April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and as the family counselor at the Foundation 2 Youth Shelter in Cedar Rapids, I see a form of child abuse every day. Not just in youths I serve but in some adults as well.
Acknowledging abuse occurred is the start the process of healing. But that’s not an easy path for everyone. When we talk about the prevention aspect of this month the focus, of course, is on children. But there are some of you out there with the wounds from your own childhood abuse that are just starting to emerge. This happens as we age, and you are not alone.
There is a recent trend in psychology and medicine to train and educate those of us in the field, and certainly up and coming practitioners, on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. These traumatic events range from obvious physical and sexual abuse to emotional neglect, violence, divorce, natural disasters, etc. The original study occurred from 1995 to 1997 with 17,000 participants. It is a fascinating study that has changed the way we practice and relate to those with whom we interact daily.
In short, the more adverse experiences you have, the greater the correlation to emotional and physical distress and illness in adulthood. When The Division of Violence Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teamed with Kaiser Permanente, the findings indicated ACEs are common.
There is a wonderful book written by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. called “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” He speaks about learning to interact with his patients as people with histories they bring with them, rather than simply printed information on a chart.
Bessel slowly began to recognize the profound impact of significant past events and the correlation of these events on the health of the patients he was treating. He declares that while our minds sometimes refuse to let us believe that we are still holding on to abuse, our bodies tell us a different story through obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and other physical manifestations of childhood abuse and trauma.
As individuals and agencies, we have strengths and resources to help combat this terrifying topic. If you are struggling with past abuse, if you are the victim of abuse, or if you are in a situation that is getting out of control, there is help. If you are an outsider looking in and you see something that does not look or feel right, there are people who are willing to guide you through a process of deciding what to do next.
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Preventing childhood trauma and abuse is a complex issue that cannot be adequately addressed in one article. As a professional who has worked with families, and as a mother, I understand conflicts are inevitable. I recommend three key steps to prepare for these conflicts.
First, understand your own limitations. Second, identify your family coping skills and how to tell when they are not working. And third, identify who to contact outside your family when you need help, and understand what help they may provide you.
The human services field is not perfect. We are always self-evaluative, and because no one person’s story is like any others, there is no right path for all people. I often hear people say “I did not even know this service existed,” or “I wish I knew this was available years ago.” Those statements give me confidence in our system and a desire to do better.
Our outreach efforts and collaboration as community agencies could do more to let people know what is available to either help reduce risk factors of abuse or pick up the pieces once it has occurred.
If you or someone in your life is struggling with the effects of child abuse, Foundation 2 can help. We offer a range of crisis support services including a 24/7 crisis hotline available anywhere in the state of Iowa, chat and text support, mobile crisis outreach, support groups for adults with depression and anxiety and youth and adults who have lost someone in their life to suicide, a youth shelter, family counseling and independent living support for young adults. To learn more about Foundation 2’s range of crisis support services, call (319) 362-2174 or visit our website at www.foundation2.org.
• Amanda Leemhuis, MS, is a family counselor with Foundation 2 Youth Shelter in Cedar Rapids.