How can we help abused kids?
August 28, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I help stop child abuse, other than writing a check?

This got long, sorry:

My wife and I fall into that category of 30-somethings who were terrified of the prospect of parenting but took the plunge anyway, only to find that the experience has totally transformed and enriched our lives. To our horror, we’ve discovered that one such transformation is that reading and hearing stories of child abuse, particularly those against the very young, is almost unbearable.

Things came to a head last night when my wife read about this local boy. I found her sobbing and nearly inconsolable in a heap on our living room chair. I started crying, too, when she was finally able to tell me why.

It was only the loudest and most recent indication of a growing feeling we've both been having for some time, that we need to get involved somehow with abused children. And here I thought I was just going to roast some coffee beans, listen to Joe Biden, and go to bed.

Writing a check, though something we'll do, is certainly not going to be enough.

I guess I'm looking for two things here: suggestions of ways we can volunteer time, and experiences of those who have been or currently are foster parents, which is another option we’re considering.

The foster idea is one that we’re both attracted to and afraid of — attracted, because we know we can be good parents to kids who need them; afraid, because we don’t know how much harder it will be than regular parenting. In addition, we’re both employed full-time and rely heavily on a combo my wife’s parents and a church “mother’s day out” program to help with day care. Making the commitment is fine for us, but we’re not prepared to commit my wife’s parents as well, as it just doesn’t seem fair to them.

So. I don’t know where to start, really. I’m interested in learning about foster parenting but may realistically have to wait until we’re a single-income family to actually commit. I’m so overwhelmed with questions about it that I don’t really know where to start. Still, I’d like your advice and experiences, especially from those of you who have taken the plunge.

And, of course, non-fostering volunteer opportunities as well, in case fostering isn’t a viable option for us now. What can you do to get involved?

Bonus points for stuff in/around Little Rock, Arkansas.
posted by middleclasstool to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer for the Boys and Girls Club in your area, or with Big Brothers / Little Sisters. You may not help an abuse victim, specifically, but your time there will be invaluable to the kids. And you may discover more about yourself and your capability to help.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:09 AM on August 28, 2008

Sorry, Big Brothers / Big Sisters. Been playing too much Bioshock, I guess.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

The way to stop anything negative is to do its polar opposite and let that effect cause a ripple and then a trend where the critical mass reverses the polarity. The will, intention and action need to be steady and consistent with open heart and actions must always follow the intent without fail, lest a gap and lapse transpire.

So you start around you where there is abuse, you take it as your project. Must be close by, close to heart and in eye sight. You must claim this project as a personal one. This translates to doing all from your heart - without asking for anything in return. Altruism. You just do for the sake of love. A small act, a bigger one. You can give money, but it must be for something you care about. You can teach - but teach love. Anything you do about or connected to this - can't be for reward - only to love. And in that love there is profound healing of one individual. And when that one individual is healed then maybe another generation can be healed. Prayer works, meditating on what to do - can open your eyes as to where to place you energy in this.

And if money is needed to seed - then let it also be given with love. As it's a form of energy. Feed the one suffering with healthy foods, organically grown. Clothe them with healthy clothes that will not bring to them negative energy. Pay their bills so that they won't have to suffer from lack.

Hope this is clear enough.

posted by watercarrier at 10:14 AM on August 28, 2008

Arakansas CASA. Court Appointed Special Advocate. Best wishes.
posted by firstdrop at 10:22 AM on August 28, 2008

Volunteer to be a court appointed special advocate. Also, check with your local women's shelter to see what opportunities they might know of for you to help abused children.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your concern.
posted by Heretic at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might start with becoming a CASA (as noted above) which will put you in a direct way responsible for the well-being of a child who has been abused. I'm a CASA now and it was the perfect way for me, as a single non-parent who works a lot, to spend the free time I have helping children. It will also put you in a place to see how foster care works and make a real difference while you decide if that's a good role for you now or in the future. If you have any questions about being a CASA, me-mail me as I can talk about it for days.
posted by marylynn at 10:28 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cannot speak to opportunities in Arkansas, but I volunteered at a shelter for abused women and children here in Chicago. I tutored the kids who were living there on evenings after going through the same intensive training program they gave the counsellors so I'd know how to handle situations that may or may not arise. After the trainings, it wasn't a huge time commitment, but I felt like I was doing something important.

Like I said, I don't know if this type of in depth program would exist in your area, but I would imagine there might be something similar, and I highly encourage you to do it because, sadly, men volunteering for this type of thing is rare, and children coming from these situations often (obviously) don't have many strong male role models. Having a guy who is nice to them -- or who they are simply not scared of -- not only helps them socialize but also, in the case of boys and young men, can help break the cycle of abuse from starting in another generation.

Good luck.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:37 AM on August 28, 2008

Support organizations that help give people positive, non-violent parenting tools so they can break the cycle of violence in their family.

For example, the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting has volunteer positions.
posted by padraigin at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: My husband and I are foster parents with two children our care. I find it to be the most meaningful thing that I've done in my life (and I spent 3 1/2 years working with the families of 9/11 victims at the medical examiner's office in NYC). Our approach to foster parenting has been to see ourselves as a resource for the family, not just the children. This perspective has enriched the process immeasurably.

At the same time, your concerns are valid, especially about daycare. Both my husband and I work from home and so we're able to care for the children ourselves. Also, when you are a foster parent you are part of a system and you have to interact with that system on a regular basis. We have weekly visitations, meetings with social workers, meetings with attorneys, court hearings, doctor's appointments, evaluations, and on and on. It's hard for me to imagine doing this with both parents out of the home.

Also, the children in foster care have typically been moved around and I think it's better for at least one parent to be home to provide continuity of care. Something that may not phase your natural child at daycare may devastate a foster child. I just finished reading a book called "Parenting the Difficult Child" (I have mixed feelings about the book) but the author made the point that hurt children need time with their parents. Lots of time.

I also find that some people (including family) have a hard time defining our foster children as "real" children. I feel like I'm imposing, for example, when I ask my parents to care for our children. This was totally unexpected. On the other hand, my in-laws have stepped up and embraced the children in a way I would never have imagined. So if you were going to lean on family for child care you should talk about it with them beforehand.

Foster parenting is difficult, emotional and a much bigger job than I thought. I think you may be right that its better to wait.

I'm happy to talk about it more if you want.

I agree, also, with the CASA suggestion. And finally, I've heard more than once that to create social change you need to start with your own life. If you want world peace, live a peaceful life. Sometimes that helps me feel less overwhelmed by all the difficult things that happen to children.
posted by orsonet at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would actually recommend something along the lines of tutoring disadvantaged kids first to get a feel for working with kids first if you never have before. I understand that getting hit with this kind of lightning bolt of enthusiasm is a powerful experience, and totally valid, but having an actual kid in front of you, looking up at you and expecting help is totally different. The sight of a child who's clearly been abused, starved, etc. can totally demolish the soul and that's something some people just can't deal with.

Also, as for as national level advocacy/research organizations worthy of donations, I worked at Prevent Child Abuse America for two years (about 12 years ago) and it was a great organization doing really important work.
posted by The Straightener at 10:52 AM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: Hi, welcome to my world. No really, welcome and congratulations.

First, a lesson in vocabulary. What you want to do is work with kids. Drop the word "abused." Drop it for 5000 reasons, but mostly drop it because you work with children because all children deserve the right to be treated with respect, encouraged to wonder and laugh and play, and to have an opportunity to decide for themselves what "normal" really is. You don't mollycoddle a 15 year old who loses a leg in a car wreck, and you don't mollycoddle a 10 year old whose mother used to burn him with cigarettes. That comes across much much meaner than I mean for it to---but the point is the same. Don't go into this all "awww" and "grr anger." Go into it with an open heart, devoid of expectations but with the best intentions.

Next, start small. Some people seriously cannot handle the emotional toil of working with youth populations. I've had to tell drunk uncles they couldn't take home their nieces and nephews, I've had to sit in with state-police and social workers while a child recounted a horror of molestation or abuse. I've told parents point blank to their face that, while their child is very intelligent and I enjoy his company, that I don't enjoy being told to "fuck off and suck a fat cock." You need to learn what your level of dedication is---and do NOT bite off more than you can chew. It's waaaaaaay worse for a kid to hear "I'll be here every thursday for the rest of the year" and then never see you again than it is for them to hear "I'll be here when I can---next time show me how you do that jumpshot!"

Start with an afterschool program. Or a before school program. These programs are great because, by and large, they're not restrained to the overbearing rules of public schools. Expand to become a mentor, or a CASA, or a big-brother, do every one of these things before you consider fostering, especially special-needs fostering.

I sincerely welcome you to a new found world that will thrill and delight you while ripping out your heart and stomping on it 10,000 times over. I've seen so many crazy, amazing, wonderful, and heartbreaking things in my short life---and I wouldn't trade any of them for anything.

Feel free to mefi mail me about my experiences, my recommendations, or to ask why I'm such a prick. It's all good.
posted by TomMelee at 10:56 AM on August 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

If you're going to be working with abused children - the first thing is to commit. Nothing worse could be to a child is for someone to start off gung ho and then leave them 6 months later, just as they were about to trust them. This is not a job, it's a life mission.
posted by watercarrier at 1:23 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Also, before you foster, please consider the impact it will have on your child. The behaviors of some children make them unable to share a home with another child healthily.

That's a concern I'd thought of, yeah, but I felt I was going on at length.

Thanks, everyone, but please don't take those thanks to mean I'm done here -- I'm not, and more insights are welcome. I'll keep checking up here.

Special thanks to TomMelee and orsonet, whose advice I'm going to take, going slow and steady first before I make any sort of big commitment. CASA sounds like a wonderful way to get involved and is I think ultimately where I'd like to go, but I think Tom's right that we need to begin smaller and be sure that we can make the emotional commitment these kids will need. I think we can, I really do, but I'd rather baby-step it before making some big promise only to discover that I'm not up to it.

Anyway, keep any and all insights coming. You guys are awesome, and I feel like I have a point of entry and some direction now, which helps immensely.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:10 PM on August 28, 2008

Seriously---when the going gets rough OR you need a place to vent---shoot me a mefimail. I suppose I'm becoming "that guy" around here when it comes to kids in special circumstances. I'd love to see MeFi "pay-it-forward"...
posted by TomMelee at 8:08 PM on August 28, 2008

Seriously, consider the impact on your own child, and your ability to constantly supervise everyone. Small foster children were visiting our neighbors recently, and while playing out of sight of their caretakers one or both of them wounded a small dog by gouging its neck repeatedly and nearly killed our fish by putting who-knows-what into their pond (the chemistry is just getting healthy again after several weeks). I feel for these kids, but am disturbed that they are able to roam around harming other living creatures.
posted by Scram at 11:10 AM on August 29, 2008

Please don't compare inadequate parenting/fosterfarms to folks who actually are in this to make a difference. I'm quite sure that your carp are quite valuable to you, but koi ponds not withstanding, more adults need to step up to the plate and take in the "unwanted."
posted by TomMelee at 1:30 PM on August 29, 2008

TomMelee, they're wakin, not carp. And my reason for mentioning it was not so much out of concern for the fish or the little pup as it is for the child already in the asker's home. Yes, many children need to be fostered, but the safety and needs of other children in the home should be considered while making these decisions.

For instance, the recent wild child case in Florida seems like a miraculous tale of salvation until you notice that the adoptive family's biological son's bed has been moved in the laundry room where he says "it's scary down here, all alone." Mom and dad should sleep next to the washer if there aren't rooms enough for all, sheesh.
posted by Scram at 1:52 PM on August 29, 2008

I agree fully.
posted by TomMelee at 11:06 PM on August 29, 2008

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