May 29, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – One in four girls and one in six boys experience sex abuse before they reach the age of 18, yet the vast majority of these cases are preventable if children, parents, teachers, and other community members receive the proper training to be aware of child sex abuse.
That was the message that some 165 community leaders in Lenawee County heard as Catholic Charities’ Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Lenawee County presented a workshop in late April. The workshop featured a keynote address by Jenna Quinn, a survivor of child sex abuse, and her mother, Kelly Quinn. Both told the story of Jenna’s abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend and the impact it had on Jenna and her entire family. Read more about this workshop in this article by Spencer Durham in The Daily Telegram.
“This event could be considered an early step in creating a trauma-informed community in Adrian,” said Sister Pam Millenbach, OP, a Licensed Master Social Worker who for the past eight years has worked in the foster care program at Catholic Charities of Jackson, Lenawee, and Hillsdale Counties. “One of the goals of the Child Advocacy Center is to promote trauma-informed communities, which involves education and bringing people together in facing trauma such as sex abuse of children.”
The CAC, established in November 2017 in Adrian, offers a “child friendly” place where children who have faced sexual or severe physical abuse can receive the support they need while working with social workers and law enforcement in the prosecution of the case. “In the past, children under the age of 18 suspected of suffering from sexual and/or severe physical abuse were secondarily traumatized by multiple interviews with police, Child Protective Services, prosecutors, and invasive exams in hospitals,” Sister Pam said. Through the CAC, children only undergo one interview and receive the crisis counseling and support they and their family need.
“It’s nice to have a place where children can come and feel supported and know that they’re not alone in this scary situation,” said Amanda Davis Scott, Director of the CAC in Lenawee County. “It’s very empowering for children to speak about the experience and be told it isn’t OK – and for the child to realize that it was not their fault.”
Sister Pam said the Lenawee County CAC has received funding from the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Ministry Trust. The continuing grant beginning in July 2019 will fund a key aspect of the CAC’s work of creating trauma-informed communities: prevention. “Prevention is the core of trauma-informed communities,” Sister Pam explained. “We are usually reacting to crisis, but 90 percent of sexual abuse can be prevented. That’s where education is so critical.”
One program, Darkness to Light, will begin in July. “Darkness to Light is a sexual abuse awareness program for adults,” including teachers, other professionals, and parents, Amanda explained. “We’ve already done some of these trainings for community and support staff of Lenawee County. Through Darkness to Light, schools can provide similar training to parents.
Adults who receive this training are more aware of the possibility that a child could be suffering from sexual abuse – and would be more prepared to report the possibility, Amanda said. They would be more aware of the “red flags” in a child’s behavior and less apt to allow their children to fall victim to perpetrators who might appear to be friendly. “Stranger danger is a myth,” she said. “Ninety percent of perpetrators are people who have built a relationship of trust with the family.”
The next phase is the education of children, Amanda said. A special program – Child Help Speak Up Be Safe – is offered to children in Pre-K through 12th grade. The program focuses not only on sexual abuse but also on cyber safety and bullying, “different areas where children are apt to be victimized,” Amanda said. Children will receive programming throughout their years in school, focusing on different areas according to the students’ age. “Cyber safety goes for older kids, but touch for younger children,” she noted.
Following the April presentation, a group of 30 key representatives, including State legislators, state-wide Child Advocacy Center representatives, and various service providers from Lenawee County met. Next steps – furthering partnerships and input on how to create proactive, positive policies and procedures within the State of Michigan – were discussed, including enacting “Jenna’s Law,” requiring each school to adopt and implement a prevention policy that educates students, teachers, and parents on how to recognize and report child sexual abuse. Over half the country has adopted legislation reflecting the principles of “Jenna’s Law.”
Sister Pam said many of the children in foster children with whom she works have been victims of sexual abuse, and many have received services through the CAC program. She also works with the foster parents, many of whom are in tears. “They have little or no experience with the behaviors the children exhibit and do not understand the effect on the brain that has occurred due to the trauma,” she explained. “We are finding through MRIs and other scans that the brains of children who have experienced trauma are not developing normally.” She provides educational material to the foster parents and discusses with them evidence-based techniques to work with the children.
Sister Pam compared trauma-informed communities to resilient communities, the focus of one of the four Enactments approved by the Adrian Dominican Sisters at their General Chapter of 2016. Through the establishment of a trauma-informed community in Lenawee County, “resilience is created through the initiation of an evidence-based educational prevention component, thus promoting the well-being of the community and its ability to address stressors from crises and sustain itself into the future,” she said.
Feature photo (top): Jenna Quinn, a survivor of child sexual abuse, gives the keynote presentation at a conference April 26, 2019, to help professionals in Lenawee County to form a trauma-informed community.
Kelly Quinn speaks of her experience as the mother of Jenna Quinn and of what her family learned about child sexual abuse from Jenna’s experience.