April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, reminding us that it’s not only teachers and doctors who need to be alert to children in trouble – it’s everyone’s job. Last year, more than 100 Illinois children reportedly died because of abuse and neglect.
Over the past few years, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services rescued hundreds of children from toxic living environments. Every effort is made to return them home, and many procedural steps are taken to try and ensure the children’s safety and welfare.
Court Appointed Special Advocates – or CASAs – help in that process. Volunteers interact with the children, their families and involved professionals to render details that help judges rule in the victims’ best interests.
These kids suffer more than the shame and pain of a single slap or spanking. In fact, many CASA cases don’t involve physical attack, rather they involve emotional abuse and neglect. However, according to CASA Kane County volunteers Terry and Susan – whose last names are being withheld because of the sensitive nature of their work – the effects can be equally as devastating.
Married retirees, the couple has been advocating for children for five years.
“At first, I wasn’t interested,” Terry admitted, “until I went through their training. The woman who worked with us was so conscientious and caring, I thought I’d be doing well to be part of such an organization.”
They visit the children for whom they advocate in their homes, at sporting events and at school. “We try to personalize our reports,” Terry said. “When one of the boys dyed his hair red, we wrote about it because it made him less like a case study.”
“The judges always read what we’ve written,” Susan said, impressed with the influence their recommendations have on court decisions.
Regrettably, much physical abuse goes unnoticed, perhaps because in our country physical punishment is still legal (even bragged about), unlike in many other countries where it’s prohibited.
According to child behavior expert, Dr. Paul C. Holinger, “Approximately 60 percent of adults still approve of physical punishment, despite compelling evidence that it does not work, [but instead] makes things worse.” Yes, folks, physical punishment, such as spanking, slapping and paddling, exacerbates – not extinguishes – unwanted behavior.
Holinger’s credentials and research validate his position. He’s founder of the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, dean of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, and professor of psychiatry at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. Oh, yeah, and he’s also my brother.
“Spanking is a euphemism for hitting,” contends the blog “Dr. Paul Holinger’s Place for Parents and Children.” America’s assault and battery laws prohibit adults from hitting each other, so why should “one be permitted to hit a smaller and even more vulnerable child?”
For alternatives to physical punishment, Holinger offers two suggestions. First: “Use words to explain your feelings. Use words to label your child’s feelings.” Second: “Set a good example. Act and talk as you would want your child to act and talk. Your child strives to be like you.”
Abused children often grow up to abuse their children. Violence begets violence. Instead, parents and caregivers, please forever speak – not hold – your peace.
• Rick Holinger lives in the Fox Valley where he’s taught high school since 1979. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.