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

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“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”

sheria-desk-with-booksMany educators find this statement, originally made by George Bernard Shaw, offensive.  Most educators find their daily role so demanding with an under-appreciation from those around them.  So if anyone dare say that a teacher “can’t” do anything, they are asking for battle.   Perhaps there may be some truth in the phrase, but its usual insinuation grossly underestimates the talents of those who teach.

I was a teacher for nearly 9 years of my young life.  I came in as an educator at 21 years old—when life is just beginning as most people would say.  I took on a career of which maturity, momentum, and focus was required.  I adopted the lifestyle naturally, so I never struggled with identifying myself as a teacher — a leader for our youth. Teaching at the K-12 level involves managing the behavior of 20-30 kids, being mindful of individual student health, academic levels, and family life, aiding the followers and leaders, and loving both slackers and over-achievers.  All while developing and delivering effective lessons that meet state and local standards. That, overall, is the role of any average teacher.  Knowing content –the being able to “do”—is just part of the skills of a great teacher.  A great teacher will make strong efforts to connect with students.  Connections that can inspire young people.  Many connections are made to gain trust.  Through gaining trust of young people, adults find themselves immediately responsible for all that happens to them.

My first class whipped me into shape starting on day one.  I pursued a challenging school because I said I wanted to teach students that needed me.  I got just that! I did not teach at the most challenging school in my district; however, I was assigned a group of young minds that had seen, heard, and experienced more than the average 5th grader of that time.  My days consisted of tears, fights, non-compliance, and concerns with sex and drugs.  At times, there seemed to be no end to the drama of any of my boys and girls.  Through it all, I found my position as their teacher and made way through all of their priorities to survive life outside of school.  During my years working with youth, I have spent weekends on fields and in gyms supporting what parents could not or would not.  I bought hair-cuts, field trips, meals, groceries, clothes, and school supplies.  I spent evenings in hospitals supporting students of mom’s and caregivers battling cancer.  I cleaned up homes of students with drug-addicted parents.  I answered calls to kids stranded, and made calls to report negligence.   I stayed after school and arrived early to mentor and tutor. I wore mom shoes before giving birth to my own children.  I was doctor and therapist without the degree. I felt tiredly fulfilled.

As a student, I was a successful over achiever.  I flourished in school.  I loved going and staying in any classroom.  I took every opportunity to talk with my teachers and learn them.  I strived for and achieved every academic award that I possibly could.  I avoided sports, but I participated in every academic club possible.  My mother encouraged piano, dance, pageants, and talent showcases; I obliged every opportunity and was recognized for my talent confidence.  I knew at 7, that I would teach others.  In elementary school, I was leading my after-school program as a mini-instructor—playing school with the other kids acting as the teacher and having them captivated for after-school hours in whatever I wanted them to do.  Perhaps the teacher’s pet; I looked for any opportunity to lead the others and stay close to adults of the school.  Any place where there was learning was my happy place.

For many kids school is their happy place — often their only safe place.  I think of my friends and classmates who often seemed eager to be in school, yet struggled to be successful.  Could it be that home life was so uncomfortable that school was the only good place to be despite how difficult it may have been to do well?  As a teacher, I eventually realized that many of my students could care less about what I was teaching; they just needed to be in my presence.  This is where they felt loved and safe; home was not where they wanted to be most.

Often times, people invest perfection in one area of life so that those areas that are cloudy and gray with failure don’t seem so bad.  As mentioned before, my school life was successful, but I can identify many struggles in my life outside of school.  I struggled socially and often my social atmosphere did not match my honors achievements and intellect.  I resorted to many temptations and was challenged in relationships.  I did not say “No” to the many things I should have and I secretively tested the waters on things that could have cost me my life or my freedoms.  Being the smarty with silent issues ultimately helped me as a teacher.  I knew how to get on a level with kids that were having difficulties.  I understood the reason for A’s and B’s just as well as I did F’s.  I understood outstanding behavior just as well as I did acting out.  I was no street thug, but I understood street life. I was able to make myself a great educator because I connected with students on a life level so that I could reach them not only through books, but through their hearts.

When the opportunity came to work as a Community Educator at The Dragonfly House, I found a chance to regain and renew my sense of self in my career as an educator.  My job at The Dragonfly House involves teaching abuse awareness and prevention, teaching appropriate relationships between adults and young people, and working to impact our community in becoming better.  I am now finally able to combine my “can do” and “can’t do” and create something sublime. This is why I believe that Shaw’s quote is not completely incorrect.  In my current place, I am taking my life experiences and teaching abilities (my can do) and pairing it with the heart wrenching issue of which I was not directly a victim (my can’t do).  I can explain to any child how to love and protect themselves from the harm of others, which is why I do this.  I can’t change their home lives, dangers they face, or the roots of which they come from. Therefore, I teach them empowerment to survive what has or may come.  I am just a small link in the enormous resource available to change any child’s life.

I can love, help, listen, and respond to issues that children face; therefore I do.

I can’t accept abuse and negligence of a child, protect every child, or identify myself as a victim; so I teach as many as I can the path to liberation.

Sheria White
Community Educator at The Dragonfly House

To learn more about our Community Education Program or to schedule a presentation/training for your group, visit our website at www.thedragonflyhouse.com/communityeducation or call Sheria at 336-753-6155.  

P.I.R.

PIRPerception is reality. A concept I learned about in one of my favorite high school classes and a concept that has stuck with me throughout the years. But over these years, as I have been educated on and been trained in helping victims of abuse, and especially children of abuse, it’s a concept that I am having to think about with a more open mind. As I hope you all can.

For instance, think about the question: “Wouldn’t a child who was being abused tell?”

This is perhaps one of the most common questions that I, as the Forensic Interviewer, get asked. And I get it. It makes sense. If I, as an adult, was being punched or kicked I would immediately tell someone. Or if someone began to touch me in a sexual manner and I had not agreed to this, you better believe that I would tell someone. Because I’m an adult. And that’s what you do when someone hurts you.

But let’s just say for a minute that I am a 5 year old little boy. And my mom’s new boyfriend has told me that if I tell ANYONE about what happens in my bedroom at night when he touches me, he will kill someone that I love. And gosh, I sure do love my mom and my new puppy. And when I look into those scary, black eyes of his and see how big his hands are, I believe him.

Or let’s say that I am a 14 year old girl who has fallen in love for the first time. And he has promised me that we will be together forever. He tells me how beautiful I am and how lucky he is. He makes me feel like I am the only girl in this whole, crazy world. Never mind that he is the 35 year old dad of my best friend. We are in love.

What if even, I am a 9 year old little girl and I am the big sister. I have three younger siblings who depend on me. I am the one who makes sure they have food and I am the one who gets everyone dressed in the morning. Where are mom and dad? Depends. Probably passed out drunk or high, that is IF they made it home last night. And if I tell the nice lady about the bed bugs and the rats and the time dad hit me so hard everything went black, and I get taken away, who will take care of my siblings? They need me.

I have days where I interview children and they do share with me. They share about their abuse and the heartache that they have gone through. But I also have days where those little faces don’t share. Or rather, they CAN’T share with me. Because the fear is too deep, the threats are too scary, and the feelings are too real. And those are things that I can’t see and I can’t perceive

And this is where the wonderfulness that is The Dragonfly House comes into play. Because we work together as a team. We work to figure out the true realities that compose these children’s lives.  We receive very specific training and education on how to communicate and how to read the signs of abuse and trauma.

So my challenge to you is this, rather than asking, “Wouldn’t a child who was being abused tell?” work together with us to figure out “Why wouldn’t an abused child tell?” Open up your mind and attempt to perceive a different type of reality. The reality of an abused child.

Kim Craver, Forensic Interviewer

 

Faceless children…

IMG_0033b.jpgIf you are ever sitting at home and watching tv, then you know at any given time a commercial can come on that will pull at your heart strings.  There are so many heartbreaking but worthy causes that exist; and sometimes just watching the commercials can make you cry – from childhood cancer to the joyful wish come true foundations to the ones of children malnourished, neglected and in need all over the world.  One of the commercials that gets to me every single time is the one with abused animals – I always tear up on those.  With all of these causes and the hundreds of others that have commercials and print ads, they really dig deep to show us what is happening with that agency and the work they do.

But one commercial you will never see is the one of the child getting beaten with an electrical cord so hard by their own mother that it breaks skin and leaves permanent scars.  Or the one of the little girl holding onto her covers tightly as a father figure sneaks into her room and tries to get under those covers with her.  Or the young child being cussed at and called a liar while also being told they are ruining everything just because the child was brave enough to come forward and tell someone what happened to them.  Those commercials won’t ever be on tv.  You will never see those children.  In general, our society doesn’t want to see, think, or sometimes even believe that it happens, but it does.  And these children won’t have faces for you to see because they are children and they deserve the privacy and confidentiality to be protected by everyone involved, so that they can have an opportunity to heal without being labeled.  So they can become the person they are meant to be without being defined by what happened to them.  So they don’t have to hear the whispers and rumors that make them even more ashamed or insecure about themselves.

As an agency, it is so hard to portray the kind of work we do.  We can talk about the services we provide, describe the interviews and the medical exam, detail the “process” and how it is easier for the child and for all working on behalf of the child – but does that really give you the idea of what happens behind these doors?  We can’t show you the pictures we took of the bruises and scars.  We can’t show you the tears falling down their faces when they say the words of what happened to them out loud for the first time.  We can’t show you the findings from the child’s genital exam that confirms a penetrating injury.  We can’t show you lab results from where a child received a sexually transmitted disease from their offender.  We also can’t show you their excitement when they are picking out and holding their blankets.  We can’t show you their smiles when they are eating their snack.  We can’t show you the relief in their sweet little faces once everything is done and it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.  We can’t show you the hugs they give our staff when they say they want to stay here because they like us.  No, we can’t show you any of that.  All we can do is say it happens – those tears and those smiles – and hope that you understand what that really means.

One thing we struggle with as a child advocacy center is garnering support from our community members without breaking the confidentiality of the children we serve.  We can’t confirm or deny that a child was ever here even if you read about a story in the paper or see a case on the news.  You may know our service area and know that abuse that occurs inside these three counties may have come through our doors – but we can’t confirm or deny that.   Other people may mention our agency in an article about a case or a parent may say they got help here, but from us, we can’t confirm or deny that.  How can we get you to see our work and get you to donate funds or items we need if we can’t even show you how it is being used?  How can we prove to everyone we talk to that the stories are worse than one can imagine, the images will never get out of our heads, the faces are ones we will never forget, and that we – even as workers – need therapy to cope and process? The answer is we can’t.  This work is without pictures and these children are without faces.

But it is because they are faceless that you should think about every child you cross paths with… from those standing at the bus stop, those in line in front of you at the grocery store, those playing at the park, those your own children are friends with.  You don’t know if their face is one who is struggling, masked by a smile, and experiencing more than most of us can comprehend.  Last fiscal year we had 469 faceless children walk through our doors.  Both our agency statistics and national statistics prove that abuse has either happened to you or to someone you know – or even harder to comprehend is that it has either happened to your child or to someone your child is friends with.  Just remember, when we seem protective or reserved in our description of what happens here there is a reason.  When we don’t bring clients with us to presentations to talk about how our services helped them there is a reason.  When we tell you we can’t “confirm or deny” there is a reason.

Abuse IS happening here in your community whether you can put a face to it or not.  So when you are considering a cause to get behind, a place to donate to, or an agency to volunteer for – consider the faceless children and that they too need your support.

Brandi Reagan, Executive Director of The Dragonfly House

My Middle Name Is “Underdog”

JenGrowing up as an only child, I was thrown into the social light at a very early age…so being an introvert was NOT an option.  In Kindergarten, I knew every neighbor in our large subdivision, their name, their pet’s name and any other pertinent information (like when they baked chocolate chip cookies).  When new kids moved in, I was first to ring their doorbell and ask them to play.  While I battled my own insecurities and internal demons, all everyone saw was a smiling little girl.  According to my mom, I had a really bad habit of being very generous with all of my things…from JFK half dollar coins to my brand new Weeble Wobble castle, if someone seemed to be more in need than I was, well then it was theirs. I was always rooting for the underdog, the have-nots and the loners.  It allowed me to feel like I was part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Now don’t get me wrong, my generosity left me wide open for attack from scammers and those with a serious deficit in the integrity department.  But, I always seemed to find those who were in need, and find out what I could do to make their life better.

As an adult I spent over two decades as a teaching professional with the LPGA; I was fulfilled by helping people improve their golf swings and enjoyment for the game that I so loved. I continued that passion into my next adventure for six years working with The First Tee to help kids prepare for the future using the life skills learned in the game of golf. This began my career in the non-profit sector advocating for causes that were near and dear to my heart; to stand up for the rights of those who had no voice, the underdogs.  So, last month when I had the opportunity become the Development Director for The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center, it was truly a match made in heaven.

You see, I myself was victim of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse; I was battered and bruised by people who pretended to care as they broke me while laughing. And sadly, I wasn’t able to heal the way I should have.  Consequently, I made bad decision after bad decision; the impacts of which left me in less than ideal situations.  But, thanks to amazing support and a second chance I have persevered through adversity and am able to stand stronger than ever before. Now, to be given the opportunity to stand with an organization who advocates for the rights of the youth is nothing short of a miracle. Growing the awareness of the plague of abuse and neglect of our innocent children is truly a cause that is not only therapeutic for my own life but a chance to show my abusers that I am stronger and bolder than I was as a victim. I have gone through my own metamorphosis over the years to become a survivor and look forward to being a small part of The Dragonfly House as we give children a chance to have hope for the future with a mission that is committed to healing and transformation.

My position within the agency is thankfully not in direct service (I don’t think my mental state could handle seeing the faces and souls of these broken children).  We have an amazing group of very well trained women who do that so well! My primary duties include marketing our mission and goals to the communities we serve, building relationships with individuals, small businesses and even large corporations and finally, securing funding for our programs and capital campaigns with individual donors, corporate sponsors, foundations, civic groups churches etc.  And yes, I get to put together the awesome event we host every year “Share the Love”!!  I think I am a closet event planner as I am having a blast ironing out all the details and can’t wait to blast it out to the community!

I also schedule speaking engagements to come out to your events to speak about The Dragonfly House and the impact we are making in the community; from Rotary clubs to Ruritans, lunch and learns and resource fairs, church sermons and Ladies’ Guilds, no event is too big or too small to come and share information about the impact we are having on this pandemic called child abuse and neglect. You see, without the incredible support of engaged citizens and companies in our community, well, we simply could not have the resources to do what we do—not on the scale we do!  This is a cause that EVERYONE should stand behind, with their time, talent or treasure…because our kids deserve it; they deserve the freedom to dream for the future, to sleep easily without fear, to genuinely smile and play and run and just be a kid without all of the junk that comes with abuse and neglect…and well, simply said, that’s what we do here at The Dragonfly House.

Without us, no one would be there to dry their tears, counsel them, help them heal and become whole again. So, I encourage you to reach out to me and we can do coffee, lunch or just sit and chat about how you can partner with us to help these kids learn to fly!

Jen Baldwin
Development Director

No, we aren’t a Japanese Restaurant.

dragonfly wordsOver the past 6 years there have been many people who hear “The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center” and immediately look confused and ask what we do.  More than one person has actually pulled in our parking lot and knocked on our door just to ask us who we are.  We have been mistaken as a hardware store (no lie!).  At least once a week, and sometimes more, people forget the “dragonfly” and trade it out for another random insect, most commonly the butterfly.  We have even had someone ask us if we are a Japanese restaurant.  But no, we are none of those things.  I understand why the name itself may make people wonder – it is kind of odd and doesn’t really explain much.  In fact, one of the most common questions I get when doing presentations is “why are you named “The Dragonfly House”?”

The Dragonfly itself has taken on different symbols throughout different cultures:  Power and Poise (for their graceful flight and ability to move forwards and backwards, side to side, up and down – at speeds up to 45 miles an hour).  The opening of one’s eyes (because the eyes of a dragonfly can see 360 degrees around it, it relates to the vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond your own limitations).  Living in the moment (dragonflies only fly for a small portion of their life so they leave nothing to be desired in their few short months – they in the moment and live life to the fullest).  The symbol list goes on and on … Courage, Strength, Happiness

But with all of these meanings, each one being able to relate back to working with child abuse victims, there are two specific meanings that the Japanese culture recognizes the dragonfly as (and no we aren’t Japanese or a Japanese restaurant but stay with me here) – Hope and Change.  That is how we came up with our name.  Those meanings exemplify who we are and what we strive every day to give to the children who walk through our doors.  Hope for a brighter future free from the abuse they have endured.  Change from the situation they were in to a life they deserve.  We want them to experience this hope and this change with courage.  We want to show them the strength they have inside themselves.  We want them to see happiness the way every young child should.  We want to open their eyes so they can see that what happened to them is not their fault.  We want them to live their life to the fullest.  We want them to do all of those things with power and with poise.

Think about a child that has suffered abuse – whether it is from neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or witnessing violence.  Put yourself in their shoes and inside their innocent little minds.  Think about the fear, guilt, and shame they place on themselves.  Think about the pain they feel, the helplessness they experience, the confusion they are in.  Think about their brokenness and their heartbreak.  When kids come into our center these are the emotions they are carrying inside them.  These are the emotions they are trying to make sense of and cope with.  But then they meet with Heydy and talk to Kim and see Dr. Amy.  They spend time with the nurse and get to pick out a blanket and have a snack.  They get to play in the lobby and be surrounded by people who only want to help them and make things better.  They get to go to therapy with Jenny, Rebecca, Tashia, or another one of our amazing therapists. They get to have a team of people that include social workers and detectives working and fighting FOR them.  Then, piece by piece, one symbol at a time, we are replacing sadness with happiness, fear with strength, shame with courage, pain with hope, and brokenness with change.

Sometimes organizations are named after people and the work they did or a cause they led.  Sometimes agencies go simple and name their organization after the town or county they are housed in.  There really is no right or wrong way to name an agency.  Symbols aren’t always the first choice but for us it was the only choice.  When this agency was being created back in 2009, it was very important to me that it have a name that was meaningful and symbolized the work that we do.  When it came time to choose that name there was no hesitation.  There was only one option presented and every person who was part of the creation process in that room at the time agreed on it.  Offering hope, change, strength, and courage to child victims of abuse:  The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center.

Brandi Reagan
Executive Director

Therapy is like driving a car – I’m the navigator

IMG_6848.JPGWhat is trauma? Trauma is described as an emotional response to a terrible event, according to the American Psychological Association. How do I see trauma? I see trauma as the bruises, scrapes, broken bones, and belt marks. I see trauma in the form of tears, broken hearts, confusion of love and relationships. I see disappointment, mistrust, dysfunctions, and self-harm. I see broken families, self-blame, guilt, and shame. Trauma can be one single event or reoccurring events over years of feeling broken and ashamed. Trauma changes you. Trauma changes the way you think, behave, who you trust, your sense of safety, and sense of self.

As the therapist located at The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center, I have had the honor to work with some of the bravest and strongest children, teens, and parents I have ever met. When trauma occurs to an individual, it effects the entire family. When one domino falls, the whole line follows. In working in abuse, my goal is to break that cycle of abuse that gets passed down through generations. We want to stop the long-term side effects of later life health issues, addictions, self-harm, conflictual relationships, and mental illness. I am fortunate to have a career in which I don’t need to wear a separate mask to work. I feel born to be a therapist and it has become who I am as a person. I am trained to see situations and events through the eyes of my clients. My role is not to take the place of a parent, to help a detective “solve” a case, break apart families, or tell someone what they should or shouldn’t do. My role is to listen. To guide. To help them make the best decision in a non-judgmental and safe place. To form one of the most powerful, influential relationships to help them pick back up the pieces and create a new life. A better life.

I recently heard the analogy “therapy is like driving a car”. The client drives and I help navigate. Sometimes we will have to re-navigate, yield and go back before we go forward again because healing is not always a constant drive forward. My goal is to allow the client to let go of the control that trauma has had in their life and learn that it does not define them as a person. In my practice, I use Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and utilize tools from non-directive play therapy in young children.  I also do person-centered therapy, family therapy, and incorporate a lot of positive psychology and self-esteem exercises in teens and adults. This is because trauma can cause confusion with their own bodies, boundaries, and relationships, especially during those tough years of figuring out who they are and want to be. Every client brings a new set of goals, needs, and wants. Successful prognosis greatly relies on the desire of the client to make life-long changes. Change, while not quick, is always in the best interest of and on the time of the client.  My job is not to force change to happen but give them the tools to do so when the time is right and open the door of communication with the parents when it is possible. It takes time and in a world of searching for a quick fix, we have to find patience and determination for real change to occur. Trauma can give us the opportunity to find our strengths, learn more about who we are, increase self-esteem and understanding, and give hope and encouragement to be stronger and more determined than ever before.

I have seen the play room become a disaster zone of chaos portraying what happens behind closed doors at a child’s home because this is how children communicate. The toys are their words. I have watched a young boy use art and create a picture book of the abuse that occurred because he is too young to use words that portray how healing non-verbal communication can be. I have seen a teen, who was so numb of her emotions that it became a survival technique over years of sexual abuse, find the ability to express again. I have seen the sigh of relief knowing the child has a support system greater than their fear. I have seen teens who find the strength to say they are more than the scars on their bodies and face their parents in tears disclosing the abuse that occurred years ago. This job has many, many rewards, but witnessing these courageous sessions is beyond ability to express in words.

I also offer a teen girls therapy support group and non-offending care givers support group because the power of being in a room with others who understand and can relate is something words can not describe. As humans, we find comfort in others who truly understand us. We want to break that shame and stigma that abuse carries and find relief in being able to share personal stories and how it shaped them as a person.

Witnessing adults who have never verbalized the abuse in their past and find the strength to do so in front of others is why I do what I do. Teens who overcome the shame and guilt and learn that what happened was not their fault is why I do what I do. Young children who have the courage to express what is happening in their own homes and be able to master the skills of their own potential through play is why I do what I do. I have seen the relief in their eyes and expression on their faces when they learn that trauma is why they are feeling what they are feeling, is why their grades are falling, and why they are having a hard time concentrating in class. I laugh with my clients, I share and feel their pain when they disclose their deepest pain, I have even cried. I am human. And, I learn more from them than they ever will from me. Each client brings a new story. They are more than a number. They have a name. They have worth. My goal is to let them see their worth again when they feel like everything has fallen apart.

I do feel it is important that I say I do not speak for every therapist. I have the privilege of working with some of the very best therapists at Lorven Child and Family Development based out of Lexington.  Each of us at Lorven use a variety of modalities such as TF-CBT, Play Therapy, Neurofeedback, Sandtray, EMDR, and Family Therapy. We all work towards the same goals and it is important that the client finds the right “fit” based on their needs. If one child is not responding to a specific type of therapy, we can work together to find the best fit among each of our skills and abilities. Every therapist at Lorven is available to work with children from The Dragonfly House, I am just blessed to be the one based inside the CAC itself.  Because of this, I have the wonderful ability to often see the entire process work from beginning to end.

To the teachers, parents, coaches, and caregivers: those young children who are disrupting the class, can’t sit still in their seats, have defiant behavior towards adults who we should respect, and who use verbal and physical aggression to express their anger, or even the one who hardly speaks and sits anxiously in the corner… look deeper than the behavior. Look deeper than the frustration they are causing you. I encourage you to make reports when there is suspicion and utilize this amazing children’s advocacy center that we have to help reduce the number of children who fall behind and keep getting passed down because nobody wants to take time to ask the right questions. It is a true miracle to watch a child follow the process of The Dragonfly House from beginning to end and watch each professional work together as a team to give this child the best care possible. We have witnessed it. We learn from it. And, we continue to strive to make each case better. That is why we do what we do and will continue to fight for those who can’t.

Jennifer Broadway Smith, LPCA, MA/EdS, NCC