Let’s start with the question: Are children safe?
CHILD ENRICHMENT programs offer a safe haven for children who have been abused. Last year 639 child victims of abuse or severe neglect received our services. All of us see the headlines, read the news articles and watch the television coverage with the gruesome details of child abuse, child abduction, child sexual abuse and even murder. In the six weeks between Thanksgiving 2013 and Jan. 8, 2014, 10 men were convicted of sexually abusing children in Columbia and Richmond Counties.
There is a problem, and it is significant.
As professionals who work with victims of child abuse, we not only know about the reality and horror of the abuses perpetuated upon children, but we also must look into the eyes of the individual child victims, and hear of their experiences. In those eyes we see fear and stress and distrust, but we also see hope.
For Child Enrichment employees, board members and volunteers, it is all about hope.
The standards followed by Child Enrichment about child protection, and advocating for the respect of all children, are promoted beyond the walls of our buildings. In attempting to raise awareness in this community and with other professionals with whom we work, we continually aim the focus on the children and their needs.
Last year, Child Enrichment provided counseling, court advocacy and forensic interviewing, or found safe and permanent homes, for 639 children. Yet, we also worked with 333 of their non-abusing caregivers – helping them to keep the children safe, and to follow the recovery guidelines. Abused children can recover from even the most horrible abuse and torture. Child Enrichment programs prove this.
Children have died because of physical abuse this year in our community. In the United States, millions of children are physically abused each year, and thousands of children die because of physical abuse. Most children who die from abuse are younger than age 6.
THERE IS PROOF that hundreds of thousands of children are sexually abused each year, and it is estimated that millions of other cases go undetected. Many cases of child sexual abuse are not disclosed until the victim reaches adulthood. Children are most often abused by people whom they know and trust. How can this be?
As adults in this society, there is only one answer to these problems. All adults must step up and address the issue directly.
So, the answer to the question “Are children safe?” is: It depends. Yes, they are safe, if adults are doing everything possible to keep them safe; and, no, they are not safe, if the children are vulnerable, unsupervised, lonely, depressed or fearful.
For the most part, we should consider children to not be safe. Children are not capable of protecting themselves. Children need adults to protect them. Yet, most adults seem to fear getting involved.
If adults understand child abuse and child sexual abuse, they probably will do something to help a child. Regardless of whether you are capable of looking into the eyes of abused children, you can experience their hope, and you can help. Everyone can do something to help abused children. You can make a difference!
Maybe more adults would help if they knew how. So, here is how to help:
Make a donation. Funding is always a concern for non-profit organizations such as Child Enrichment, and with the recent trend of foundations and funders wanting to fund new or different charities each year, it is even more difficult to provide excellent programs to help child victims to recover. Donate and be a loyal donor to effective programs.
VOLUNTEER AT THIS or other child advocacy programs.
Learn about child abuse. Visit the Darkness to Light web page – www.D2L.org. Learn about effective strategies for families, religious organizations and programs to protect children.
Help make our community
safe for all children. Voice that expectation. Communicate clearly that adults who may harm children are not welcome and will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
These are all good beginnings.
(The writer is executive director of Child Enrichment Inc., the Child Advocacy Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused children.)