Friday, April 12, 2013

What child abuse prevention means to me...




To believe in a child is to believe in the future.  Through their aspirations they will save the world.  With their combined knowledge the turbulent seas of hate and injustice will be calmed.  They will supply humanity with music and beauty it has never known.  They will endure.  To these ends, I pledge my life's work.
-Henry James




Nearly thirty years ago, a child was born into a large, loving family.  Planned for by her young and in-love parents.  Welcomed by a whole throng of doting aunts, uncles and cousins.  Immediately attached to two devoted grandparents.

Her childhood experiences could have been lifted from the pages of a storybook. 

Holiday traditions were established that first year and continued through her life.  Summers were spent outside.  Running, playing, exploring.  Well into her adolescence, she celebrated the first year she managed to avoid the inevitable bee sting that became as much a part of the season as bike-riding, hiking and trips down to the garden.

Life was easy and innocent, as it could only be for a child.  When the biggest concerns were which cousin would be her playmate, how much chocolate milk and cartoon-watching could be negotiated, what little trinkets her aunts and uncles would surprise her with and how fast she could make it to her papaw's arms when her grandmother playfully chased her through the house.  He was base.

She felt safe and loved almost every moment of her young life.

Her grandmother and many of her teachers always pushed her to make education a priority.

Not unlike thousands of other girls of her age and in her country, she received a college degree, began a fulfilling middle-class-wage career and embarked on a very happy life with a handsome man who stole her heart and then fiercely protected it.

This story isn't at all unique until you realize that -- statistically -- it never should have happened.

This little girl grew up in a rural, isolated community where the supply of jobs was inversely related to the beauty of the mountains surrounding her.  The 2010 U.S. Census placed her home county as second poorest in the nation, with a median household income of $18,869. 

Even adjusted for inflation, her family made much less than that.  It wasn't two-dollars-a-day poverty but still qualified them for every government-assistance program around.  Her mother had completed high school, her father just seventh grade.  They divorced when she was ten years old.  He was an abuser of substances and of people.  Ironically, not in that order.

She credits a higher power for orchestrating her deliverance from the life typically lived by girls born into her circumstances.  Those who deny that kind of power cannot deny the influence of the caring, involved adults in her life.  The people (and the programs) who stood between her and the abuse (and the consequences of abuse) that could have been.

I worked for a lady at a child abuse prevention agency in Kansas who often said 'we'll never know what we prevented.'  That's true.  And we'll never know exactly what this little girl's life would have been like were it not for her extended support system. 

The possibilities sometimes haunt me though because -- as you may have figured -- she is me.

Neither I nor my family realized at the time the extent to which my risk factors were being counter-balanced by protective factors.  Such clinical terms hadn't even been invented yet.  Back then it was simply family looking out for their own.  Community rallying around a child, of great value just for being.

And though the terminology has changed, child abuse prevention looks exactly the same today.

Get involved in children's lives.  Be a positive influence and make a difference for them.  However you can -- in little and big ways. 

As an extended family member, it may feel like only a meaningless game played, idle time spent or a cheap toy given.  As a friend or neighbor, it may be only a smile, a quick hug or an afternoon activity.  As a teacher, it may seem to be just another day on the job.  In reality, though, it is building a happy, healthy, stable adult.

And to all those who pitched in during my childhood and made my life great, thank you.  You are the epitome of efforts to strengthen communities, families and children. 

I'm so glad we have no idea what you prevented.

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  For more information, you may visit www.pinwheelsforprevention.org .

I encourage you to get involved in your local PCA State chapter.  Learn more at www.preventchildabuse.org

And you don't have to reside in a state to support their efforts.  Having worked for both, I am especially partial to the chapters serving states that begin with the letter 'K.'
Kansas: www.kcsl.org
Kentucky: www.pcaky.org