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.
March 4, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The City of Adrian and Lenawee County face a number of challenges. But given the community’s assets – such as caring people and about 800 nonprofit organizations – the community can face those challenges, particularly by building on collaboration already in place among service agencies.
That was the gist of an update by the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee, formed in response to the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter Enactment on Resilient Communities. The Enactment calls on the Adrian Dominican Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.”
The Congregation spent a year studying resilient communities and shared some of the findings during a public symposium in March 2018 and an educational forum in August 2018. Committees have been formed in Adrian and in the Congregation’s Dominican Midwest, Dominican West, Florida, and Great Lakes Mission Chapters to explore opportunities to build resilience in their regions.
Jennifer Hunter and Sister Sharon Weber, OP, Co-Chairs of the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee, focused their February 25 update on the results of the Committee’s year of research and next steps in collaborating with people of Lenawee County.
Jennifer, Campus Administrator, reported on the statistics that the committee had unearthed: Adrian’s population of 20,000 in a county of 98,000 residents; the median wage of Adrian households, almost $34,000, compared to a national average of $59,000; and a poverty rate of 27 percent compared to a national average of 14 percent.
Sister Sharon, Vice President for Academic Affairs for Siena Heights University in Adrian, spoke of lessons the committee learned from their own involvement in the local area, as well as from listening to Co-workers, local community members, and Sisters. One of the greatest assets of the area is the attitude of the people, she said. “This is a caring community, willing to help each other.”
But, Sister Sharon said, people in the community also identified a number of challenges: the lack of accessibility to mental health services, reliable public transportation, food security, jobs with living wages, services for youth, affordable and accessible day care, and affordable housing.
The Committee’s research also focused on effective approaches the Committee and the Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers in the area can take in working with the community to address the challenges. “It helps to start where you’re wanted,” Jennifer said. “Don’t call [people] into your board rooms to sit around your conference room tables or don’t call them into your house. You go to their churches or their park benches or their spaces where they feel the most comfortable, and they’re going to open up to you.”
Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County, which has worked with the people of Adrian through their East Side neighborhood revitalization program, proved the effectiveness of gaining the trust of the residents. “They learned that it takes years to build trust,” Jennifer said. The hardest lesson of all, she added, is to “give up control if you really want the residents to take charge of their future. Sit back and be a participant as opposed to leading that charge.”
Sister Sharon outlined next steps that the Committee planned for the coming year:
The goal, Sister Sharon said, is to build resilient communities that feature “sustainability, partnerships based on trust, equity and justice, spiritual wisdom, and healing.”
Serving on the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee are Sister Rosemary Abramovich, OP, Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, Joel Henricks, Ashley LaVigne, Brad McCullar, Sister Pam Millenbach, OP, Amy Palmer, and Sister Kathleen Schanz, OP. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of the Office of Resilient Communities, and Sara Stoddard, Finance Director, are members ex officio, and Kris Cooper, executive assistant, serves as the Committee’s secretary.