IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS: A Mom and Son Overcome

I first met Zach nearly one year ago.  He was referred to the Hirschfield Center for Children by his elementary school counselor.  Zach was already meeting with a therapist, but the school staff saw how his behaviors were related to instability at home.  Poor social skills, defiance and anger towards teachers, and a lack of self-confidence were the symptoms. The Hirschfield Center for Children [HCC] collaborated with Zach, his mom, and the professionals already involved to peel back some of the layers and understand more about what was going on for our new young client. Zach’s mom, a single parent, was smart and made a good salary.  She cared deeply for her son but was struggling to find the time and energy Zach needed as she was running on fumes herself. Our plan was multi-faceted and centered around working with the family on their goals to strengthen their relationships.

Zach would meet weekly with HCC staff in the community: having fun, building trust, and learning social and  emotional skills to use at home and at school.  Mom also met with us on a weekly basis.  She found support and a place to process and brainstorm.  She tried new parenting techniques and built in time for connection and fun each day with Zach, even if only for 15 minutes.  As their  attachment and connection grew, not only did the blow-outs reduce in frequency and duration, but Zach’s issues at school also lessened.  He was getting positive attention in   other venues and was also able to vocalize and express his more difficult feelings.  By focusing on empathy and connection, as well as self-care, Zach’s mom found renewed energy, which, perhaps to her own surprise, she needed to tap into less and less.

Sharing a space with Zach and his mom, as we occasionally do in family check-ins together, is warmer, freer, and more natural.  When things are difficult, as they still can be, having the added depth of connection built on empathy, laughter, and shared experiences allows for more choices to present themselves.  Zach is excited about school, has had many positive experiences with peers at camps this summer (including JH Leadership Program!), and is excited about a long weekend trip to Salt Lake City that he and his mom have been planning together.

By welcoming families from all walks of life, and meeting them where they are individually, the Hirschfield Center is able to offer a window into the rewards their efforts will garner.  People sometimes ask us how we keep working in the face of trauma, abuse, and family dysfunction, the answer, always, is focusing on the strengths present.

Working To Prevent Child Abuse

Child abuse in the United States is a significant problem.  In 2007, approximately 5.8 million children were  involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations.  Almost five children die every day as a result of abuse; 3 out of 4 are 4 years old or younger.  It is estimated that 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 7 boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday.  90% report being sexually abused by  someone that they know and 68% report being abused by a family member.  Over 60% of patients in substance abuse treatment centers report being sexually victimized as children.  Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.  The  estimated annual cost for child abuse and neglect in the United States for year 2007 was $104 billion.  All statistics from http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics/. 

In Wyoming, by statute, all counties are required to have a Child Protection Team (CPT) that serves the purpose of tracking and monitoring cases where abuse has taken place.  In Teton County, our CPT meets weekly with many collaborating agencies including the School District, County Attorney’s Office, Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, Teton County Victim Services, Department of Family Services and the Hirschfield Center.  As a team, we discuss cases and try to ensure that child victims are receiving the most appropriate services, however our vision is much larger.

Through the Hirschfield Center we facilitate mandatory reporting and child abuse trainings to Teton County schools, day care facilities, Teton County Parks and Recreation as well as church groups.  Through this approach of educating professionals in the community that spend significant amounts of time with children, we hope to identify kids where ‘something just doesn’t seem quite right.’  Sometimes these children have experienced abuse or perhaps there is a budding mental health issue, but the goal remains the same: provide early intervention.

Through the Hirschfield Center’s Family Advocate Project, we will complete a comprehensive family assessment, write a report and make recommendations for the family.  These families come to the Hirschfield Center through a number of different channels including Department of Family Services, the Counseling Center, the Court System, School District or self referral.  We will work with a family on a number of different issues including parenting education, appropriate consequences and structure for their household, and counseling and referrals to appropriate community agencies.  Our advocates will often spend over 2 hours per week with a Hirschfield Center client in order to assist in helping the family function at a higher level.