Carolyn Poirot Special to the Business Press
Last year, 5,598 children were confirmed victims of abuse in Tarrant County. Most of them experienced diverse, on-going, multiple forms of trauma: sexual, physical and emotional abuse, domestic violence, traumatic loss, burns and torture. Some developed post-traumatic stress disorder and required trauma-specific psychotherapy. Nineteen died. “You have to feel some indignant rage” when you hear “the horror stories,” trauma expert Bradley Stolbach told child advocates, psychologists, therapists, counselors and law enforcement officials at the April 2 Lend a Hand luncheon benefiting Tarrant County ACH Child and Family Services. “Treatment works, we know it works. We don’t need to spend more to see if it works. We need to spend resources making it available,” Stolbach said. He is the national childhood trauma expert assigned to work with the Tarrant County community through a federal grant from the Complex Trauma Treatment Network to the Mental Health Connection last year. He was in Fort Worth to discuss “Triumph over Trauma,” the developmental and emotional impact of child abuse and neglect, with about 500 people working to protect children from abuse and neglect and help them overcome the tragedies. Stolbach is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, supervisor of trauma-related psychological services at La Rabida Children’s Hospital and project director of La Rabida’s Chicago Child Trauma Center. Most abused children have a whole history of family dysfunction and mental and physical problems that predict early death, Stolbach said. The majority have been through four or more types of trauma and adversity – “not events, but different types of trauma that represent thousands of events.” The focus must be on cumulative trauma that has profound effects on the development of a functioning person with the capacity to live, love and be loved, Stolbach said. These victims suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome at a rate double that of recent war veterans. “Effective treatment costs about $5,000 per child and saves millions of dollars that would be wasted” when that child later drops out of school, struggles to hold a job and support himself, is homeless, has long-term mental and physical problems, is more likely to have a child at an early age and is likely to enter the criminal justice system, Stolbach said. “All of us are survivors. When you are interacting [with abused children], communicate the fact that they are not responsible for what has happened to them,” he said. “Serve their needs, not yours. Give them a life story, a history, communicate that they are worthy of love … that they are safe. ‘It’s not happening now. You are not bad. You are not dangerous to others. You are good, and you have a future.’” Stolbach said it takes many voices “to quiet the silence” that still surrounds child abuse. He urged the entire Tarrant County community to speak out by any and all means – by voice and action. “An active, committed and educated public is our best weapon in the fight against child abuse,” said Wayne Carson, CEO of ACH Child and Family Services, who introduced Stolbach. “Our community needs the help of every individual in identifying, preventing and treating child abuse and neglect.” April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.