It’s hard to believe that it is April again, the time when those of us who live in the world of child abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment put out our rallying cries in a louder voice perhaps than at any other time of year. It is our soapbox time, our time to signal to our communities to wake up, to pay attention, to learn more, to become empowered with knowledge about our cause.
The statistics and stories remain daunting in our world. Those of us who are part of an integrated children’s advocacy center (CAC) continue to see our numbers rise. Last year, in our agency, we served more than 4,000 children and non-offending family members. Our clients are children who have been sexually abused, severely physically abused, severely neglected, and children who have witnessed a homicide. With more than 750 accredited CACs across the United States, we are collectively serving more than 315,000 abused children annually through a multi-disciplinary model to meet the unique needs of child victims of crime.
It would be easy to become mired in distress, to allow the heaviness of our work to shadow our spirits and burden our hearts. And yes, some days are like that because we often witness the worst of what humanity brings. But on most days, we are reminded of the honor it is to just stand with these children and guide them along their journey. On most days, we are reminded that hope and healing is there, just beyond the tears.
Graduations are a perfect example of this. When our young clients have moved through the forensic interview process and have completed their goals in therapy, we take time to celebrate. Whether it has been six months or two years since they first crossed our threshold to allow us to help them carry their burden, each graduation is special. Our staff teams and co-located partners from law enforcement, child protective services and district attorney’s office come out of their work zones into a long, brightly sunlit hallway. The child, his or her therapist, siblings and the child’s parent or guardian all stand at the beginning of the hallway, and the child walks down the hallway, which is lined on either side by the professionals who have served him or her.
We listen as the therapist praises the child for working hard in therapy, listen as the parent or guardian expresses appreciation for the support the family has received, and we clap as the child walks down that hallway, surrounded by us with high fives and cheers. It is a symbolic and heroic walk of a survivor’s journey. Sometimes clients say something too, but most often, we hear from them through their smiles and the sparkle in their eyes. These are children who now know at some level, “It wasn’t my fault. I am not damaged. I am not alone.”
During this important month, Child Abuse Awareness Month, we push our communities to stand up for children. We push them to learn more, to glimpse into the realities of our world so that they can become more aware, more vigilant, and more protective of all children in our midst. For those of us who are in this field, who do this work, let’s also take a moment to remember what a deep privilege it is to gently hold the sorrow of children in our hearts until they are strong enough to walk down that hallway on their own, surrounded by those who have borne witness to their journey.
We know that there are more children out there who never make it to our threshold, who never make it to walk down that hallway. Approximately 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused. Of these, 40% may tell a friend, rather than an adult, which does not trigger the system needed to provide critical support. Children who do not disclose or who disclose to someone who cannot help them are around us and among us right now, quietly waiting for someone to help. So, please, take time during April to be observant, to watch for signs that a child’s world is shattered. They need you. They need us. And we need more children to make the heroic walk across a CAC’s threshold and down that hallway of healing.