Child abuse. Wait…what? That topic of conversation didn’t come up at your last playdate?
Severe neglect. Hmm? You mean when I let my littles watch too many episodes of Paw Patrol so that I can take a shower and mop the floor? No. That’s not what I mean. Not at all.
Fellow moms. Can I pull you out of your normal for a minute? Can we step back from diapers and spit up, from crayons and sippy cups, from loads of laundry and loads of guilt? There is no doubt that parenting is hard. But can I suggest that there are children all around us who have it far worse?
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and as a foster mom for nearly five years, my heart doesn’t stop breaking at the stories I hear and the things I see when sweet (and, sometimes, not so sweet) little ones come into my home.
I know this is an taboo topic. I get it. But I just have to say something. Will you to get uncomfortable with me here for just a few minutes?
Disclaimer: The following statements are true.
Let me say it again. The following statements are true — but they certainly shouldn’t be. The reality of child abuse and neglect make it so. Some of what you’ll read below are from my own personal experience. Many of them are from fellow Texas foster parents. I’m using their stories with permission and without identifying any of the biological parents, children, or foster parents.
These Things Just Shouldn’t Be True: Babies and Toddlers
“Cops” and “bye bye” are the only words that a three-year-old girl can come up with when she’s asked about “mom.”
A 15-month-old baby is so terrified of men that the foster mom’s husband couldn’t be in the same room with the baby for the first week she was in the home.
Severe head trauma necessitates an EKG (15 minutes of bright flashing lights) on an 18-month-old boy who already has strong sensory issues. And he’s supposed to lay still during the test.
Car rides are like torture to a toddler, likely because the last time someone she didn’t really know put her in a car seat, she lost all that she knew of normal reality.
A little girl, three years old, wakes up multiple times a night, stands in the doorway of her room and screams because she thinks she has woken up and is alone. Apparently her biological parents would but her to bed and go out and party.
The first hair cut for a toddler was court-ordered because it was hair follicle test (to check drug exposure levels).
After being uprooted from home in another state for unknown reasons, a three-year-old girl ends up homeless and living in a park, and is present as her mom tries to take her own life.
A 13-month-old baby doesn’t know how to hug, but instead thinks he’s being hurt.
Little ones of all ages are bewildered when they wake up — like they aren’t sure where they are, and if everything they remember actually happened or not. It takes 5-10 minutes before they start speaking and interacting with the rest of the family.
A three-year-old little boy has to learn that belts are for holding pants up, because he thinks they’re only for hitting.
An X-ray shows over 16 bones in various stages of healing…on a five-month-old baby.
After not seeing her mom for two weeks, a three-year-old girl walks right by her without reacting on her way into the court room. The little one comments later that her mom was sad. When asked if she is sad, the little one responds with, “No.”
Every time he sees a police officer, a three-year-old little boy yells, “Hide the white stuff!” (the drugs)
A little boy, two years old, uses profanity when he’s calling for his foster mom because those were the words he always heard his daddy call his mommy.
A toddler physically shakes when the shower turns on.
These Things Just Shouldn’t Be True: School-Age Children
To a young girl, aged four or five, anyone over 12 years of age is called “mommy” and “daddy” because she thinks that’s what you call older people and has no idea what parents are.
An eight-year-old boy doesn’t know the alphabet.
An eleven-year-old girl is in second grade and still can’t read.
While on vacation, a seven-year-old girl starts crying in the hotel parking lot when you leave to go get dinner because she thinks you are leaving all her clothes at the hotel forever.
A girl of just eight years is afraid of the dark because, “that’s when the men come” and has to have a second therapist, just to deal with her sexual issues.
Putting up the Christmas tree sparks triggers of sexual abuse for a nine-year-old girl, so she asks that it be taken down.
Serious fear grips a 14-year-old girl when she and the foster mom returned home after a quick errand to find that the foster mom forgot to shut the front door. She’s terrified because in the past, drug dealers had broken into her home looking for her mom, who owed them money.
An eight-year-old girl knows what a pimp is.
The police terrify a seven-year-old boy because he has only ever interacted with them when they’ve taken him from his mom.
Street names for meth and the process of cooking it are within the span of general knowledge for a 10-year-old boy.
A boy, seven years old, urinates in the closet because he is scared he’d get in trouble for leaving his room.
Nightmares for an eight-year-old boy consist of empty dumpsters and him starving to death. So, he hoards food whenever and wherever he can.
Let’s Talk About Prevention
If you’ve made it this far, you are likely crying, just like I was while I was putting this post together. I’m not exactly sure how to wrap this all up, because I think the statements above have enough weight of their own.
Let me encourage you to take heart. It’s not “Child Abuse Awareness Month.” It’s “Child Abuse Prevention Month.” If you see something, say something. Call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 800.252.5400, or go online and report a concern.
Or, don’t let it go that far. Let’s work together to make the list of statements just a little shorter next year. If your heart is seriously touched, consider becoming a licensed foster parent. If that’s not a step you think you can take right now, there are so many other ways to contribute to the health of families!
- Help out a neighbor in need.
- Encourage a child that you see struggling on the playground.
- Pay a little extra attention to the cutie in the shopping cart in front of you.
- Ask your kids how their friends at school are.
- Call that new mom who you haven’t spoken to since baby came.
- Open your home to your kids’ friend who seem to need a little extra attention, and maybe a home-cooked meal.
Thank you for writing this, Christy.