Take the tour of the facility with Shonjrell Ladner, Mrs. Tennessee International 2018, prior to reading the Blog!
Child abuse and neglect tends to lead from drug and alcohol abuse, here in Tennessee and throughout the US. I hear the word "abuse," so often, intermingled with the circumstances of our Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome babies (born dependent on drugs). Honestly, during and even prior to my start of speaking out to save our babies, I did strongly feel that these newborns, detoxing from drugs, had to come from the most harsh and abusive environments. Later, I learned that this is a generalization; depending on the terms. Sadly, while volunteering in the NICU, I do see that a mass majority of NAS babies, are put into state custody, foster care, even up for adoption. Child abuse comes in many forms, let's go over what it truly means.
Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse (childhelp.org). Through comprehension of this technical term, yes, using while pregnant, in most cases, is considered child abuse. The Childhelp organization, aids in the best interest for the child, on both sides.
The United States as one of the industrialized nations, loses the average between four and seven children a day from child abuse. Organizations like Childhelp, are very instrumental in the reduction of fatalities, while also placing so many children, in safe environments. Childhelp's, goal is to meet the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children. Their efforts are focused on the prevention, intervention, treatment, and community outreach. Childhelp programs and services help children from any situation and let them experience the life they deserve: one filled with love. The principle theme across all programs is to provide children served with an environment of compassion and kindness. (Resource-Childhelp.org)
Early 2017, I was invited to the Childhelp Advocacy Center of East Tennessee. Children are brought here, upon DCS (Department of Children Services) along with officials, who have gathered enough information, leading to the need of examination for evidence of abuse. As I took the tour, I imagined being a child as young as my own son, entering the building, and what it must feel like. To describe the first glance, there was a bright and cheery playroom, filled with toys, and a large constructed tree as center focus. It is beautiful. I was told, when a child enters, in a traumatic state, this area, is meant to calm them, and comfort them. Imagine, being taken away from your family, and not understanding what is happening. Imagine being hurt, and scared, leaving nearly everything behind. This environment is nurturing, in this moment.
Later, we visited the interview room, where the children share their stories. Forensics, Police Officers, FBI, etc. sit on the other side of a two-way mirror, recording what is said for court cases. It was like watching a television show, I had never encountered this in real life. As we continued down the hall, we stopped at the medical examination room. It had an underwater theme, with a beautiful boat, above on the ceiling. Below the depths, you see where a child would be placed on an examination table, for physical abuse and sexual abuse. As I stood there, staring, I was even more shocked, hearing the statistics of those examined, just a ten minute drive from my home. This really is "America's best kept secret," as said by the late Nancy Reagan, to the founders of Childhelp, Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O'Meara. You just don't get to hear this regularly, unless you seek it out, let alone get the opportunity to enter this facility, unless you are in a traumatic circumstance.
Childhelp has call centers throughout the USA, along with three advocacy centers, group homes, and foster care agencies. The past years of working in our NICU, there hasn't been a week, where I'd hold a baby, and wonder if I could contribute to their lives, temporarily, or forever. What stopped me, was fear, watching others go through custody battles, and also convincing my husband. This is not a one-sided decision. Whether I could be a foster parent, or not, while advocating and speaking for this organization, I want to know everything, and experience any ways that I can help.
What pushed my decision to at least try, and convinced my husband, was an unfortunate incident. While volunteering for another cause, I met a homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted woman, who happened to be only two days older than myself. A friend of mine, pushed her towards me, as soon as I arrived, as she had been raped, previously, and was pregnant. She was also raped, just hours before I arrived. I didn't know her, but we were together that day, and I didn't want to leave her side, knowing she was pregnant, hurt and helpless; we bonded, hugged, and held hands. Robert, my husband, happened to join me that one time, and he watched me with her. He understood, because he was there.
See how so many social issues collide? I found myself, right smack in the middle, and felt like I was supposed to be there. P.A.T.H. (Parents As Tender Healers) is a course for prospective foster/adoptive parents. It is a requirement and the first step in being a provider of a safe haven, for these children. It was perfect, that Childhelp offers this course! We started about three weeks ago, and have learned so much, not just as prospective foster parents, but as paternal parents. I am so glad, I decided to do this! It is a seven week course, held on Thursday nights. Because of the high number of abuse cases in TN, and our nation, there is a critical need of foster parents. Taking this class, does not force you into your decision, it actually gives you insight to decide if this is right for you, or not. Even if, I don't make it on time, to help aid the mother I need to help, we are open, to help children as God sees fit. I am a firm believer in children not being separated from the parent, if there are chances of the individual remaining clean and sober, while attending programs to help improve. The wonderful news is that Childhelp does offer programs, to aid the parents in getting back on track, who do have the hope. They are focused on the best interest of the child at the end of the day, not opinions, but also understand that ultimate decisions sometimes are made in other favors; which are granted by the judge either way.
While you may not see yourself doing this, I do suggest to try the first step, because you are guaranteed to make a difference in a child's life. If you see evidence of child abuse, or want to help report, call the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child. Do not be silent, every ten seconds, a report is made of child abuse.
To learn how Childhelp began, visit here-https://www.childhelp.org/history-of-childhelp/