What Happens After the Headlines

This post is a bit ‘heavy’ but it’s something I’ve really been feeling the last couple of days, following the strong inevitable reactions to the Ian Watkins case. No, I’m not going to talk in any depth about that, this is more general and is about ALL child abuse cases which make the headlines…and those which don’t

Some of the reactions to these headlines are predictable…they are always the same:

“Those poor children…I wish I could adopt them and love them better”

“Thank God they’re too young to remember any of this…hope they’ve been given a new identity and family now and they can grow up happy and never have to know about any of this”

“At least they’re too young for this to affect them”

“I wish I could hug them better”

To me, as the mother of children who have been permanently affected by abuse and neglect, the above sentences just highlight the depressing lack of realisation in society, about the effects of trauma on a child

The complete naivety about ‘what happens after’ the headlines

Love will cure all….hugs will make it better…a bit of help, it will all be okay

Except when it’s not:

CT scan of 3 year old children

Did you know that severe neglect can cause much more profound issues and long term problems that either physical or sexual abuse? The picture above should demostrate why quite nicely

Some quotes about the impact of abuse

1. prolonged, severe, or unpredictable stress—including abuse and neglect—during a child’s early years is problematic. In fact, the brain’s development can literally be altered by this type of toxic stress, resulting in negative impacts on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth.

 

2. One way that early maltreatment experiences may alter a child’s ability to interact positively with others is by altering brain neurochemical balance. Research on children who suffered early emotional abuse or severe deprivation indicates that such maltreatment may permanently alter the brain’s ability to use serotonin, which helps produce feelings of well-being and emotional stability

 

3. Altered brain development in children who have been maltreated may be the result of their brains adapting to their negative environment. If a child lives in a threatening, chaotic world, the child’s brain may be hyperalert for danger because survival may depend on it. But if this environment persists, and the child’s brain is focused on developing and strengthening its strategies for survival, other strategies may not develop as fully. The result may be a child who has difficulty functioning when presented with a world of kindness, nurturing, and stimulation.

 

4. Persistent Fear Response Chronic activation of the neuronal pathways involved in the fear response can create permanent memories that shape the child’s perception of and response to the environment. While this adaptation may be necessary for survival in a hostile world, it can become a way of life that is difficult to change, even if the environment improves.

 

And so forth

Abuse and neglect, even solely in infancy, can result in LONG TERM or even permanent problems, with relationships, attachment, emotions, brain development

But society doesn’t want to know what happens after the headlines

Instead, the response to distressing stories are as above – the simple belief that at least with a bit of love, it will all be okay for the children

I think that belief is clung to in the face of headlines, because it provides some comfort to anyone who is distressed by such news. It’s the antidote to the story, the happy ending. No one wants to hear that their fixed belief in these simple happy endings is wrong

I’m not saying it’s never possible for a child to do really well in life following abuse and neglect, of course not. But equally, we must confront the impact of abuse, not ignore it

Because families end up being affected

When Kestrel was taken from her original home, she was 4 and a half. 9 months of alcohol exposure followed by 4 and a half years of malnutrition, ignored hunger, other serious neglect and deprivation, and every other category of abuse as well

But babies can’t remember abuse right? It’s not like the first 2 years of abuse and neglect had a permanent affect on her brain, and her ability to regulate, feel emotion, and caused post traumatic stress disorder, right?

And the second two years of abuse…well, given a couple of years of love, it’ll all fade won’t it? That can’t cause PTSD. What does ‘attachment’ mean?

If my daughters depressingly common story had made the news,how many people would’ve wanted to ‘adopt her and hug her better’?

Except they don’t really want to of course, because how many parents want to raise a child suffering severe long term psychological, developmental and physical problems caused by abuse?

It hasn’t faded. It won’t go.

Babies can’t remember in a concrete way, but believe me, they CAN keep memories as ‘feelings’ and emotional states. Their brains can be affected, and thus their later development

Children who’ve suffered abuse can’t just be hugged better. Imagine if someone suggested hugging an adult sexual assualt surivor better??!! And yet children, with their brain still in development, are somehow thought to be MORE robust and better able to cope with abuse than an adult?!

They aren’t

When I adopted my daughter, she was 8. People who didn’t know better were prepared to give her a few months to adjust before they expected to see a ‘normal’ happy 8 year old girl. PTSD sorted. She has an adoptive mum now, no need for her to think about being abused! She’s now 17, and they’ve never seen a neurotypical happy little girl. But sometims their response is to blame me

It’s easier to blame the parent than to confront the fact that abuse has long term consequences

Blaming me for her being angry and having PTSD is way easier than losing your naive imagined happy ending.

Once again, the responses to news headlines make me feel sad

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “What Happens After the Headlines

    • No problem, and thank you! I sometimes veer well away from discussion about child abuse cases, simply because these inevitable responses weigh on me, but this time I’ve actually been trying to educate people. A few people have actually been responsive and said things like “I didn’t realise”

  1. Thank you for this post. It is tempting to stifle our responses to news stories about such cases, but, as you have done here, it is often worth taking the opportunity to educate. I have had my son since he was only 18 weeks old, but I know his brain ‘remembers’ the neglect he suffered before that, and again during a brief rehabilitation with BM at 13 months. It comes out in the strangest ways.

    • Indeed, I’m never sure when seeing these responses whether to reply and say ‘actually…’ or just move on and ignore it. This case I’ve gone for the educate response which for the most part has been surprisingly successful!

    • Thank you :) That image is very powerful and stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it years ago. I hope it can get people thinking. I believe the severely neglected 3 year old was a Romanian orphan but I’m not entirely sure on that

    • Thank you Katie :) You are right, there is always hope. A little more knowledge about abuse/neglect would go a long way to helping the families who live with it

  2. Thanks for this. I have many folks in my life who think that settling in with my daughter is just a bunch of normal things that tweens go through; some of them are, but many of them aren’t. Wonderfully kind and well intentioned folks are often so dismissive. Thanks for writing what I haven’t been able to capture with my own words.

  3. Reblogged this on AdoptiveBlackMom and commented:
    Wonderfully compelling post that captures what is often simply dismissed. As much as I know many things that Hope and I deal with are “normal” for kids her age, there are many shades that are remnants of Hope’s past neglect and abuse. Love may help, but it certainly doesn’t completely heal.

  4. Your personal point of view makes the information about brain development very powerful. Those of us with adopted kids who have come from some kind of early privation have probably experienced behaviours in our children that are attributable to experiences in early life. Thanks for writing so clearly and passionately and sharing your daughter’s story.

  5. Good points. As a survivor of such abuse, it always irks me the way people actually seem to think that not only can a young child not remember (when yes, they can, if not cognitively then through body memories) or be affected by the abuse, but that if it’s ignored and swept under the rug, that will “make it all better.” When in fact that is the worst thing you can do, cover it up with lies and pretending without ever validating the child’s experiences. Survivors need an open environment where they can talk about what happened to them since it is still a part of their life, you don’t ‘erase’ the child’s past because there is no such eraser, and ignorance does not heal.

    • That was beautifully said – thank you so much for sharing. With this latest case (Ian Watkins) I have heard “I hope with all my heart that these children never ever learn what happened to them” and have chosen to argue that point, because when you think about it, it’s absurd. Another comfort blanket born out of naivety. People say they want the children to “be protected” but it’s impossible to protect a child from something they have already lived through. You can only protect children from things which haven’t happened to them. As you said, the body has memories (there is a saying I picked up from other adoptive parents which is “the body keeps score”) which cannot be erased

      Thank you again. I think your blog is an amazing blog by the way

  6. Thanks for that post! after one of those head pounding days where you had to pick them up from school early to manage Christmas stress, had an onslaught of how much they hate you and what a terrible mother you are and that everything is somebody else’s fault and not theirs, the constant talking and I mean babble babble babble. Reading your post reminds me that I’m not alone, that I’m doing alright, that love gets you through it but doesn’t cure all. You know where it comes from, you know why and you cope because you have to. But blimey it’s exhausting, and you just wish the world could get it and then it wouldn’t feel less isolating for them or us.

  7. Thanks for that post! after one of those head pounding days where you had to pick them up from school early to manage Christmas stress, had an onslaught of how much they hate you and what a terrible mother you are and that everything is somebody else’s fault and not theirs, the constant talking and I mean babble babble babble. Reading your post reminds me that I’m not alone, that I’m doing alright, that love gets you through it but doesn’t cure all. You know where it comes from, you know why and you cope because you have to. But blimey it’s exhausting, and you just wish the world could get it and then it wouldn’t feel so isolating for them or us.

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