Topic: Child Abuse Experts

Evidence-Based and Family-Focused Mental Health Care in Colorado

Trauma is a costly public health problem for all Coloradans. Most often, trauma occurs as a result of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, violence, disaster and other emotionally harmful experiences. Traumatic events induce feelings of powerlessness, fear, hopelessness and a constant state of alert, as well as feelings of shame, guilt, rage and isolation.

Without treatment, children who experience repeated exposure to traumatic events have an increased risk of developing mental and substance use disorders, suicide and chronic physical ailments. They are also more likely to experience increased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and may even face premature death.

We recently connected with Shannon Van Deman, PhD, who leads the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado and asked her to share more about how they are addressing childhood trauma.

 

What is the role of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute?

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we have a fundamental responsibility to provide mental health care for our patients. Our services are child-centered and family-focused, meaning we work collaboratively with our patients and their families to help them through crises and empower them to develop the resources and skills to get better.

The Pediatric Mental Health Institute is one of the largest providers in the Rocky Mountain region that offers a full continuum of psychiatric care and provide a broad spectrum of psychiatric services, including outpatient, day treatment and inpatient services for children and adolescents. I’m particularly proud of our Medical Day Treatment program, which is a joint venture with Aurora Public Schools. It’s an accredited school program that employs two certified teachers along with two paraprofessionals from the Aurora Public School system. The program is also staffed with nurses, a psychologist, social worker and other medical professionals who work together with youth and families to reach academic goals and improve physical and emotional health.

What do you want Coloradans to know about trauma?

Today in Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24, and an estimated one out of six teens has a diagnosable mental health condition. At Children’s, we’ve seen the need for psychiatric treatment go up year over year, and we’ve tripled the number of outpatient services in the last five years. Prevention, early identification, early intervention and treatment are needed now more than ever, and we’ve been working alongside Kempe to ensure Colorado’s health care providers are educated on the complexities of trauma and how it impacts their delivery.

How can we positively shape the mental health of Colorado children?

It is completely normal for children and adolescents to have difficulty managing their thoughts and feelings, but some aspects of our culture have told us we need to face these challenges alone. My hope is that through our work, we will help families engage in more conversations that break the stigma of mental health. It’s incredibly valuable for individuals and families with this lived experience to talk about their challenges and tell their story to others going through the same things. It’s also very important for Coloradans to advocate for child-focused legislation because public policy decisions can dramatically shape the health of children, for better or worse. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about advocacy for child health to sign up as a Child Health Champion.

 

Kempe ID Awarded Opportunity to Assist United States Olympic Committee

Kempe Innovative Designs was recently awarded the opportunity to assist the athletic programs of the United States Olympic Committee. The Kempe Center’s Kasey Matz, MA and her team will be designing, developing and testing new training materials for sexual, physical and emotional abuse identification, investigation and prevention in amateur athletic programs.

This effort will be supported by funding through the SMART FY 2018 Keep Young Athletes Safe grant program developed under direction of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART). This program furthers the Department’s mission of reducing sexual violence by supporting an entity to provide oversight of the United States Olympic Committee, each national governing body, and each Paralympic sports organization with regard to safeguarding amateur athletes against abuse, including sexual, physical and emotional abuse in sports.

In January 2018, a U.S. House of Representatives committee opened an investigation into sexual abuse in organized sports in response to the sentencing of Dr. Larry Nassar. His abuse of more than 150 women and girls, as well as reports of sexual misconduct allegations in the Taekwondo community and allegations of sexual abuse from former U.S. swimmers, led to the commitment for action. In its announcement, the committee noted the “abhorrent abuses” associated with Nassar’s case, the U.S. Taekwondo athletes and U.S. swimmer allegations, and raised concerns about whether the United States Olympic Committee had sufficient oversight mechanisms to protect its athletes from abuse and mistreatment.

In February 2018, Congress passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, designed to extend the mandatory reporting requirements of child abuse to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movements to ensure that reports are immediately made to local or federal law enforcement authorities. There are 47 U.S. Olympic organizations across the country that require oversight on these fronts provided by an outside organization with expertise in preventing and investigating all forms of abuse.

The award to Kempe will support developing necessary educational materials, investigatory tools, training programs and policies that can prevent abuse, and work to address abuse, once identified.

De-Bunking the Myths of Child Sex Trafficking

Across the globe, child sex trafficking is a $99 billion enterprise, making it the second largest illegal trade behind drugs. It reaches every corner of Colorado, but has largely been ignored and become a hidden epidemic that is destroying lives and endangering Kempe’s mission to protect children.

On October 4, 2018, we convened a group of health and human services experts to help educate the community on what child sex trafficking looks like in Colorado. Here, we de-bunk the five most common myths of child sex trafficking and share what we learned from this important discussion:

MYTH #1: Sex trafficking is not a problem in my community – sex trafficking is only a problem in foreign countries or large, highly-populated cities.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a growing demand for sex with youth here in Colorado. It happens in every community and affects youth of every age, all genders, races and from all income levels. Additionally, while the Coloradans fueling the demand for sex with children come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the typical buyer is a Caucasian male, 35-45 years old, married with two children and making between $70,000 and $100,000 a year.

MYTH #2: Sex trafficking is a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation or movement across state or national borders.
Although transportation may be involved as a control mechanism to keep victims in unfamiliar places, sex trafficking does not always involve movement. There are often subtler forms of coercion being used, including victims being physically and socially isolated from their family and friends, or withholding basic necessities like food, water and healthcare.

MYTH #3: For youth who are involved in sex trafficking, it must be their choice or they would run away and seek help.
Victims of trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims. Pimps use a variety of grooming techniques to prey on a victim’s vulnerabilities and leverage them for control, including cultivating drug dependency. Over weeks and months of physical and psychological manipulation, the victim experiences “trauma bonding” and develops an unhealthy loyalty to their pimp. When someone tries to remove a victim from a dangerous trafficking situation, many times they will go back to their pimp because that bond is so strong.

MYTH #4: If families were more vigilant, youth would not get caught up in sex trafficking.
Traffickers are expert manipulators and well-aware of the risk factors that make it easier to coax certain youth into trafficking. They target vulnerable youth on social media, dating apps or in online gaming chat rooms. Some young people are even lured into trafficking by other kids their age, especially those living at treatment centers or group homes. In some cases, there are parents or caregivers who traffic their own children for financial gain. These situations can be difficult to identify because of the complex cycle of abuse and control that has been unaddressed throughout the adults’ lifetime.

MYTH #5: Law enforcement and child protective services are the ones responsible for protecting our youth and putting an end to sex trafficking.
We all have a role to play in protecting our youth. Within our communities, it is essential that parents, neighbors and family friends look out for each other and offer support when it is needed. We must be careful not to judge or shame other parents, but rather, take the time to engage each other in important conversations. We must also educate ourselves about what trafficking really looks like and speak up when we notice any red flags. The conversation around child sex trafficking has been hidden for too long, and it is our job to bring it to the forefront.

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Child sex trafficking is one of many threats to the healthy development of Colorado’s children. Over the next few months, Kempe will continue to bring together community partners to help shine a light on these connections and how we can partner as a community to end the cycle of abuse and positively impact child development. We appreciate your support of our efforts to give all children the opportunity to thrive.

The Role of Caseworkers in Fighting Youth Sex Trafficking

Child welfare caseworkers are an invaluable resource in helping communities respond to the sex trafficking of children. Children involved with child welfare are at a greater risk for being targeted by traffickers because of their potentially unstable living situations, physical distance from friends and family, traumatic experiences and emotional vulnerability.

Therefore, it is imperative that child welfare caseworkers are on the frontlines of identifying, responding to and preventing child sex trafficking. Not only can they connect with potential victims before it’s too late, but they can also ensure that survivors remain safe and receive the support services they need.

We recently connected with Marika Quinn who is a caseworker for the Arapahoe County Child Protection Services’ Sexual Abuse and Recovery Team. She has an incredible heart for the young people who have been victims of human trafficking and an amazing ability to connect with them and lead them to safety and change when they are ready.

How do you identify and build rapport with youth who are victims of trafficking?
I consider my approach very carefully. Trafficking victims are unlikely to disclose their situation right away, and confronting them with suspicions could seriously disrupt my efforts to build trust. I never tell them that what they are doing is wrong. There is a strong trauma bonding that occurs between victims and their traffickers and so oftentimes, the victims may not see what I’m trying to do as helping them.

One way I build trust is giving them my cell phone number and encouraging them to text me whenever they need to talk. Especially with young girls, they are just looking for someone to connect with. I establish myself as a positive connection and show them that I’m not going anywhere.

How do you know when your efforts are working?
Victims frequently return to their traffickers throughout the intervention process. As a caseworker, we need to be patient and understand that they cannot be forced to do anything before they are ready. Once they finally stop running away from help, we ensure that appropriate support systems are in place so that they can continue on their path to recovery.

What support services do you provide victims to help them transition out of trafficking?
It is essential to help them learn how to manage the emotions, behaviors and other challenging life situations they will face after leaving their trafficker. We have a great partnership with the team at Embark Counseling who provides mental health support specifically designed for victims of trafficking. Gaining the confidence to live independently on their own is a big challenge, so we also connect them with programs to help them finish their GED and show them how to apply for jobs. Throughout the process, we are constantly demonstrating our support and providing them with examples of positive, healthy relationships.

Kempe Professionals Named “Top Docs” by 5280

The Kempe Foundation is proud to support experts in the field who work day in and day out to provide extraordinary care to children in our community. This year, three doctors from the Kempe Center were once again included on 5280 magazine’s list of “Top Docs.” The list recognizes professionals from 95 specialities who were nominated by their peers.

We would like to congratulate the following Kempe Center doctors who were recognized in their area of specialty, Child Abuse Pediatrics.

Dr. Andrew Sirotnak

Dr. Antonia Chiesa

Dr. Kathryn Wells