Monday, October 23, 2017

When Home Is Not Safe

Saturday, October 25, 2008, 21:52
This news item was posted in Teen Talk category.
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[Editor’s Notes: Dr. Baynard writes a newspaper column called “Teen Talk” from whence the following article is taken.  He cautions that the article is written for a secular South Carolina newspaper, is targeted toward the worse situations of child abuse, and relies upon South Carolina law.  He realizes that there may be reader objections to the social services references.  Please keep these factors in mind as you study this article.  Dr. Baynard is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors]

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by Dr. Chuck Baynard
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There are some things in life we do not want to talk about. We know things happen, and the circumstances do exist, but in some way this just does not seem to be a topic of conversation. Child abuse is one of these areas of life. Because of this most do not recognize child abuse until things have deteriorated to the point that there has been or is a very present threat of physical harm or death for the child. I dont think this is a deliberate, thought out decision, but is denial in the same sense of a person addicted to a substance or the one who is the aggressor in abuse cases. The result is that those who are in harms way do not know where to turn for help. Add the self-esteem issues that exist with almost all abused persons, to their very real fear of the aggressor and we have someone who is at wits end. They are afraid, alone, and with nowhere to turn. When the abused person is a teenager, all of this is multiplied several fold. At the time in their life they are least prepared to deal with normal emotions they are faced with adult decisions that will have a life changing affect upon them and the extended family.

 

What is the best advice we can give a teenager who we think is abused, or who has asked us what they can do? My first answer is usually Call DSS, especially with teenagers. Second talk to your grandparents. Third, talk to your pastor, teacher or school counselor. The options are limited no matter the age of the child, but teenagers who have lived several years in these circumstances are perhaps at greater risk of making the wrong decision.

 

I will begin the alternatives available with a teen that is 17 or older. Is call DSS the best advice? In this case, this may be one of only two options available to a seventeen year old. There is a third, but in my mind it would be the last resort. What then are the three options? The first two are essentially the same and only differ in point of initial contact. The teen can seek assistance from DSS, who will begin an investigation, perhaps to the further physical and mental abuse of the child before the child is actually removed from the place of harm (their own home). The second is to call the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction at the place where the home is located. If the situation is dangerous, law enforcement will take the teen into emergency protective custody. The teen will then be placed (immediately) with DSS for protection (custody) until an investigation has been initiated, and a family court judge decides if there is reason for the teen to have been taken into custody, and if it is necessary for the teen to remain in DSS custody or be returned to the home. It would seem then that the best point of contact for those in immediate danger would be to call the local police department, which may result in their being removed from the situation and protected until things can be worked out. This working out will be by the same agency (DSS) no matter which avenue of approach is chosen. By court order the needed services and counseling to restore the home will be provided by DSS. From personal experience DSS does a good job, especially with the legal red tape they are continuously bound in. The goal of SC courts and DSS is to restore the complete family and bring about the reunification of all parties in a home that is no longer dysfunctional.

 

The last choice is extreme in my opinion, and though the one chosen too often by the teenager faced with this situation. At seventeen they can extract themselves from the home. This usually means they will have to drop out of school so they can earn their own way, or live from pillar to post with whatever friend or family that will help them at the moment. They also expose themselves to a greater possibility of abuse at the hands of others at the same time. As a minimum they will set back their education and possibilities for the future by several years. The choice of simply leaving home is taken every day by all too many teenagers. The word choice here is not the preferred word, for in my opinion, often the teen had no choice. Yet by their age, it is expected by the system that they take some active part in helping themselves.

 

The ideal solution is that of the courts and DSS where the child remains in the home and the abusive situation is corrected. By Gods design the home is a place for children to be nourished and grow until the time they have matured enough to set out on their own in safety. This is also the law of the land so to speak. There is a conflict between the rights of a child to be loved and nurtured in the home, and the states responsibility for the safety of the child. Each and every case is unique and the circumstances though very similar and have the same genre, must be considered. This causes a lag time to exist between the request for help and the state agencies being able to respond. In real life, teens make one of two decisions; go it alone and expose themselves to the dangers of the world (runaways) or stay put until they are old enough to walk away.

 

A better way of initiating this is for the adults involved in this family to take the actions instead of leaving a teen in trouble or forcing them from the home. Any adult who knows of such abuse and does not do anything about it is as guilty as the person doing the abuse. This is particularly true of the parents, despite from where the abuse is coming to include the spouse. These deeds cannot remain hidden to protect the family. This is no protection, but encouraging the continuance of abnormal behavior. Some things in life are tough; there is no easy way out. This does not lessen the responsibility we have to do that which is right.

 

In the immediate home the parent that is not the abuser should take steps to immediately remove themselves and the children from the presence of harm. Failure to do so opens them up to legal actions (arrest) and causes further harm to the children that will bring about deep-seated mental problems later in life, as well as the very present physical danger. It is only in the bold confrontation of these issues that a definitive answer will be found, and the situation rectified if possible. But at all costs, when the home is no longer a place of safety, the adults must take action, despite any other possible repercussion for the action taken. Protect yourself and the children regardless of age from the threat of further mental or physical abuse.

 

This will not happen in the majority of cases. Thus it begins to move toward the extended family to do something. I would start with the grandparents as the ones to whom the rest of the family may respond, but also include brothers, sisters, and cousins if need be. When all else fails, the responsibility passes to the community at large and especially those friends or others who have direct knowledge of the situation in the home. What most fear, physical confrontation will not happen. Exposed to the light of day, the vast majority will at least tentatively enter into counseling or other programs to get the help they need. Especially if they know this outsider is watching their actions and will not tolerate such behavior.

 

Still cant bring yourself to interfere in the home of another? Then use the only alternative left, pick up your phone and make a report to DSS. As best you can watch and protect the spouse and children until DSS has things under control. Removal from the home if needed is a traumatic experience for children, but far better than they spend the rest of their life mentally handicapped or maimed because you did nothing. In the end this may be the best course of action and not burn bridges that may be used later to actually help and be a positive influence in the dysfunctional family. Then there are those who must follow this route no matter how they came by the information. Teachers are one example of this class, and why many teachers do get involved. If your professional relationship demands such reporting, you should be aware of it. However if in doubt call DSS and ask about mandatory reporting.

 

It is not as rare as we want to believe. Our children must not be sacrificed upon the altar of the world because of our hang-ups in respecting the home of another, or of adults over children in the home. We must stop the forced decisions by teens that are ill prepared physically, emotionally, or economically to defend and protect themselves. If nothing else, and you know about an abused child, make that phone call.

 

For Christians this should be an area of constant daily prayer. Yet in turning to God, we cannot, set aside our responsibility to take action and let the chips fall where they may. This is behavior and can be changed, but without you, it very well may not.

 

One last word to teens at least seventeen years old. The end result, no matter where the confrontation comes from depends entirely upon you and your truthfulness. No matter who makes the initial report, DSS cannot act if you refuse to cooperate and tell them what is going on. At seventeen you can simply pack your bags and leave the family home. Parents cannot force a seventeen year old to return home. However do not even consider leaving until you have made arrangements for s safe place to go. The preferred choice is a grandparent or trusted Aunt or uncle, and finally with family friends who are willing to put you up indefinitely. Do not leave to move in for a week or some other short term. These things need time to be rectified, and you may need a place to live for several months, and alas perhaps until you can move out on your own full time. Moving in with another, even if older teenager, or your boy/girl friend or even getting married prematurely are not answers either. The decision is yours, but think it through and do the wise thing. The system works, though it may be both slow in responding or producing those results. Be ready for delays, and if needed to make that independent move to a place of safety until things can be worked out.

 

Children under 16 should find a trusted adult and ask for their help. The option of removing yourself from the home is not available. Call DSS, and tell your grandparents or in the absence of grandparents the next closest relative you have, tell the school counselor what is happening at home. Really scared, call the police too.

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Dr. Baynard is an Associate Editor of the Christian Observer and Senior Pastor at Clover Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Clover, South Carolina

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