Living with the Bear
“Over and over again in my practice I saw kids who had experienced terrifying situations. For one patient, the bear was his dad who verbally demeaned and physically abused his mom.” — Nadine Harris, M.D.
The Elephant in The Room
To the Editor:
(Plain Press, September 2020) Cultures across our nation have the absolute right to raise their children the way they seem fit. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects this liberty, incorporating “the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.” However, this amendment does not give parents or caregivers the right to emotionally, physically, and sexually degrade each other in the presence of their own young, influential children.
In the United States, between 4.5 million and 15 million children are exposed to physical violence in the home. The nonprofit research organization Child Trends reported in 2018, approximately 4.5 million children had seen or heard parents or other adults use offensive language, slapping, hitting, kicking, or punching each other in the home. If this pattern of ongoing destructive behavior among adults in the home is not professionally addressed, especially during a child’s developmental years, there is a higher risk of continuing the cycle of violence within the family structure over the years.
Together, we must address the extraordinary number of American children who are witnessing domestic violence in the home at a very young age. These adverse childhood experiences can negatively alter a child’s behavior long-term if buffers are not in place. Either way, any number or level of severity of this type of an early childhood experience, parental and caregiver support is pivotal to overcome a young child’s trauma over time. Without assistance, there may be health consequences, including physical, psychological, and developmental disruptions throughout his/her life. Mental health consequences may include aggressive behavior, anxiety, academic problems, and difficulty interacting with peers.
When the child’s stress-response system is over-activated too frequently by witnessing ongoing incidents of domestic violence in the home (toxic stress), simultaneously, the hormone “cortisol” enters the child’s bloodstream more frequently. This prolonged activation of cortisol sends a biological message to inhibit or disrupt the development of the child’s brain and immune system. Moreover, ongoing high levels of cortisol in the child’s developmental years can even affect how DNA is read and transcribed. The book, The Deepest Well by Nanine Burke Harris, explains this biological concept very well for parents and caregivers to understand this vital issue. By understanding the connection between witnessing ongoing adversity experiences in the home and its long-term, physiological effects on a developing child’s body, healing can begin within the family structure.
In my opinion, educating the public on adverse childhood experiences and their biological effects on the developing child can be accomplished if we have the will and funding to do so. Together, we need to come up with a plan that provides child-trauma prevention mobile classroom units that would be distributed throughout the districts of Cleveland. An example of a name for this project may be The Cleveland Domestic Violence Reduction Project (CDVRP) that will provide educational services to schools, churches, community centers, libraries, businesses and other institutions if needed on a regularly scheduled basis. The mission is to increase access to preventative mental healthcare for families living in Cleveland communities.
Example goals of this project may be:
- To reduce the risks of childhood trauma exposure in the communities of Cleveland.
- To reduce incidents of domestic and sexual violence in the communities of Cleveland.
- To educate middle and high school students on the awareness and prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s).
An example of staffing may be the following:
A plan to purchase five fully equipped mobile units (laptops, smartboards, etc…) which will be staffed with a social worker, paralegal, child psychologist, teacher and a secretary. The child psychologist will provide professional, preventative, educational support services to students who were exposed or at risk of being exposed to emotional, social, behavioral and academic challenges. The psychologist will administer surveys/tests to help guide instruction for students who are at risk of adverse childhood experiences. The child psychologist will be the lead instructor. The social worker will assist the child psychologists by researching and providing all requested educational materials related to human developmental psychology/ACES needed for instruction. The social worker will also manage and provide data analysis reports related to the project. The social worker will assist the lead instructors. The legal assistant will assist the child psychologists by researching and providing all requested educational materials/documents related to family law needed for instruction. The legal assistant will assist the lead instructors. The curriculum specialist will develop, facilitate and evaluate the mobile unit curriculum and prepare all lessons plans for the lead instructors. The curriculum specialist will assist the lead instructors on surveys/tests to help guide instruction. The curriculum specialists will be in constant communications with the social worker and legal assistant for any requested updated, educational materials needed from the lead instructors for preparing updated lesson plans. The secretary will assist the social worker on managing and providing data analysis reports. The secretary will be in charge of scheduling appointments for the mobile unit. The secretary will assist on producing any reports the lead instructors may need for future data analysis reports.
Finally, now is the time to address the elephant in the room head on. We must all come together to figure out how we as a society can reduce the long-term exposure of domestic violence in all communities of Northeast Ohio.
Director of the Unforgiving Light Society
Editor’s Note: To reach the Unforgiving Light Society send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org