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:
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?!
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