How would you describe your parent(s) growing up? Were the parents who used corporal punishment (spanking), “time out,” or some other form of punishment? Despite years of controversy surrounding what parenting “techniques” are good and what are bad, the topic of child abuse rarely gets discussed. It’s a taboo topic. This week, during Personal Stories Week, we will be discussing a variety of topics relating to attachment, parenting, mental illness, and mental health in general. Today I have Ginger Kadlec, an advocate for children, sharing her knowledge about child abuse with us.
- Thank you so much Ginger for volunteering your time to contribute to blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers. I admire the work you do for families. Can you share with us what your mission is? What prompted you to do the great work you do today?
Tamara, thank YOU so much for inviting me to share information about BeAKidsHero™! After a 20-year career in the corporate sector, I was asked to serve as interim executive director for a child advocacy center (CAC). That one opportunity has forever changed my life. I began working with children who were alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse and neglect… and was shocked at the number of children who participated in forensic interviews at just this one CAC in central Indiana.
I hate to admit it, but I was one of those people who thought child abuse happened to “someone else”. I had no real clue how widespread a pandemic it is. As I learned more, I wanted to do more… so I started a website www.BeAKidsHero.com and began blogging to share information with parents and other caring adults about things they can do to help protect the children in their lives. My mission: Improve the world one child at a time.
Now a trained child forensic interviewer and guest instructor for the Child First™ program in Indiana, I also am a member of the Board of Directors for the child advocacy center in my hometown, Boone County CAC. It is an honor to collaborate with and continually learn from child protection professionals in the field.
- How many families have been, or you believe will be, impacted by what you do?
My ultimate dream would be to have EVERY family around the world become educated in child abuse prevention and intervention! Whether they are impacted by the BeAKidsHero message or by other child protection organizations, every parent and child needs to be versed in body safety and know what to do in the event kids are ever made to feel unsafe or violated, be it by a sexual predator, a bully or even a family member or close friend. It’s hard to know exactly how many people have seen my blogs or social media messages, but our community of online heroes literally grows by the day. To-date, there are nearly 78,000 people in our Twitter community and another 6,500 on Facebook. We also have hundreds of loyal newsletter subscribers… and that list is quickly expanding, as well. We welcome new members to our community with open arms and are eager to share tips and information with parents and other caring adults about educating and empowering their children, as well as outlining steps to take should a child ever find him/herself in an abusive situation. I am currently producing a free video training series for parents about protecting children from sexual abuse that will be available later this year.
- Why is this topic so important for us to be aware of?
Children around the world are being abused, neglected and exploited at alarming rates! Child maltreatment truly is a global pandemic:
- 1 in 8 children in the U.S. are victims of some form of maltreatment (e.g., physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect).
- There are over 40 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. alone… that number jumps exponentially when you consider adults who were also victims of physical or emotional abuse and neglect… the world-wide figures are staggering.
- 1 in 10 children will be victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18-years old.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has in its database over 148 million child exploitation images (videos, photos, etc.) from around the world.
- Nearly half of all teens have been victims of cyberbullying.
- Over 70% of kids aged 12-17 say they have unintentionally stumbled across online pornography. The average age for a child to see online porn is only 11-years old.
It’s important for each of us to understand the magnitude of this problem and its longer-term societal impact. If we don’t aggressively work to stop this pandemic in our generation, it will self-perpetuate and present even greater dangers to children (and society as a whole) in the future.
- Do you think poor mental health or severe mental health challenges such as mood disturbances, anger management, or psychosis has anything to do with the number of families who are affected by abuse, neglect, and maltreatment?
Yes, yes and yes!!! A number of studies have shown the link between childhood trauma (including abuse and neglect) with mental and physical health issues as adults. The old adage, “Children Learn What They Live” is so very true. While not all abused children grow into abusive adults, they do carry their past with them, often finding it hard to overcome feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression or shame. Childhood experiences, both good and bad, do have an impact on the adults we later become. It is vitally important for children who experience trauma to have the opportunity to participate in counseling so they are better able to cope and deal with those traumatic experiences. People such as you, Tamara, are so very important to the health and vitality of children and families. To just expect children or adults to “shake it off” or “just get over it” is unfair… we all need guidance, reassurance and assistance to help find our safe place again in the world.
- What do you think needs to happen to protect our children? Is it as simple as gaining more knowledge or will it include more work than this?
It truly does “take a village” and knowledge is key. To even know a problem exists, we need to have information about it. Educating ourselves about the prevalence of this pandemic and the many forms it takes raises our own consciousness and awareness, and better enables us to know it when we see it. The second, and perhaps even more important step, does involve some heavy lifting… that is taking action:
- Educate children about body safety and abuse prevention AND empower them to tell someone if they ever feel threatened, unsafe or even uncomfortable. This isn’t a one-and-done proposition… as with other life lessons (e.g., manners, responsibility, personal hygiene, nutrition, etc.), these are lessons adults need to continually reinforce with kids.
- Intervene immediately if a child ever discloses abuse or says he/she is uncomfortable or scared around someone. The process of intervention obviously varies depending on the circumstances. If a child discloses abuse, it is VITAL to immediately take steps to protect that child. For more information, I invite you to see “7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure”. You may be the ONLY person that child tells, so it’s truly up to you to show that child he/she is worthy of protection.
- With the shocking amount of online child exploitation taking place, report any online abuse you see to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Simply raising awareness and talking about this issue is HUGE! Sharing information among your circle of influence can make a big difference.
- Working with families is one of the most difficult jobs on this planet to deal with. Every family is different and the rules of the family vary as well. What has been your experience in trying to educate families about this topic? Do you see barriers? Are families typically open to learning more?
In my experience, I’ve worked with all kinds of families. Some parents are deeply concerned about their children’s safety and do all they can to ensure their protection. There are also parents on the opposite end of the spectrum who actually place their children in harm’s way to serve their own selfish purposes… Case in point: single parents who knowingly allow their partners to sexually abuse their children because those partners are paying the bills or fulfilling other needs of those parents. Those cases always break my heart.
There are other barriers that have to do with parents simply not understanding or feeling comfortable with addressing certain topics. For example, online safety. Children are digital natives who engage in online activity at pretty young ages. Parents need to be aware of online dangers that are very real. Sextortion, child pornography, stalking and cyberbullying are just a few of those dangers to which parents need to tune-in. We wouldn’t allow our 13-year old (or even 17-year old) to drive across country by him/herself… why would we ever feel secure allowing them to surf the “World-Wide-Web” unaccompanied?
- You were gracious enough to invite me, a year or so ago, to write an article for your website that focused on the topic of “un-intentional abuse” and what that means for families. Can you talk a little about this and why you are open to this concept? Most people shy away from using this term because it seems to reduce the culpability of the perpetrator. But as we both stated to a commenter on your site, it’s a concept that requires an open mind and that can be a challenge.
I LOVE your article on this topic! A recent study found that 1 in 8 children in the U.S. are victims of some form of maltreatment. Maltreatment takes on many forms, one of which can be unintentional abuse where a well-meaning person is not emotionally available to a child in his/her care or simply doesn’t have the knowledge or skills to be a parent. Your article really resonates with me – I’ve seen numerous cases of parents who, in their heart of hearts, want to do well by their children, but simply don’t. As you so expertly outlined, there are a variety of factors that can impact unintentional abuse, such as misplacing anger or blame, being judgmental, self-centeredness or even responding negatively to a bad day at work and taking it out on the kids.
On a personal level, my own mother has struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since she was young – that struggle has significantly impacted my family. I always felt loved and was always cared for, but there was an emotional component to my mother that was simply not accessible to us. She is a wonderful, loving person, but can’t help any of that… it truly is and was unintentional.
- Most of us in the social service field are looking for ways to inspire others, educate, and expand our mission for the betterment off society or a population in our society. What do you see as your biggest goal(s) for the next year?
In an effort to continue raising awareness and educating others, I am currently producing a free video series for parents about protecting children from sexual predators and a more in-depth video training series for parents based on protecting children of various ages. I plan to release this series by the end of this year – if you would like to be notified when the free series is available, you are welcome to pre-register by clicking here.
I also plan to develop a line of children’s books designed to teach various life lessons, all of which relate to safety and empowerment. My hope is to launch that series sometime in 2016. Stay tuned! J
- How can families or readers contact you if they’d like to talk to you about child abuse and neglect?
Anyone is welcome to contact me via my website at http://www.gingerkadlec.com/contact-me/ or email me at [email protected]. They can also connect with me on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
Thank you again, Tamara, for introducing me to your PsycCentral.com family! I hope to connect with some of them. By working together, we WILL improve the world one child at a time.
Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has released a report for parents and other caring adults, “12 Scary Apps.” Ginger can be contacted via her website at BeAKidsHero.com or email her at [email protected].
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article during Personal Stories Week on mental health therapists who feel quite misunderstood.