In our book Anna, Age Eight, we ask readers to be courageous and reflect on a challenging reality.
“Far away from you, on the other side of town, or the other side of the tracks, children live out perfectly miserable lives. If you’re a social worker, of course, this is what you face every day. If, on the other hand, you are like the rest of the American public, you take notice once in a while, perhaps engaging in a bit of head shaking. But for the most part, these boys and girls are out of sight and out of mind.”
In our Resilience Leaders community health program, we ask our participants to think about all our kids, including their own children, their sister’s children, and their neighbor’s children—about everyone who was once a child. We are asking those involved in the prevention of childhood trauma to think about what goes on their neighbor’s home that nobody knows about.
We then ask participants to think about headlines about the latest child abuse cases that, try as we might, we cannot escape:
“Eva, age two, was left in a motel room as her mom passed out from the drugs.”
“A group is lobbying to reinstate the death penalty just to ‘fry’ the mother who killed her four-year-old son, Derek.”
“A mother left her two-year-old daughter, Angela, with a boyfriend, who would later drown her, complaining that the little girl just cried too much.”
“People are outraged that the prison system let someone out on probation without knowing he was a sociopath – letting him brutally murder his new girlfriend’s ten-year-old daughter.”
Here is the tip of the iceberg, but if we are lucky enough to escape the most violent possibilities, we still live within a world of untreated trauma. We are all packed together into the small island planet, floating about the universe, trying to make something of our fate and all these problems.
Which brings us to a reasonable question: What kind of sick society are we? How is it that the world’s oldest constitutional democracy manages to send railroads across a continent and rocket ships to the moon, all in the process of becoming the richest nation in the history of time, but also plays host to the routine rape, starvation, burning, and beating of children? Why are so many kids scarred, born addicted, and generally traumatized? Not every tragedy can be prevented, of course, but this? This is our best effort? Surely, we may wonder, all these bruised, beaten, abused and murdered children need not show up on the nightly news, week after week, in such horrifying quantities.
We’re asking that we stop business as usual, whatever we as a nation have been doing for decades under the banner of “childhood health and safety” and ask, “Why has all our work let to epidemic rates of childhood trauma and maltreatment?”
If we are courageous enough to question our work, we can begin the process of identifying the root causes of childhood trauma, abuse and neglect. From there we can begin the data-driven and collaborative work of ending adverse childhood experiences.
We are working toward a future when every government program, non-profit agency and foundation invests in measurable and meaningful work that ensures safe childhoods, strong families and resourced communities.