Child abuse counseling is a specialized field of counseling that focuses on treating children who may have been injured or traumatized by a trusted loved one. The children that Amy Southerland, Liz Goldy and Karen Chapman, clinical social workers for Family & Children’s Place, see may be victims of abuse themselves, or they may have witnessed someone they care about being abused – a parent or sibling.
Following is the second in a series of published conversations with Southerland, Goldy and Chapman about their work, the process, the challenges, the impact and the rewards. First in the series.
Liz Goldy – Oh, there is no easy answer for that. It’s different for every child, for everyone we work with. It can be months to years to never for some.
Karen Chapman – For teens, they may never trust you because of the way people in life treat them. Parents, family, friends may not mean to, but they often treat them differently, like the walking wounded, so they guard themselves. It’s hard to trust in that situation, so we may never get them to really trust us.
Amy Southerland – The younger we see them, the more likely they are to trust … young children are more open, seem to be better able to see beyond the hurt and injury.
Karen Chapman – Trust usually comes, but it takes time and work … a lot of work, and it begins with being honest about everything.
Amy Southerland – Kids have few clues what the Department of Child Services is going to do to them or their families. They have no idea what the police are going to do, so it’s important for us to be completely honest, to tell them what we do, how we will work with them, what they can expect from us … what we will do and what we won’t do. We are clear. Where others parties may leave gaps in information, we fill every void.
Karen Chapman – This is a place where children get to feel like the expert. They know more about what happened than me. They know better how they feel, the impact, the hurt.
Liz Goldy – This is the place where it’s all about the child, not the parents. In most conversations, it’s the parents who are the focus, bringing the child, speaking for the child, representing the child. Here, it’s about the child, so kids get excited to come here, to be the focus, to have people be concerned about their health, their safety and their happiness.
Karen Chapman – It’s hard for them at first … the last time they told the story, shared their feelings, their world probably exploded around them. It’s hard for me, for us to see a child go through this. Your heart is broken for them and by them, but what we do helps. When they talk about what they are thinking and feeling, it helps … it feels better.
Amy Southerland – It’s a lot like a wound. If you treat it and clean it, it feels better, but if you let it be, it festers, worsens. Our most important task is to help the child clean the wound, to feel better.
Liz Goldy – We work with them to, over time, confront what happened, to talk about it. We often try to get them to write about it, to describe what happened, any sights, sounds, smells, small details that are important to the case and to healing. It’s hard for the children to go through, it’s hard for us to hear, but it works and that’s when real healing generally begins.
Karen Chapman – These children live in chaos. We try to provide them a place of peace, of calm, of understanding and support.