(Editor’s note: This story is the first part of a multi-part series “Stolen Innocence,” about children who have been victimized by abuse that begins in Issue #1 and will continue through Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
A child can be a fragile human that needs protection from this world.
Children need love, care, attention, and affection. But what if those parents aren’t obligated to take care of their children? What if they end up abusing them, instead?
Across the nation, child abuse is a real issue, and it happens every day. According to Tameka Riley, case manager at MCH (Methodist Children’s Home) Family Outreach in Lubbock, parents are miseducated when it comes to abusing their child.
“There is a high percentage of child abuse,” Riley says. “For the most part, they’re doing the same thing that their parents did to them. It’s a generational thing, or they just don’t know how else to handle their children, or discipline them. I don’t think there is a high percentage of intentional abuse, it’s just miseducation.”
MCH Family Outreach discusses physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. The program works with the families to try to teach them preventable measures against child abuse, and to try to decrease those risk factors that cause abuse. They also try to eliminate the stress at home that can lead to abusing their children.
According to Riley, at the very beginning of their program, they do an assessment on the family for 30 days, and then a plan of service will be completed based on the family’s assessment.
“It’s an education piece we go over with the families,” Riley says. “Most of the families that we come in contact with, I don’t believe its intentional abuse. It’s a lot of parent education, and we have them come in and talk about their own childhood, how they were raised and things that may have happened to them as a child. We open their eyes up to why they do the things that they do, as far as how or why they discipline their child.”
Riley says, in most cases, the reason why child abuse occurs in families is because of the parents’ childhood. The parents are not aware or educated on the issues, which leads to child abuse.
“We take the time to educate them,” explains Riley. “We give them different tools as far as education goes or how to discipline their child, like spanking. We don’t go in and say, ‘Oh, spanking is wrong. You don’t need to be doing that.’ It’s more of an educational piece, and we say,” We know that probably spanking has been part of your family’s generation, but how successful has that been?’ We give them a chance to reflect on how that works, and then we give them tools for how to help them.”
Riley says that when she teaches a parenting class, the first thing she does is ask the parents what ideas or issues she should bring to the table. This results in parents asking questions and listening to other parents who struggle with the same issues.
“I ask the parents their feedback, and this is helpful,” Riley explains. “The parents feel like they have a voice. They don’t all of a sudden say they’re doing something wrong, but they say they have questions, which opens up the conversation. Then they hear other families give examples on how they deal with their children. It’s really good when they’re engaged in it and they don’t feel like they’re being blamed.”
According to Riley, the good part of their program is the tools that Family Outreach uses for parents to become better and help educate them about parenting.
“It almost makes the parents sit back and think about what they’re doing as far as parenting,” says Riley. “They realize themselves that the strategies that they’re using aren’t working. It’s not hard to convince families that they need to try a different route or different tool. It’s just a matter of letting them know as parents we all make mistakes, and nobody is a perfect parent.”
Family Outreach works with different agencies that refer families to their programs. They also work with schools within the community.
“We go out and educate the community as well,” Riley says. “I have actually done a class for Monterey High School, and it was a family studies class that they had. We do this so students can be aware of abuse and what they need to do if abuse occurs.”
Child abuse is a serious issue, and, according to Riley, informing families about abuse and teaching them is a learning experience.
“We never know everything about parenting,” Riley explains. “It’s not necessarily doing things wrong. It’s just the parents need more education and more tools to try to be the best parent that they can be.”