Esterlee Molyneux, executive director of <a href=”file:///C:/Users/Jennifer/Documents/Jennifer/thefamilyplaceutah.org”>The Family Place</a>, welcomed guests of the center’s 8<sup>th</sup> annual “Steppin’ Up for Children” event with an expression of gratitude.
“Your attendance shows that you care about children,” she said, next quoting Nelson Mandela. “‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’”
The Family Place has been providing educational, therapeutic and supportive services to individuals and families in Cache and Rich counties for 35 years, with a commitment to child abuse prevention. The agency hosts “Steppin’ Up for Children” at the Cache County Courthouse each year as a kick-off for its National Child Abuse Prevention Month activities in April.
Keeping with tradition, the steps of the courthouse were filled to overflowing during the event with 451 pairs of children’s shoes, each of them representing a local victim of child abuse during the past year. Miss Cache Valley, Codi Smith, collected the shoes from community donors and helped arrange the display.
“I think it kind of makes it more real that each shoe represents a child in the valley that has been abused in one way or another,” she said. “It’s sad to know that this is going on in the valley.”
Each presenter during a 40-minute ceremony expressed similar feelings, acknowledging that no one is immune from the effects of child abuse, neglect and endangerment. Featured speakers included Brent Platt, with the Department of Human Services; Utah Children’s Justice Center (CJC) Program Administrator Tracey Tabets; and <a href=”http://www.the5browns.com/deondra/”>Deondra Brown</a>, cofounder of the <a href=”http://www.the5browns.com/about-us/foundation-for-survivors-of-abuse/”>Foundation for Survivors of Abuse</a>.
Speaking of the importance of raising public awareness of child abuse, Platt said, “Here’s a secret. Child abuse and neglect, it’s happening within our homes. It’s happening with relatives, it’s happening with neighbors, it’s happening with the people we go to church with. I guarantee that every one of us in this room have been affected by child abuse or neglect in some form or another.”
Both Platt and Tabet emphasized the difficulty DCFS, the CJCs and law enforcement often have in addressing the issue.
“Our office and our centers to some degree are really the ambulance at the bottom of the hill, Tabet said. “If a child enters our doors, it’s likely because something has already happened.”
Citing the importance of collective action in addressing child abuse, Platt asked, “Where’s the faith community? They need to be here. They’re a piece to this puzzle. Where’s schools? We have to have education involved. We can only do so much because we’re already downstream a lot of the time. The fact is, they have to be around the table if we’re going to make a difference. ”
Tabet centered her message on resilience. Having worked in the Utah Attorney General’s Office for nearly 25 years, where she’s witnessed the devastating effects of abuse, Tabet said every child deserves to have access to quality services, and every adult should be “well-versed in Child Abuse 101” and child abuse prevention.
“But we really want people to think beyond that,” she said, “because if we truly want to be empowered as parents and as a community, we need to be thinking bigger. We need to be thinking about protective factors and resilience, and resilience is really just the ability to bounce back.”
Explaining that trauma can result from any sort of violence, loss or emotionally difficult or harmful experience, Tabet said the key to resilience is connectedness—with a positive parent, a supportive school network, a faith community or a neighborhood activity.
“All of those parts are working together to build a safety net of relationships that is reinforced by policies and services that recognize that sometimes citizens may need just a little bit of extra help,” she said. “Your community is only as strong as those who live in it…and this is a community determined to create and maintain strong social ties, to commit resources and to build capacity to help residents weather whatever may fall into your path.”
Tabet described Brown, who was sexually abused by her father, as “the picture of resilience.” Brown and her sister, Desirae Brown, are currently involved in a collaboration between their foundation, DCFS, Utah’s CJCs and the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The partnership is called <a href=”http://onewithcourageutah.org/”>One with Courage Utah</a> and addresses childhood sexual abuse. Brown encouraged the Steppin’ Up audience to actively advocate for children who experience all types of abuse.
“I wish someone had noticed the shy little girl who was too afraid to speak,” she said. “I wish they had followed up on that feeling deep in their gut that something was wrong. Don’t be that person doomed to wonder if you could have made a difference in a child’s life. Be the hero that a child is wishing and praying for this very moment. ”
Brown was passionate in expressing her feelings that, while it may take a village to raise a child, “it takes that same village to keep a child safe.” She also said the pain, sorrow, fear and betrayal that come with abuse do not have to define individuals as people.
“We can stand up, face the demons head on, and move forward with hope and optimism for a better future,” she said. “Resilience is a very powerful thing. It means that despite what threatens to knock us down, we get up and push forward to a brighter day. With enough perseverance and determination, we will eventually be able to look back and see how far we’ve come, and I can promise you there’s nothing more satisfying. ”
Steppin’ Up for Children concluded with <a href=”http://thefamilyplaceutah.org/belvahansen/”>Belva Hansen</a>, after whom The Family Place’s Logan facility is named, sharing agency’s signature <a href=”http://thefamilyplaceutah.org/”>“Starfish Story.”</a> Dr. Diane Calloway-Graham, who has been a therapist at the agency since 1990, was deeply moved by the event.
“What a great opportunity and a privilege it is to be able to work side by side with children, families, adolescents and adults who have experienced difficulties in their lives and help them become more resilient,” she said. “The Family Place is committed to this community and is a great place for people to come and feel safe and to work through their trauma.”
With Calloway-Graham’s remarks came a call to action.
“Be committed in your community to make a difference and be a hero, as was said today, to a child, to an adolescent, to anyone that you can help and support along the way.”
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<table border=”0″><tbody><tr><td><p align=”center”><strong>Child Abuse Statistics in Utah</strong>
The Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) has 1,100 employees statewide working from 36 offices.
A call to DCFS is made in Utah every 8 minutes.
Over the past year, there were 9,993 child abuse victims statewide (451 in Cache and Rich counties), with seven fatalities. Seventy-three percent of the perpetrators were parents or guardians.
On average, 27 cases of child abuse were substantiated per day, or the equivalent of an entire elementary school classroom.
Twenty-two Children’s Justice Centers serve abused children in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties. They are tasked with helping victims of abuse make disclosures to law enforcement in a safe and supportive environment.
<em>Sources: Brent Platt, Department of Human Services; Tracey Tabets, Utah Attorney General’s Office; The Family Place</em>