Hidden Scars: A Look at Emotional Abuse in Sports

While we often talk about the long-term, adverse effects that stem from physical and sexual abuse and neglect, the toll and trauma of emotional abuse can be just as damaging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love and threatening. Children who have suffered emotional abuse or neglect may find it difficult to form healthy relationships, become overly reliant and dependent on one person, or develop problems with emotions and memory.

Within the world of sports, emotional abuse is an under-acknowledged but common form of abuse that occurs at all levels, from youth and grassroots amateur sports organizations to professional leagues.

Emotional abuse within sports and athletics typically manifests as shaming and mocking for poor performance, using inappropriate nicknames, denying attention, making threats of repercussions, and excluding or singling out individuals.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport– the first national organization of its kind focused on ending all forms of abuse in sports – has endeavored to make athlete well-being the centerpiece of our nation’s sports culture through abuse prevention, education and accountability. Katie Hanna, the Director of Education & Outreach for the Center, explains that abusive behaviors are usually demonstrated by coaches, but can also be perpetrated by an athlete’s teammates or even parents.

“No matter the source, emotional abuse and bullying can have a lasting impact on athletes. These bullying behaviors can manifest feelings of shame and degrade self-esteem, pushing some athletes to leave their team or even quit the sport entirely because of it.”

Within the world of sports, Hanna adds, the power imbalance between coaches and athletes can lead to that relationship degrading into an unhealthy one.

“At the Center, we offer training for sports groups, coaches and parents that educates them on how to create a safe and supportive environment for athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to prevention and changing the sports culture to focus on building healthy relationships that foster the growth and improvement of athletes.”

In addition to offering trainings and consultations to sports organizations, the U.S. Center for SafeSport responds to and resolves allegations of physical, sexual and emotional misconduct. The Center also has exclusive authority over reports of alleged sexual abuse or conduct related to the underlying sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and its 50 National Governing Bodies. Since launching in 2017, there have been 3,256 reports made to the Center, 552 sanctions issued, and 796,505 SafeSport trainings completed.

“The most important thing you can do as a parent, coach or athlete is to speak up when you see or hear something inappropriate happening on the court or field,” said Hanna. “The more we openly discuss this issue, the more we can ensure that every athlete will be safe, supported and strengthened through sport.”

To learn more about the U.S. Center for SafeSport, click here.

The Two-Generation (2Gen) Approach – Kempe’s Take on the 2Gen Approach to Ending Child Abuse and Neglect

A relatively new approach for addressing a family’s economic security, 2Gen, is gaining recognition across the U.S. and in Colorado. As initially launched, 2Gen was designed as an approach to put a family on a path to economic security and thereby realize the family’s full potential. We believe, however, to realize a family’s full potential we must address the broader spectrum of trauma and challenges faced by both parents and children. If used to address this broader spectrum of trauma and challenges, 2Gen can serve as an effective tool in ending the cycle of child abuse and neglect.

Dr. Steven Berkowitz, MD, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, explains, “Very often, children who experience trauma have parents or caregivers who were also traumatized in their youth and never received treatment to address the emotional, cognitive and behavioral consequences. Because trauma can be transmitted across generations, we see these children experience the same things that happened to their parents and caregivers.”

By treating symptoms experienced by both the parents and children, healing can begin for the entire family. The 2Gen approach allows younger generations to avoid carrying on the negative effects of trauma they’ve experienced, which in turn can mean lower incidences of child abuse and neglect in the future.

Dr. Berkowitz is the Director of the START Center, which in partnership with the Kempe Center’s IMHOFF Clinic, uses the 2Gen approach to treat families, children and caregivers, dealing with the effects of all forms of trauma.

Another example of the 2Gen approach being implemented in Colorado is the Generational Opportunities to Achieve Long-Term Success (GOALS) program, a collaborative between Arapahoe County Human Services and Family Tree. GOALS uses the 2Gen approach to address homelessness, which can offer long-term benefits for the entire family unit.

In addition to providing temporary housing to keep the family together, GOALS teaches parents how to financially support their family, connects children with educational opportunities, and offers other services simultaneously to create healthy individuals and a stable family unit. Addressing both the physical and mental needs across generations offers a greater chance of breaking the cycle of poverty many families find themselves mired in.

At Kempe, we know that when supported by the right programs which address a family’s needs holistically, children are more likely to avoid – or heal – from experiences of child abuse and neglect.

Learn more about the START Center and the Kempe Center’s IMHOFF Clinic, as well as the 2Gen approach here.

Understanding Child Neglect

For children suffering from abuse or neglect, summertime isn’t comprised of long, carefree summer days. In fact, this is the time when adults outside the home, like teachers and other caregivers, might not see the immediate impacts of the type of care – or lack of care – they may be receiving. As a result, incidences can go largely unreported.

This is also when soaring temperatures can lead to deadly consequences for physically neglected children. According to KidsandCars.org, a record-setting 52 children died in 2018 after being left in hot cars and 19 deaths have occurred so far in 2019. In addition to physical neglect, other types of neglect children may be suffering from include:

  • Emotional neglect: Impairing or negatively impacting a child’s emotional development and self-worth.
  • Medical neglect: Withholding or delaying the proper medical attention or care for a child.
  • Lack of supervision: Failing to provide the proper supervision based on age, situation, and development.
  • Educational neglect: Failing to provide a child with access to appropriate education.

In an effort to lower the cases of child neglect in Colorado, Kempe teamed with the Colorado Department of Human Services to implement SafeCare® Colorado. In a series of 18-20 in-home sessions spanning 4-6 months, parents of at-risk families can learn how to provide a safe, healthy home and interact positively with their children 0-5 years of age.

From July 2017 – June 2018 alone, SafeCare® Colorado received 4,456 referrals and had 1,805 participating families in 30 counties and 2 tribal nations.

Brian, a single dad, learned how to create a safe environment for his son Charlie and become a SafeCare® Colorado success story, thanks to parent support provider Matt. “I didn’t know what questions to ask,” he said. “I just wanted Charlie to be safe and to feel loved. Matt was really good about being patient with me. He made this wall that I keep running into feel more like a fence.”

If left untreated, the impacts of child neglect can extend far into adulthood, leading to medical issues, or a broad range of psychological issues – including depression, PTSD, social disabilities, and more. By providing positive, solution-based programming to parents of young children, we can empower families and prevent these effects from reaching the next generation.

Our Impact in FY 2018

For nearly 60 years, the Kempe Foundation has worked to improve the care and well-being of all children by strengthening families, communities and the systems that serve them.

In FY18, Kempe’s programs directly helped many children and families in Colorado and across the U.S. We also provided coaching and consultation for professionals who work with families and children but may not otherwise have access to expertise from professionals like those at Kempe who have dedicated their lives to this work.

The total impact of Kempe’s work can be seen in the way we advocate for children at the capitol and collaborate with our local communities. With the generous support of donors, we hope to continue having a profound impact on thousands of children and families.  

We invite you to learn more about our impact in our FY 2018 Annual Report. 

Thank you for your commitment to keeping children safe and healthy for many generations to come.

Sincerely,

John Faught
President & CEO
The Kempe Foundation

Dr. Kathryn Wells Joins Newly Created Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force

We are pleased to announce The Kempe Center’s executive director, Dr. Kathryn Wells, has been selected to join the Children’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee of the newly created Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force.

The Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force, led by the Colorado Department of Human Services, will work to create a statewide plan of action for Colorado’s behavioral health system in order to provide each and every Coloradan with behavioral health needs high-quality care in a timely manner.

Dr. Wells will be working alongside 25 other members of the Children’s Behavioral Health subcommittee to establish a plan for Colorado in its administration of care and management of children’s behavioral health. Through this, the subcommittee will be improving the future outcomes for children requiring advocacy and behavioral health care.

A big congratulations to Dr. Wells! We are fortunate to have representation from The Kempe Center setting the roadmap to improve Colorado’s current behavioral health system.

To learn more about the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force and its subcommittees, click here.