Child Abuse: Healing through Understanding
By Dianne Anderson
Raise your hand if you want to be a bad parent.
Most parents would not willingly go down that road, but without the right guidance, they could end up there.
Marilyn Moore, a retired California Baptist University professor, has studied the numbers, and understands the cause and the cure.
She was beaten regularly growing up, so much so that doctors asked her if she had been in a car accident. Her mother would hit her with whatever was within reach, including a skillet to the side of the head when she was 19 years old for having an engagement ring.
“She would use whatever she had. I didn’t have a car accident, I had a mom. She would use a broom, whatever was in her hand,” she said. Her fiance got her out of the house. She is still married to him 48 years later.
She said she doesn’t mind sharing her story when she goes out to speak publicly because it’s not the worst of it. Back in her generation in the 1950s, teachers or other professionals that suspected child abuse could look the other way.
What happened in the family, stayed in the family. No one talked about it, and parents found a way to make sure it that the marks didn’t show. “You learn very early that it’s a family secret. You don’t tell In some respects. You feel as a child that this is what childhood is like for everybody, and I’m no different,” she said.
As she got older, she struggled to forget through drugs and alcohol. For her, the path to normalcy was through education, and understanding the full dynamic of child abuse, and how it lingers into adulthood.
Today, as a motivational speaker, she focuses on how child abuse shapes coping strategies. She was well into her 30s, but her coping skills were still like a teenager. She was stunted. It’s one reason why abuse gets repeated through the generations.
First is apathy. An abused child learns not to care as a way to cope with a situation where they have no control. Some take on an attitude of complete compliance, or their anger directed outward, or inward in the form of self-abuse.
That was her problem.
Her mother used food as a weapon, and Moore said she fluctuated from 90 pounds to up to 200 pounds through young adulthood. “I was a cutter, I developed eating disorders, and addiction to prescription drugs,” she said. “It’s an emotional pain relief. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Recently, she celebrated 31 years clean and sober.
Moore is white, and she also takes issue with skewed numbers showing a higher incidence of African American families, whose children are removed from the home by CPS.
As a sociologist of 22 years, she knows child abuse cuts across race, culture, and economics. The one difference is that money and race are closely connected. The rich have access to good lawyers.
“They benefit from the legal system, the unequal way that family law is applied is unfair and racist,” she said.
She feels the emphasis should be on reaching and teaching all parents, and getting kids out of danger, but she said ending up in social services is sometimes not much better.
“I’ve heard numerous stories of my students that are products of foster families. It was horrible. The fix is with the parents,” she said.
April is child abuse awareness month, and the San Bernardino Children’s Fund is also reaching out with resources to the community to help parents learn how to be better.
Nicholas Fisher, a development officer with Children’s Fund in San Bernardino, said child abuse isn’t something that just happens. There are trends that exist within vulnerable populations.
“We do often see young under-equipped, under-resourced parents who are connected to these issues,” he said.
Each year, over 700,000 children are abused, according to the National Children’s Alliance, a child advocacy organization.
At least statistically, “stranger danger” isn’t as dangerous as the child’s inner circle. The numbers indicate children are more at risk of child abuse from someone close to the family.
“Probably one degree from the parent, an uncle, a boyfriend, some sort of family friend, that’s where you see the greater degree, especially sexual abuse than abuse or neglect,” he said.
In other cases, kids may not take a direct hit, but traumatized because of abuse in the home, such as domestic violence.
The first move is getting vulnerable kids to safety. Last year, their Children’s Assessment Center saw over 2,000 kids, but he said they try to be proactive, rather than reactive, and get families linked into resources to help reduce stress at home.
Recently, their Getting Ahead Program started the first session, with a class running once a week for the following ten to 12 weeks. Participating parents will be reimbursed with a small stipend as part of a research program. Parents can contact that program for more information.
The Children’s Fund also helped families earlier this month through their “Children are Our Future” parade and resource fair, which had a good showing of Black and Brown parents. He said a few families inquired about how to volunteer and give back.
Over the weekend, in collaboration with San Bernardino County 211, and San Bernardino Valley College, they hosted a legal clinic focused on other specialty high needs help, including assistance with change of child support orders and support payment options, felony reduction assistance. They helped with misdemeanor or marijuana offense assistance, traffic tickets, failure to appear, certificate of rehabilitation, expungements or sealing of arrest records.
They also regularly partner with community nonprofits that have a foundation of case management, such as school counselors, and advocates. They help with beds, backpacks, and school supplies.
“We want to build in the resources that stabilize homes, and alleviate some of the pressure and stress,” he said. “It’s getting behind the scenes, educating the parent, and making sure they have something to connect to.”
For assistance, or to find out about the classes, contact Children’s Fund 909.379.0000