We recently made a mistake, and we want to make good on it. On the Darkness to Light Facebook page, we offer awareness-building statistics on “Fact Fridays.” We usually post them as stand-alone facts that grab attention and give some quick education.
This was our post a few weeks ago:
Children living without either parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children living with both biological parents.
Children who live with a single parent who has a live-in partner are at the highest risk; they are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.
These are statistical facts that on the surface may cause families outside the ‘traditional’ mold to feel judged, blamed, and unjustly criticized. And that’s exactly what a supporter and colleague who read the post shared with us. And for that, we’re sorry. Without context, ‘blaming’ is exactly how these statements feel. And anyway, what’s the point of stating this unless we can help in some way?
So let’s describe the context that would have been more helpful originally. And let’s look at it from what we know about child sexual abuse offenders. We know from research that perpetrators report that they seek out children who are passive, quiet, troubled, and lonely, or from single parent or broken homes. Why do they do this? They want a child who will not tell, or who feels he has no one to tell, and who has unmet needs. And why is that?
Because unmet needs are essential to the grooming process. Among other strategies, offenders groom children for sexual abuse by filling their unmet needs. And the needs of the parent(s) to have their child’s needs met.
Let’s look at the basic needs of all children, whatever family structure supports them. Yes, they need the basic provisions of food, clothing, and a place to call home. In order to thrive, they need someone who gives attention and affection reliably and daily. They need to depend on and be in regular communication with at least a small collection of adults – parent(s), grandparents perhaps, an invested teacher or two, a church community, a coach or mentor. They need people they can trust and who are interested in them. And of course children also need oversight and guidance. They need structure and accountability. In accord with their age, they need goals and someone who is interested in them achieving those goals. Children need love and in a word, stewardship. One definition of stewardship is ‘watchful care.’ Yes, children need watchful care.
And we know that a lot of families outside the traditional mold often have to stretch a whole lot further to provide for their children. They may only have one income and to earn that income they may rely on various forms of child-care. They may be over-stressed and away from their children for long periods of time. They may struggle to provide the basics, while providing some ‘extras’ may often be out of reach. And their attention, their watchful care, may be compromised by bearing responsibilities alone which would best be spread among multiple caring adults.
And it’s true that many nontraditional families do an exceptional job. And some two-parent families cannot or do not provide watchful care for children. Still, the statistics mean something.
In the realm of abuse prevention, we talk about risk factors and protective factors. Risk factors are the potentially harmful circumstances in a child’s life or which increase the possibility of abuse. We try to decrease risk factors. Protective factors are aspects of the child’s life that protect him or her from physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. We want to increase the protective factors.
I say creating protective factors is the fun and satisfying part of child protection!
There are lots and lots of protective factors that influence how safe a child is from abuse and neglect. Quickly scan these:
And so we arrive at the questions, What protective factors can we personally provide for children ‘in our lives?’ How wide are we willing to expand that circle? And how creative can we be in our giving?
I have a friend who volunteers for a community garden. He gets dirty a few times a week and lends his expertise as a former landscaper and horticulturalist. That community garden provides fresh vegetables to struggling families.
My aunt watches her grandchildren several days a week. She gets up early for their arrival at her house for breakfast before they embark on the day together. She’s been their rock for nearly a decade and they are the highlight of her life.
I have a client, actually a single mother of two, who runs a running group especially for girls to bolster their self-esteem, their confidence in their bodies, and of course their health.
My partner and I give scholarships for kids at our neighborhood summer camp, and we provide backpacks for back to school among other things. We buy tubs of that crazy cookie dough from the band kids even though we don’t eat the stuff.
My brother who is a music teacher has mentored 2 young men with absent and difficult fathers. He is constantly providing various supplies for the kids in his class out of his own money, which the school cannot provide. I have another teacher friend who does the same. She also organizes the senior science project competition as a volunteer at the school.
The computer store where I got my Mac reinvests profits in projects that impact kids in our community. They created an initiative to install a playground in a low-income neighborhood. They also refurbish donated computers for low-income families.
I have another friend who has rallied an entire island community around a boat-building project for kids. A group of disadvantaged youngsters hand builds a boat each year – they’re exquisite! – and then they auction it off to support a local children’s charity.
So I’ll ask you to respond in the comments section because your support of children demonstrates how imaginative and creative we can all be in providing protective factors for children. In times like these, it’s heartening to be reminded of the good so many people are doing every day. Stand up and be counted! Let us hear from you!
What protective factors do you create for the children ‘in your life’? And how wide or how deep is your reach?
Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.
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