices, the only sure outcome for children is trauma.

To prevent lasting harm to these children, we urge Congress and the Administration to work together to end family separation immediately and permanently as a part of immigration policy and border enforcement.

National Children’s Alliance
516 C Street NE
Washington DC 20002
202 548 0090 telephone
202 548 0099  facsimile

How an injury on a child could be an opportunity for intervention

In the past six months, both the Davidson County and Davie County Departments of Social Services (DSS) have seen dramatic influxes of child physical abuse case reports. In fact, Davidson County DSS set a record for the month of August for the number of reported physical abuse cases. Due to this increase, The Dragonfly House has experienced a 120% increase in physical abuse cases seen here when compared to the same time period as last year.

Several staff members, along with two Davidson County detectives and three Davidson and Davie County social workers, recently had the opportunity to attend a physical abuse simulation in Chapel Hill along with other Children’s Advocacy Center health care providers, Child Protective Services social workers and detectives from throughout the state. All attendees have experience working with child abuse cases within their communities.

The focus of the training was physical abuse in children two years of age and younger. These are our most vulnerable population because they lack the verbal skills to provide details of what has happened to them. In addition, there may be no witnesses to the events happening and the family dynamics might prevent family members talking about their suspicions of other family members.

In our training, the main topic was “sentinel” injuries. Sentinel injuries are previous injuries of children that may precede a future non-accidental trauma or even death. These types of injuries may be a bruise on the face, ears, back, upper arms or upper legs, trauma to the mouth or a broken blood vessel in the eye. Sentinel injuries are sometimes seen as warning signs of impending traumatic injuries.

sentinel injuries 5

When health care providers are presented with sentinel injuries, the recommendations for additional testing are skeletal surveys, head scans, eye exams and comprehensive blood work. Skeletal surveys and head scans might show healing fractures indicating previous breaks in the bones. Head scans could also reveal soft tissue swelling in the brain which might be sign of a child being shaken. Eye exams may uncover retinal hemorrhages from a child being punched or slapped in the area of the eye. Blood work rules out any blood disorders that could cause excessive bruising or might even indicate irregularities that point to an abdominal punch or kick to the liver or pancreas.

Our training took each group through a scenario that involved several, different sentinel injuries of a child that had previously been missed by multiple healthcare providers in various healthcare settings. We were able to see the differences in the roles of detectives and social workers and the questions they ask. However, the primary goal for all of us was the safety of the child. Each group worked together as multidisciplinary teams to make recommendations on whether to bring charges against one of the parents and the safest place for the child to live. At the end of the training, we were brought together to discuss the different recommendations from all of the groups which were all very similar. Two Assistant District Attorneys then discussed the court process once charges were filed.

While we all gained significant knowledge of the responsibilities that each discipline provides in the investigation of child abuse cases, the most significant lesson learned from our training was for all of us to remain mindful of sentinel injuries in children 2 years of age and under and the role these injuries might play in children’s futures. Sometimes injuries that seem insignificant could actually be opportunities for intervention and may save children’s lives.

Daughn Eagan, RN, BSN
Medical Coordinator
The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center

Don’t Play With Prevention

CSAPreventionMonth2017DidYouKnowInfographicExperts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. It is a fact that child abuse does not discriminate. As you are reading this sentence, a child is being abused in your neighborhood. While these abuse statistics are staggering, the solution is crystal clear. 95% of child abuse is preventable through education and awareness. 95%!! What are we doing as a community to prevent child abuse from happening? What are you doing to prevent your own children from being victims of abuse? We have many wonderful agencies and organizations in our community to protect and support children after they’ve been victim to abuse or neglect— but what can WE do as a preventative measure? On-going, open and honest communication is a great place to start.

Parents— talk openly and often with your children. Talk to them about their bodies and use correct terminology when discussing private parts. Do not get creative or cute with naming private parts. Correct terminology is important and plays a vital role in prevention. Offenders will try to teach secret names for private parts to children. It is our responsibility to educate our children on their bodies and plan for their safety before an offender has the opportunity to do so. As parents, we must take the initiative to be the first ones to educate our children.

Have regular and on-going conversations with your children about safe and unsafe secrets. An example of a safe secret would be keeping it a secret that Dad is planning a surprise birthday party for Mom. An unsafe secret is a secret that involves someone being hurt, shame and/or any potential unsafe situation. A great online free resource for families is to use to become comfortable talking about safety and family safety planning is https://safersmarterfamilies.org/. Be sure to check out this resource and the custom family safety plan generator!

Life gets busy but make talking to your children be a top priority. Check-in with your children every single day. I try to ask my kiddos every evening what their favorite part of their day was and what the least favorite part of their day was. For our family, this is a great way connect with our kids and be supportive as they navigate the through the ups and downs in life. You may be surprised the things you may learn when asking your children about their least favorite part of their day. This question can often be a natural segway into important reminders you can offer them, such as: they can talk to you about anything, you will always believe them, good touch versus bad touch and safe versus unsafe secrets.

Lastly, trust your instincts. Be aware. Do not assume all people, family and friends have the same good intentions as you. If something about a situation does not feel right, trust your instincts. As parents, we are the most vital advocate for our children. Teach them, trust them, educate them and empower them every opportunity that you have.

Aubrey Draughn, BSW/MA, CTP-E
Multi-Disciplinary Team Member of The Dragonfly House and Guest Blogger

An upstream solution…

During our Child Abuse Prevention Month Kick-off, I suggested two opinions of child abuse prevention. “Prevention is for everyone” and “We, the adults, are responsible.”

My personal philosophy of child abuse prevention is that it be a purposeful initiative to reduce child abuse occurrences and liberate those that may be silent victims.  When working with young people I am responsible for directly communicating what abuse is to children of all ages and intentionally engaging with students in the simplest way possible to allow them to hear and respond to a dark and unfortunate piece of our real world. There is no guarantee that child abuse occurrences will be fewer in a community exclusively because of active prevention.  However, with prevention there is some possibility that more children are given the knowledge in how to recognize and respond to mistreatment or danger of themselves or their peers.

The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center has given hope to hundreds of victims of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment in Davie, Davidson, and surrounding counties.  When looking at data, the number of reported abuse cases are not decreasing; this identifies a cycle of abuse within our communities.  Investigative services will always be needed.  These services will protect and defend victims, but may not necessarily prevent the issue.  Prevention is an additional step taken by the people in a community.  Caring to know and knowing what to share are the first commitments.

When abuse of a child happens, it breaks down the connectivity of the child and the community around them in some sense.  Child abuse can cripple the ability of a community to grow if it is not seen and not heard.  Child abuse divides people–those that are advocating for children, those who may be ignoring children or the problem, and those that are mistreating children and causing the abuse. Any one of us can know or be an acquaintance to someone that has experienced or is connected to child abuse.  No one is excused or eliminated from THE ISSUE.

The staff at our center and the members of our multi-disciplinary team are here to help repair the damage after the disclosure has been made, but what about the work that can be done to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place?

Take a moment to write down the first names of 10 children you know – friends of your children, children of your friends, children in your neighborhood or church, etc.

Reflect on each name and remember that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday.  Who on your list WILL be affected by sexual abuse, if they haven’t already? Are you willing to wait until that abuse occurs to put help apply the band-aid or are you willing to speak up now and teach those children about abuse and how to end it?

Let’s work together to provide an UPSTREAM SOLUTION to this downstream problem.

E-mail me today at sheria@thedragonflyhouse.com and ask how you can help upstream.

Sheria White, Community Educator

Youtube video is a courtesy of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

All I Want For Christmas…

During Christmas 1987, Sharon Batts took our nation by storm.  PowerSource, a Christian Pop band out of Bedford, Texas, made headlines throughout our country with their hit single (released in 1986 but made a staple on holiday radios in 1987) about something real; something that very few people wanted to talk about.  With a voice of innocence and sweet sincerity, Sharon mournfully sang about a national crisis then and now.  Dear Mr. Jesus is a “child’s lamentation” for abuse.

When I first heard this song, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I felt a combination of anger, sadness, and fear.  Sharon’s tiny voice singing for reason and resolution to something so large brought tears to my soul.  Today, we can read about how the country responded to Dear Mr. Jesus.  It touched many, was requested on the radio, and provoked a rise in calls to many child abuse hotlines during that time.  When nine-year-old Sharon was asked to share her thoughts of the songs impact, she responded innocently, “I didn’t know it would ever come to anything this big.”

In and beyond our community, child neglect and abuse is a growing issue. An issue where excuses are made and indications are overlooked.  The words that young Sharon sang forced our nation, at that time, to visualize the physical abuse of children.

Please don’t let them hurt your children
We need love and shelter from the storm
Please don’t let them hurt your children
Won’t you keep us safe and warm

These same words are a cry for all forms of child abuse to stop.  It seems that people place so much value in music and entertainment; how revolutionary it might be to have awareness and prevention of child abuse regularly at the forefront of media.  I wonder the response if Sharon’s song was aired or re-created today.  Artist and songwriters of today like Matthew West (Broken Girl), Christina Aguilera (I’m OK), Martina McBride (Concrete Angel) are among others that have used their voices as vessels of hope for ending child abuse.

As you look forward to your holiday time with loved ones, consider the words of Dear Mr. Jesus.  Should you hear it, pay attention to the complex thoughts that come from the lyrics.  Take a moment to feel for the heartache of the children that are not so jolly during this time of year.  For many of us this may be imaginable, but not our reality.  As with the song, a child requesting love for all children can make the strongest of hearts feel a discomfort that makes them realize there needs to be a change.

Stay Focused on Child Happiness During the Holiday and Everyday:

  • It is common for families to face challenges and frustration. There is so much to do and so many emotions that adults and children alike feel. Remember to stay calm with the children you care for before resorting to hitting or yelling in response to behavior challenges.  Often intense anger or reactions come from other issues of an adult, not the child.
  • As you may plan to attend adult-only holiday gatherings and events, assure a suitable sitter for your children. Make sure that you’re a child is comfortable with this individual as well.  If your child can communicate, question their time and enjoyment with their caregiver.
  • While visiting with new and familiar faces during this time of year, keep in mind to not force your child to give hugs and kisses to every friend and family member. They are children and should not be required to be overly affectionate if they do not wish to.  If a shy hello is all a child is willing to give, that is okay.
  • School-age children are home for the holidays. There are more possibilities of extended TV, electronic, and bed times. Many children will be given cell phones, tablets, and other devices for Christmas.  Don’t provide permission without oversee! Check to make sure your children are watching and accessing appropriate shows, movies, websites, chat groups, and games.  Don’t hesitate to check social media activity!
  • Enjoy your family time! This may be one of a few opportunities where everyone is together with little rush.  Laugh, love, and talk together.  If you are fortunate to have time off, engage with your family, especially your children.  Talk to them about what is happening in their lives, get a gauge on their wellness and happiness, grasp insight on what they want and believe in as children of this world that we live in today.  You may be surprised by what you learn from engaging in conversation with a child of any age. 

    Have A Very Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year,
    Sheria White
    Community Educator at The Dragonfly House

 

The Little Elephant; Circumstance, In Your Control

little-elephantI once heard The Little Elephant.  The short story was told that one day, a boy and girl went to the circus with their mother and father.  There, they saw a huge elephant tied to a tiny stake with a rope.

“Daddy”, asked the boy, “The Elephant is so big and strong, but the stake is so small and short. He could set himself free just by taking a few steps over. Why doesn’t he just do it?”

The mother and father smiled first at each other.  The father replied, “When the elephant was very small and just a baby, he did try to break away from that stake.  Back then he wasn’t quite strong enough to break free. He tried and tried, until he finally gave up, believing that it was impossible to free himself. Now, he is a larger elephant, but he doesn’t try anymore.  He doesn’t believe it’s possible to break free.”

The moralistic themes of the story could go in many directions and could be used to drive many points, especially to young people.  However, I would like to focus my thinking on one thought that is considerably relevant.  People can be the same as the circus elephant.  Many things happen to us during childhood.  Those things can be common life events or continuing circumstances that we are born and raised into. Often, we try relentlessly, even during our childhood, to change those things.  If a person gives up, for whatever reason, on trying to change circumstances and fix things; they may remain tied to them, as if with ropes to tiny stakes, just like the elephant. Adverse things that we could easily move from, can become things we are willing to stand by.

I concluded a prevention class with teens by reminding them to consider the fact that they are in control of their circumstances.  I explained the value of our community and the people that are responsible for assuring children are safe and well.  It is important that youth all over know that they are in control of changing things that are confusing, uncomfortable, or unsafe in their lives by seeking the help that they need by, first, speaking up.

The circumstances that children are put in vary.  Children are well cared for by parents that are emotionally involved and responsible in nurturing.  Other children are raised by caretakers and busy parents working multiple jobs.   Some children have an incarcerated parent, an addict parent, or a parent emotionally detached from the family.  To imply that children are in control of their circumstances seems erroneous and perhaps insensible.  Consider that perhaps if young people are given appropriate explanation of their worth early in life, and taught how to address a need for any change, they may find that their circumstances are not, ever, out of their control.

When working with teens in our community, I stress that they are to recognize a plan for their life…their blueprint.  We focus on four words in this prevention program; You, Others, Cope, and Live.  The emphasis of the prevention is placed in empowering participants with the understanding that they are first in control of themselves, YOU; this is identifying what they want in life, of themselves, and what they know they should have. Next, I have them reflect on OTHERS; others will have an impact on their lives. We evaluate what happens in relationships with others by interpreting the positives and negatives that can occur between people.  Finally, we discuss how to COPE in numerous dilemmas.  We focus on the various outlets that a person can use to speak out during struggles so that they may LIVE with hope and strength for their future.

The rise and fall of life’s roller coaster can make anyone want to stop trying.  Especially for those that become a victim of any form of abuse.  Perhaps, if early on we believe that we have a priceless tag on us–then we can certainly believe that we should want more for ourselves.  This means never settling for less than the best of love, care, and support of those present in our lives.  Understanding that we can step away to make a change, it’s never too late.  More specifically, one must try not to let tiny stakes remain to become giant posts that cause interferences in their ability to cope and believe in more for their future.

Sheria White, Community Educator

Little eyes are watching….

bully-1(1).jpgAlbert Bandura’s social learning theory explains how people (children) learn from one another through ways of observation, imitation, and modeling. With that said, how do you think this election has affected our children? Their behaviors? Their thoughts and attitudes? And, how they perceive interactions with adults?

Commercials, ads, and billboards constantly show and advertise, over and over, this accepted bullying behavior. And, then crowds cheering it on passionately accepting this as a cultural norm. I think every year, we cringe when we know election time is coming because we hear advertisement after advertisement of one person putting down another. How does this set an example for our youth? What does this show them about government? Bullying is what gets you somewhere? I hope not. This particular election cycle seems to be nastier than ever before.  We are continuously seeing that the bickering spreads from the tv screen to social media and into the home. All the while our kids are watching…and learning.

Bullying has become even more complex over the past couple years in particular. Social media has played a huge role in this due to constant interactions among teens in and out of school. Bullying is not just in the halls at school, but displayed on the screens and homepages of multiple apps downloaded on student’s phones. It never stops. I’m sure we have all heard of one, or many, cases of teens going to lengths as suicide due to this bullying behavior.

Certain forms of child abuse (such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe neglect and lack of supervision, domestic violence in the home, drug exposure, etc.) create vulnerability for kids to either become bullies or become victims of bullying. For instance, some kids who are abused might learn that violence is the way to deal with problems, and therefore physically bully their peers at school.

According to the website www.stompoutbullying.org, 1 out of 4 kids is bullied and 42% of kids have been bullied while online.

Signs that a child is being bullied can include:

  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Self-deprecating talk
  • Staying away from friends
  • Crying Episodes
  • Frequent complaints of headaches and/or stomach aches
  • Unexplained bruises

Children with disabilities may be at a higher risk of being bullied than other children.

In addition to the short-term signs of bullying, there are many long-term effects that need to be considered.  Kids who are bullied have fear instilled in them and over time may:

  • Lose all self-esteem
  • Suffer from severe depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses
  • Suffer from more physical health issues
  • Could turn to drug and alcohol use
  • Could start self-harming
  • Some kids are so tormented that they use suicide as an alternative. 

The above signs are signs of bullying but are also signs of other abuse as well. If your child displays any of these signs talk with them and talk with the school staff to learn more about what’s going on.  When talking with your child, don’t just ask if they’re being bullied.

In a study of 700 fifth grade students it was found in student self-reports that:

  • 14% are bullies
  • 12% are victims
  • 8% are both bullies & victims
  • 66% not involved in bullying

When groups were compared on the amount of victimization in other areas (i.e., outside of the school) they reported:

  • Bully-victims reported the most child maltreatment (44%), which included experiences with physical and psychological abuse and neglect.
  • Bully-victims also reported the highest rates of sexual victimization(32%), which included experiences with sexual harassment as well as sexual abuse, and included familial and non-familial perpetrators.
  • Bully-victims and bullies witnessed higher levels of victimization within their homes (domestic violence) and communities (witnessing attacks) than other youth (59% for bully-victims, 61% for bullies).

Most children are too embarrassed or are afraid to tell an adult about bullying. They may think that involving an adult will only make the problem worse. But you can prepare children by teaching them socialization skills, modeling friendly behavior, and telling them that you will always be there for them. Mention that if something bothers them, they can also talk to their teacher or with a school counselor.  Schools have done an amazing job with bullying education and prevention – with most schools now requiring suspension for bullying behaviors. It is never too early to begin these conversations.

If you do suspect a child is being abused or has been bullied, appropriate mental health treatment is strongly recommended.  The problem is that even though it is recommended and a much-needed service, it is becoming harder and harder to obtain. The most important thing that we can leave with you today to think about is that mental health should be one of our top priorities as a country. Technology has changed, and is changing, the way our brains work. We are becoming increasingly less interactive and more isolated as a whole. Those in need of mental health services often become frustrated because they aren’t able to get the services they need and give up.

We cannot begin to describe how difficult it has become to get the children we serve proper therapeutic treatment.  We strive to make sure that every child who is truly in need of mental health services can receive it free of charge and regardless of the requirements that insurance mandates. Mental Health Clinicians are being forced to jump through multiple hoops just to provide an evidence based treatment to a child who was proven to experience abuse.  Some clinicians have even stopped accepting specific insurances because the demands are too unreasonable. Throughout all of this, the ones who are suffering are the children…the ones who depend on us for help…the ones who are being taught these abusive behaviors because they are experiencing it firsthand themselves…the ones who have no options but those that we (as a nation) give them.

Brandi Reagan & Jenny Smith