This July will mark my 4 year anniversary as Child Advocate at The Dragonfly House. It didn’t take me long to realize that everything I had experienced in life – my previous jobs, my education, my family life – had prepared me for this role. It’s an interesting job to say the least, much more than the job title itself portrays. When I tell people my title they think “OK, she advocates for children”. Well yes, and no. I advocate for children, families, investigators, the process, and the outcomes in cases of abuse.
By the time I meet the children they have either already made a disclosure of abuse or someone else made a report because they suspected abuse was happening. When they arrive at our center I am the first face they see and it is my job to set the tone for the appointment and the experience they will have with us. I have to portray warmth and calmness. I have to be positive and thorough. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I am having or how I’m feeling, I have to shake it all off and be fully present for the family in front of me. They rely on me to be their guide during the time that we are together and to take the time to explain the process thoroughly before any services begin.
But my role goes beyond that of explaining services and the process. I have held hands and listened to moms talk about their own abuse as a child and how they never expected this to happen to their children. I have hugged and consoled grandparents who had just received custody of their grandchildren because the children’s mom chose to keep the offender in the home instead of protecting her children. I have watched dads break down in tears because they felt like they didn’t protect their kids. I have sat in court hearings with parents and reminded them to breathe. I have met with family members who had questions and needed guidance for what to do next. I become what the non-offending family members need me to be, so that they can take care of the children they are responsible for who have been abused.
While I do spend a lot of time with the children and their non-offending family members, advocacy must go much further that. I talk to the investigators and relay information. I send reports and make copies of records for court hearings. I talk to detectives and social workers about case updates and help them get information they are lacking that keeps them from moving forward with their case. I tell them about conversations I have had with family members and questions the family needs answers to. I make referrals for therapy and support groups. I advocate for the process to keep moving and not fall by the wayside or between the cracks of the system. I become the spoke of the wheel to keep things rolling so that the child and their family can have the healing, outcome and closure that they deserve.
While I love what I do, I must admit this work weighs on you. There are so many hats worn within the same day that I often forget which hat is the real me. As of last month we had 242 active open cases, and that doesn’t count the 10-12 new ones that come in each week. You can’t see and hear this much trauma day-in and day-out and not be affected by it. To do this work I have to take care of myself; period. Just like the caregivers that I work with every day, I too experience the secondary trauma that they experience from hearing these children talk about the abuse and knowing how it affects them.
My favorite thing to say to caregivers is “you have to take care of yourself; because if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your child.” Taking care of yourself means doing the things that help you get through the tough days. Doing the things that give you joy and peace. I do this work because I truly believe it is a higher calling for me. I rely heavily on my faith in God to help me be the best advocate for these children, their families and the investigators. I look at each one of these children and see the future and I cannot stand by and let our future be destroyed by abuse. So yes, I am a Child Advocate, but I am also much more than that.
Heydy Day, Child Advocate at The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center