By Tim Rusk and Shelly Smith from the Bend Bulletin on April 28, 2018:
Over 50,000 blue ribbons have made their way across our community as part of the National Blue Ribbon Campaign, aimed at bringing our communities together and highlighting the critical role adults play in protecting children from harm. MountainStar and KIDS Center would like to thank you for stepping up and creating a safer community for our children. Commissioners in all three counties passed proclamations declaring April Child Abuse Prevention Month as part of their ongoing commitment to this issue.
Last year, over 4,000 reports of child abuse and neglect were made to DHS/Child Welfare in Central Oregon. The recent #MeToo movement has created many conversations about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. Many of us have thought — how does this correlate to child abuse?
Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, answered this question perfectly, stating, “Hardly a day passes when sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual abuse aren’t topics of conversation wherever you go. And in a sense, that’s a good thing — the topic that no one wanted to talk about is now the topic that everyone is talking about. The conversations run the gamut, from painful recounting of memories long suppressed, to wounds so fresh there’s been no chance for healing yet; from arguments about who knew, who should have known and who didn’t know to arguments about the definitional scope of assault, harassment and abuse.”
How about a #KidsToo movement? We must speak up for the children around us because most will never speak up for themselves. We must work together to start the conversations that build our collective knowledge around child abuse so that each one of us is capable, willing, and ready to be there for children when they need us. Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle in preventing child abuse. You can make #KidsToo a reality by speaking up.
The time is now to be educated about the prevalence and characteristics of child abuse, and to be open enough in our conversations with each other and with children to be able to ask difficult ask questions — even when they make us uncomfortable. It is good to reflect on the fact that our own discomfort pales in comparison to what children may be experiencing!
It is imperative, that as adults, we take our job very seriously when it comes to keeping children safe and supporting them in the face of adversity. The long-term consequences for children experiencing toxic stress, traumatic experiences, and sexual violence can cut across many aspects of life as they age — it can affect physical and mental health, school success, involvement in the criminal justice system, alcoholism and drug use. The effects can be far-reaching and devastating, but it is also important to remember that people are not statistics. Individuals chart their course through life, and we are not defined by our experiences. The question is how do we, as a community, support the resiliency of children facing adversity?
We encourage you to support children beyond the month of April and our Blue Ribbon Campaign by: taking a Darkness to Light training to educate yourself on this issue and learn how to be part of the solution; getting a group of friends together to take a tour of KIDS Center or MountainStar to learn more about how we help families and how you can get involved; speaking to a child you are concerned about to let him or her know you are there to help; getting involved in one of the many community projects that strengthens supports for children; and finally, reporting concerns of abuse to DHS and law enforcement so that they can refer children to KIDS Center where their voices can be heard and the hearts healed.
The time is now; we can do this!
— Shelly Smith is the executive director of KIDS Center and Tim Rusk is the executive director of MountainStar Bend.