There are two nations (of the 196 nations in the world) that have not ratified the Universal Rights of the Child.  Somalia and America.

Somalia, because it has no functioning government, and the U.S. because we will not stop training child soldiers*.

Americans are proud of and outspoken about spirituality, values, and freedom – making proclamations about human rights, women’s rights, and so on.

My twelve years in County child protection as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem (Court Appointed Special Advocate/CASA) has taught me hard lessons.

Beaten children, sexually abused children, starved and neglected children enter the child protection system every day.  Three million children a year are reported to child protection services in America.

Their numbers and stories are staggering.  It is so painful and so common.

We do not offer adequate help or protection to children that need it the most.

Worse, we don’t like to talk about it.  There is nothing that brings cold hard silence to a conversation than talking about my experiences with child sexual abuse or otherwise traumatized children.

When there is no discussion by those in the know,  few people outside the system can understand the issues which means the media and politicians that could draw attention don’t (or they are mixed up in their understanding and speaking which is actually worse).

So nothing changes.  In fact, during these lean times, programs for abused and neglected children are disappearing all over our nation and things are getting worse.   Our Voices Matter was powerful program that allowed foster and adoptive kids a voice has recently disappeared due to lack of support.  Many truly useful organizations are disappearing today because we don’t support children that need help the most.

From the courts, social workers, CASA programs, & health and other resources, to the foster and adoptive parents that work so hard to make life bearable for traumatized youth, child protection systems throughout this country are overwhelmed and unable to provide the services these children need.

Until I became part of the system, I had no idea that that 90% of the youth in juvenile Justice came through child protection, or that over 50% of youth in juvenile justice suffered from mental health issues with fully half that number diagnosed with multiple and severe mental health problems (the  same is most likely true of children in child protection).

Without professional help, how do you un-teach drug use or sex habits to a 9 year old that has been forced to practice these things at home?

My first visit to a four year old was at the suicide ward at Fairview hospital.  I’ve written about a seven year old foster child that hung himself and left a note (he hated the Prozac).   There is nothing like facing a very young self-hating, suicidal child to bring home the cold hard reality that the mental health services, consistent help from the county (her new parent) will not be there.  Knowing that her chances of recovering to lead a normal life are very, very, slim.  This has made me feel like I’m part of a crime.

As long as we don’t talk about it, no one can know about it.  Social workers are trained to not talk about it.  These children have NO Voice in the substance and direction of their own lives.  They suffer every day all day and we don’t want to hear about it.

Whether you are an abused child, foster/adoptive parent/social or health worker; empower yourself to start this conversation (and tell your friends/family to vote for child friendly initiatives**).

LET’S START TALKING

 

Support KARA’s efforts;  sponsor a conversation in your community (invite me to speak at your conference) / Buy our book or donate Follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/KidsAtRisk

*It has been suggested that this is why Minnesotan’s were willing to pay 24 Billion dollars as their share of the Iraq/Afghan war over this two year budget, but unwilling to pay 6 billion dollars for healthcare, childcare, education, & infrastructure over the same period.

**My last official act as an active CASA guardian ad-Litem was to remove four children from a father whose only fault was that he could not afford daycare.  The state had defunded subsidized daycare & put the money back into the general fund (just like Indiana did with the money promised to parents that had adopted special needs children this year).

It was the state’s position that it would be cheaper, and the right thing to do, to tear these children from their hard working, honorable father, and put them in foster homes, than to fund subsidized daycare.  In what universe could this be true?

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that the Federal Reserve Board studies, www. AVAHealth.org, and overwhelming  data over thirty years clearly proves the extraordinary costs of letting children slip through the cracks into crime, prison, and more dysfunctional families. It’s way more efficient to save a child than to help a felon or preteen mom recover from a life of abuse and neglect and the behavior problems that follow.

 

What good are rights if there is no discussion or enforcement?

 

Support KARA, listen to or buy the book INVISIBLE CHILDREN, schedule a discussion or keynote speech.

 

9 Comments

  1. Michael- I loved this article and plan on purchasing the book ‘Invisible Children’ I have spent most of my life advocating for children who society has chosen to ignore. For the last seven years I was the ED for a non profit that worked with children with an incarcerated parent. What you say is so true..A majority of the children involved with juvenile justice have mental health issues and many were in the foster care system..even relative foster care. In this country with so much wealth it is deplorable that we treat our children so poorly. It is my plan to fight for children’s rights as long as I can. I would be very interested in knowing more about your organization and seeing if there is a role I may be able to assume in this struggle.

  2. Mike,

    I think it is time to change ‘selfish Human nature’, For everyone in the world, ask yourself, ‘’ what legacy do you want to leave?’’, the answer will enclose many points, However, why not one of them is to be ‘’ proactive action to help abused children’’, it is everyone responsibility to help those invisible children.
    Really children needs are not difficult, see attached link:
    http://changingminds.org/explanations/needs/children_needs.htm
    So really, it is not all about Financial, so if you do not have money, it is ok, you have other options. We can complement each other to one goal ‘’ urgent Child protection’’
    No justification for any government, organization, everyone in the community to ignore Children rights.
    Actions only need strong beliefs that ‘’ Child protection is everyone future gift’’

    Yasmin

  3. The situation is much the same in the UK. A high proportion of the some 2,500 children in secure units or youth custody (12-17 year olds) have mental health disorders and backgrounds of disadvantage and experiences of abuse. The problem is that these children are designated as ‘young offenders’ who should be punished rather than regarded as children with needs. Many of these children’s problems are associated with poor early nurture and difficulties in attachment relationships, which is why thinking about nurture and attachment offers more useful models for intervention and delkivers more effective outcomes in responding to their delinquent behaviour.

  4. Hi I am a Social Worker in Australia and work in Sexual Assault and unfortunately the same here. I feel the same that people need to start the conversation but no one wants to know. Those who work in the industry just accept and if you advocate too strongly for these families and children then you are looked upon as a troublemaker. We have great early intervention programs but if the child has had previous involvement with child protection most often they are then counted as not being suitable for the program and therefore fall through the cracks. I feel if the public knew the amount of children that are abused they would be horrified I know for me when I started in Sexual Assault I was shocked at how common child sexual assault is. And unfortunately nothing seems to be changing.

  5. Michele, Thank you for so clearly articulating something I have been thinking for years. About half of the fifty children I helped remove from very toxic homes had been sexually abused (as young as two years old).

    The courts can’t deal with it as young children make poor witnesses (they are easily confused during cross examination).

    Because we are not comfortable talking about it, nothing is said and neither the media nor the politicians know about it and nothing changes (it only gets worse).

    I encourage all of us to start talking.

  6. Michael, I read this article and have to agree with much that was said. I have worked in the child protection field for the past 8+ years. Funding has always been an issue and statutes that regulate what constitutes child abuse are also always changing. These children need help now and it needs to be steady and consistent.

  7. Awesome article Michael – and you are so correct. We are an Australian company who specialise in Child Protection training – but with a difference. We’ve had years of experience as police and investigators of abuse and as case managers of serious abuse matters, and also have experience in law, education and psychology. Our training is real, and based on our experience and knowledge – and this topic is something a text book can’t teach. Your article is proof of that – you have to live it to believe it. We became despondent about child safety departments all around the country and the world losing the battle and running out of funds – and we believe we need to have a massive shift in perception about who’s responsibility it is to prevent abuse. We spend so much time in our schools teaching our children maths and grammar and history and geography – but it’s time we moved the responsibility for child abuse prevention away from embattled, underfunded and overworked child safety departments, to our education departments – and approached Child Protection with a whole of population attitude – the same way that we fought sun cancer here in Asutralia. If we’d just put all our efforts into treating the cancer after it happened, like we currently do with child abuse, then we would be losing that battle. To prevent sun cancer education programs were targeted at the whole population – not just those at risk with fair skin and freckles or sun spots – but all people. That teaches people that everyone has a responsibility to keep safe and ensure others can keep safe from the sun. So when we set about teaching Child Protection, whilst out of necessity we also teach early intervention and response strategies – our primary goal has been teaching true prevention using our 7 Steps 2 Safety program. We know through experience that this program works. If it was implemented on a widespread basis using a whole of population approach and as the responsibility of education departments not child safety departments, then we would make real inroads into preventing abuse, and ensuring that children can either protect themselves or are at least aware that they have a right to make choices and be safe and free from harm – because this belief, as you would know, is imperative when trying to ensure victims recover and move on to enjoy the kind of life many of us take for granted.

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