Thursday, June 28, 2007

day 7

A disclaimer: I worked for several years in Early Intervention, a nationwide program that serves children under three years old with developmental delays and disabilities. This is a description of my first meeting with one of the children I served. In the following (true) story, the foster mother was unimpressive at best. However, I know and love several amazing foster parents. I have watched children flourish under the love and nurturing of good foster homes. So please don’t read this particular character as a commentary on the foster care system. The world is already a better place because of families who have devoted their lives to displaced children. Having said that …

I remember sitting in a clean, dark living room cluttered with porcelain and picture frames. The sun is shining, it’s springtime in the South, and this is my last appointment of the day. I’m ready to finish up and be outside. I have conducted meetings like this a few hundred times, and by now am comfortable sitting in strangers’ living rooms. I don’t remember the foster mother’s face, but I remember her demeanor as cold, indifferent. I talk briefly with the little girl before I open her file. She’s two years old, with neatly braided hair and a clean pink sundress. She and her four-year-old sister have been in foster care for only a few months. They are together in the living room. I notice how quiet they are, how the little girl doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t smile. I open my notes.

I ask her foster mother the usual questions, and she answers politely without elaborating. As I’m completing another form for her to sign, she looks at the little girl. “Go on, now. Go potty.” The girl begins to cry, not with the exuberant resistance of a toddler, but in a guttural wail I have never heard in another context. The woman is undaunted. “Go.” The little girl obeys, moaning as she moves across the room and down the hallway. “Does she always cry like that?” I ask. “Only when she goes to the bathroom,” she responds. “I don’t know why. Something must have happened.”

Something must have happened.

I am not an expert on child abuse, but I know there is only one reason why baby girls are terrified of bathrooms. I try to reason with myself. Don’t respond, I think. She’s already in the system; someone already knows more about this than you do. They don’t even know you yet. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just have this woman sign the forms and you can go home. But it’s not working. I hear her at the far end of the house now, softly wailing in the bathroom. I put down my file. I can’t take it.

“Excuse me,” I say to the woman. She does not respond. I walk to the end of the hall and see the little girl, standing alone outside of the bathroom, still moaning. I pick her up. “Shh,” I said. “You’re okay. It’s okay.” She relaxes against me, resting her braids on my shoulder as I rock her. She is no more or less afraid of me than anyone else. Gradually the wails subside. Her breathing slows to the shuddering sob of a tired baby. When she is calm, I carry her back into the living room. I sit down on the couch, the little girl in my lap, talking quietly to her. She never looks at my eyes.

* 90-95% of sexual abuse is never reported.
* 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18.
* Among them, nearly 30% will be molested before the age of 7.
* In the United States, three million children will be sexually abused this year.
* 90% will know their assailant.
* 1 in 20 men will sexually abuse a child.
*1 in 3300 women will also become perpetrators.
* When sexual abuse is reported, only 1-4% are false accusations.
* In those instances, 75% are made by an adult, not a child.
* Thirty nine million American adults were sexually abused as children.

They are staggering statistics that we never hear.

In preparing for the 40 Day Fast, there has been a lot of talk about abundance and excess. In this, too, I see my own excess. How easily I trust others, how naively I assume the best because I have never endured the worst of humanity. How often I have sensed that something was wrong, but chosen to believe otherwise. It is so overwhelming to consider nationally that I have chosen to pray specifically for my little corner of the world. I am focusing on the greater Montgomery area of Alabama. My prayer is that a child will be heard and a child will be spared every hour that I pray. I am also praying for adults in my sphere of influence who were abused as children, that they will experience the freedom and peace that only comes from the restoring power of Christ.

In every county there are organizations devoted to catching criminals and helping children and adults heal from the devastation of sexual abuse. I have personally interacted with The Family Sunshine Center in Montgomery and the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center in Nashville. Both programs are run by gracious and compassionate people. If you have time or money to give to your local program, by all means, they need a hand. But if you want to know how to help, just look around. Three million children need us to pay attention, to ask uncomfortable questions and speak up when we think something is wrong. And 39 million adults need to talk.


kat's mom said...

Thank you for that incredible post!
I will be praying for you today Stephanie.

kddub said...

This is an important topic, and a very good post.

I had a friend growing up who had been taken out of her home as a young child due to abuse, then adopted. Those parents got a divorce, then put her back in the system. She bounced from house to house until she was 18 years old. Many of the homes she was in, she was abused in various forms. Through her I met many other girls in the system as well, who had had the same sort of life. Their eyes were empty, as if someone had stolen the light within them.

It is a terrible thing going on, and my prayer is for these little ones, and like you said the adults that had that experience as children.

(on a side note. We have friends who adopted a baby out of the foster system, and some friends who are adopting two little ones out of the system. They had said there are somewhere around 100,000 children in the foster system in America.)

Thank you for shedding light on this topic.

Discontented Refuge said...

Great post Stephanie, is there a link to a website or something that talks more about this?

My wife and I took a foster care class that told us many statistics like this that are staggering, it takes a special person to be able to love and care for children in these situations.

euphrony said...

Praying for your fast today. Thank you for helping make us aware of this.

Kat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M'elle said...

Thank you for standing up and bringing attention to a difficult subject.
I am praying with you today.

Kat said...

What an amazing post, Stephanie.

Frankly, those statistics infuriate me. Children are so precious...

I'll certainly be praying for and with you today.

Susanne said...

I'm praying that the little girl in your story is with people who love her now. Bless her heart. Thanks for focusing your prayers on these people who have been through things I can't even imagine. My prayers are with them today as well.

e said...

Those stats are heartbreaking. Thanks for informing and sharing your heart!

Gretch@Sketch said...

This was an absoltely incredible post! I thank God for people like you in this world, so ready to battle for others lives through prayer.

Thank you Stephanie!

Chaotic Hammer said...

I've had several close friends affected by sexual abuse, and the severe toll that it takes in every area of their lives and relationships is staggering and heartbreaking.

Another sad but true part of this: Victims who do not get help and healing for this abuse often end up being abusers themselves.

Thanks for this, Stephanie. I am definitely praying with you today, and praying for some friends of mine that I haven't been in touch with for a while. It's time for me to make some calls and write some e-mails to a few old friends today, and to make sure that hope and healing continue to be active in their lives.

Jeff, Carrie, Kara Beth, and Kaylan said...

steph, this turned out great. really great.


mominalabama said...

Steph, You are such an amazing person and you are a real inspiration to me. I thought I knew what your job was all about,but little did I know. I am so blessed that you are a part of my life.
We once had a foster child who had been abused. I think about her and wonder where she is and how she is. She would be about 33 years old now.
I join you in the same prayer for children around the world. And I am praying for you today, and thanking God for you.

Shawn said...

Another very sad fact is that a person convicted of a sexual crime against a child that is deamed "non-violent" will spend little or no time in jail or any other "punishment" or counceling for that matter.

A 30 year old in my neighborhood, when I was 7, was convicted on several seperate accounts of sexual crimes against three different boys. He spent less than six months in jail and has a family and three children of his own now.

I would love to beable to remember ages 5-8, but I don't, I can only go by the accounts of others about my life and news paper articles. My last and only clear memory of this guy was when I was 13 I answered a knock on my front door, there he stood with his wife and three kids and asked me if he could speak to my parents, I went into the livingroom got my parents and proceeded to the bathroom where I vomitted.

I am 29 now and by the God's awesome power of healing I live a relatively normal life after much of counciling. I agree fully with asking those questions that are uncomfortable and hard to ask. My parents never asked me, until it was too late.

Madame Rubies said...


Do you know if that little girl got help?

This has been plaguing me lately, as I prepare Haydn for school. Almost every teenager I talk to has been molested at some point. Almost every one of my girlfriends can tell you a story that would break your heart. It seems an impossible task, to protect my children.

Ward said...

Thanks for your post and for raising this concern for kids who are abused. As a high school Counselor, I can attest to the fact that the results are long term and contaminate many areas of a child's life. Still, the abuse is often unreported and unresolved. I'm praying with you for many kids that you deal with and many that I deal with as well. The Lord knows their names. Thanks!

Ted's Aunt said...

These are the things that keep me awake at night. All those children out there who need someone to help them. We have all been guilty, I think, of looking the other way. "What if I'm wrong?" "That can't possibly be true." "How embarrassing if I'm wrong?" I have learned that our gut feelings on these things are almost always right. So,when we think something is off, it usually is. Don't let it pass, it will always be in the back of your mind. I don't know you Stephanie, but the little children of the world are safer with you in that world. God bless you and all the devoted foster parents out there.

buf said...