Let’s be honest, children who are victims of abuse are often times (not all times) victims because of their surroundings – or the circumstances they are placed into by those older than them and entrusted with their care. Whether it is through a home filled with domestic violence, a parent who is drug-dependent, an environment with strangers coming in and out on a regular basis, or even through neglect and lack of supervision leaving the child exposed to a person who takes advantage of them, children don’t really have a say in their environment or the situations they are placed in. So when abuse happens to little ones they really are helpless. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of children who have wonderful parents and who live in healthy environments who still fall victim to abuse – it is not the parents fault by any means. But still, statistically we see more of the opposite. So I am going to speak on those that we see more of statistically – those who have been betrayed by an adult they love and care for.
What if I told you that as a volunteer I make a difference to those kids? I do. I am an RN and have been volunteering my time at The Dragonfly House for nearly 3 years. Technically I am here to assist the child abuse pediatrician with her exams, but what I do outside of that role is where I make a difference. When a child is in our lobby and Heydy (the child advocate) has finished paperwork with the family, the doctor usually turns to me and says “ok, go make friends”. This may sound funny but that is what I do! I go to the lobby and talk to the kids. I get down on the floor with them and play. We build blocks, connect train tracks, and put together puzzle pieces. I immediately show them I am a safe person and they can trust me. You would be surprised at the large number of kids who come through our doors that have no adult they can trust. Some don’t even have an adult who will sit down and play blocks or puzzles with them.
I do this until everyone else is ready to provide services to the child, at which time I sit back and wait until I am needed again. This is usually at the end of the forensic interview. I wait for the child by the interview room door and when they come out I take them to our closet to pick out a t-shirt and blanket. They will use these during the medical exam and I get to tell them that they need to pick one they like because they will get to keep it. This surprises a lot of the kids. Sometimes they look at me and say “really? I get to pick it out? And keep it?” It makes me smile to tell them “yes” and see their joy at such simple items we all take for granted every day in life.
Once in the medical exam room I make a point to tell them everything I am going to do. Most of the time they trust me by now and I don’t want to break that trust. I tell them that I want them to change into their t-shirt, wrap up in the blanket and then come see me so we can see how much they weigh and how tall they are – then I do those very things. I then tell them I am going to take their blood pressure (this little thing is going to give their arm a hug and tell me how well their heart is beating) and then I am going to count how many times their heart beats in a minute – then I do those very things. I don’t want to be another adult in their life who has betrayed them or let them down so I do exactly what I tell them I am going to do. Then I let the doctor do her job. While she is performing her exam I work hard to be another set of hands and eyes. I help by observing reactions and behaviors. I help my distracting and making the dragonflies hanging from the ceiling fly. I help by making funny faces so the child will laugh and relax. I help by being there as comfort during an exam – which no matter how non-invasive still seems scary when you don’t know what to expect. I help…. Plain and simple. And by helping and volunteering my specialized nursing skills, I am making a difference in the life of that child.
I work full-time and volunteer here as much as I can but there are only a few of us who do this and it’s NOT enough. The wonderful staff and these precious kids need more nurse volunteers to “help”. Could you be one of those? Could you donate your specialized skills to make a difference in the life of a child? I challenge you to look inside yourself and see if you have what it takes to “make friends” with the children who cross through the doors at The Dragonfly House. I bet you will find that it just might change your life as much as it changes theirs.
Daughn Eagan, 2015 Volunteer of the Year