Protecting Our Children
How Three of Tulsa’s Community Agencies Work Together to Prevent, Investigate and Heal Child Abuse
Nancy (name has been changed to protect her privacy), a 54-year-old grandmother, wishes such agencies as The Parent Child Center, Child Abuse Network (CAN) and Family & Children’s Services were around when she was a child. “I was abused physically and sexually from the time I was three,” Nancy said. “My sisters were as well.” Nancy’s perpetrator, her own father, told her never to tell or she’d be sent to “a worse place.”
Today, Nancy tells her story in support of agencies working to prevent and treat child abuse in hopes that other children will be spared the pain and trauma she suffered.
According to data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, children who suffered physical or emotional abuse in Oklahoma has increased for three consecutive years. In fiscal year 2013, 11,418 children were abused or neglected compared with 7,248 in 2010. In contrast, child abuse and neglect has dropped across the United States.
In Tulsa County, one in every 25 children is affected, and those statistics come from just those that are reported. Child abuse and neglect crosses all socio-economic, religious and ethnic boundaries.
The Parent Child Center of Tulsa
“We focus on prevention,” said Matt Eber, marketing and communication coordinator for The Parent Child Center. According to Eber, The Parent Child Center offers programs to help prevent child abuse before it occurs. Some of the unique programs offered include:
- Never Shake A Baby: a hospital visitation program where parents of newborns are taught safe techniques to calm a crying baby, and educated as to the brain damage that can occur when a frustrated caregiver shakes a baby.
- Great Beginnings: parenting classes for parents who don’t feel they have adequate information on how to be a good parent, and for those who may have had poor role models for parents and/or were abused themselves.
- Kids on the Block: an educational theatrical presentation using puppets to teach kids about such topics as appropriate touch, bullying, divorce, stranger danger and more.
- Healthy Start: education and support services at women’s health clinics for moms-to-be and new moms, teaching them about normal child development, safety and nutrition, and the dangers of smoking, domestic violence and substance abuse.
They also provide adult group and individual therapy, child therapy and have a shelter outreach.
Sometimes all people need is a little guidance and direction in order to be good parents. “When I first started, I was stunned how many young families are willing to reach out and say, ‘I need some help,’” Eber said. When they do, The Parent Child Center is there.
The Parent Child Center of Tulsa is located at 1421 S. Boston, and has recently opened a new location, paired with Emergency Infant Services, at 9910 E. 42nd St., Suite 100. The Center’s 24-hour helpline is 918.599.7999.
Child Abuse Network (CAN)
The focus of Child Abuse Network is intervention. When child abuse is suspected, children are brought to CAN (usually within the first three days) where a variety of necessary services are provided—all under one roof and in a friendly, comforting environment. Children are interviewed by professional child-interview specialists, seen by a medical team and referred for follow-up care as needed. And, if it is determined that someone needs to go to jail on charges of child abuse, the District Attorney’s office is right down the hall where charges can be filed. In 2013, according to oksentate.gov, 2,388 children were served by the multi-disciplinary team at the Child Abuse Network.
Before CAN, children frequently endured stressful examinations and numerous interviews by various agencies—often in cold, sterile environments. For children, CAN is a place of safety, comfort and even fun with its teddy-bear theme, sunny décor, stuffed animal friends and kid-friendly furnishings—even the bathroom is entered through a special, kid-sized door and has a tiny, child-sized toilet.
“Children feel safe from the second they get here,” said Brandi Moore, community relations manager for CAN. “We help them believe in a better future.”
The Child Abuse Network is located at 2829 S. Sheridan Road, 918.624.0200.
Family & Children’s Services Child Abuse and Trauma Services
At Family & Children’s Services, the Child Abuse and Trauma Services program focuses on recovery for children and for adults.
Children whose lives have been traumatized by abuse can develop a variety of problems from mild to severe, such as anger and aggression, poor self-image, anxiety, difficulties in school, suicidal thoughts, problems concentrating, drug and alcohol abuse and more. At Family & Children’s Services, traumatized children are cared for in a healing, child-friendly environment by compassionate staff through a variety of programs. Family members, foster parents and other caregivers can be included in the therapy process.
Most parents love their children and want to be good parents. But many simply don’t know how. “One of the biggest things we see is a lack of coping and parenting skills,” said Christine Marsh, director of Child Abuse and Trauma Services. According to Marsh, lack of consistency and lack of structure are two aspects of good parenting that are usually missing in abuse situations. “Having structure and routine in place is so significant to our kids. They need to know what to expect.”
She said that when children are raised in a chaotic environment, their brains stay in a hyper-aroused state, which prevents their reasoning and logic skills from developing. This, in turn, can affect their behavior, making them difficult to parent. The pattern becomes cyclical and puts children at risk for abuse.
Another problem Marsh frequently encounters is parents who have inappropriate expectations for their children. “Expectations can be too high in some areas and not high enough in others,” Marsh said. “Parenting without an understanding of normal child development can be really frustrating for children [and parents].” At Family & Children’s Services, parents are taught what to expect from their children at each age, and how to appropriately discipline based on age.
The family support classes offered through Family & Children’s Services include Grief Counseling, Anger Management, Divorce Adjustment, Positive Parenting, Couples/Marriage Therapy, and more.
Thanks to The Parent Child Center, Child Abuse Network, and Family & Children’s Services, family stress is reduced, children are protected, families learn healthy options to deal with problems, and parents learn how to be better parents. Working together these agencies ensure that fewer children suffer as Nancy suffered, and that future generations of children will have safer, happier lives.
For a list of classes and services, go to www.fcsok.org, or call 918.587.9471 for more information or to make an appointment. The COPES 24-hour crisis line number is 918.744.4800.
Report Suspicion of Abuse or Neglect
Did you know that state law requires every person to report suspicion of abuse or neglect to the Department of Human Services? The report must be made to the authorities, not just a supervisor or employer. You do not have to prove abuse is happening, but only have a reason to believe that abuse is occurring. You may report anonymously and the law will protect you from liability if you have made the report in good faith. There is no “confidentiality” exception in Oklahoma, so members of the clergy, counselors and others must report child abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused and/or neglected call:
Oklahoma hotline: 800.522.3511
National hotline: 800.422.4453
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Unexplained bruises, redness or swelling
- Unexplained burns, particularly in identifiable shapes
- Frequent accidents and unexplained fractures or lacerations
- Bite marks, welts or bald spots
- Psychosomatic illnesses
- Poor social skills
- “Flinches” easily, seems easily frightened
- Fearful of returning home
- Frequent absences or tardiness
- Unkempt or “sloppy” appearance
- Hyperactive or easily distracted
- Lies excessively or gives implausible explanation for injuries
- Moves awkwardly or acts as if sore
- Avoids changing clothes in front of others (i.e., changing into gym clothes)
- Wears clothes that cover the entire body, even in hot weather
- Frequent emotional outbursts, either excessively angry or tearful
- Isolated, seems depressed; may seem “flat” in appearance or joyless
- Avoids questions about caregivers
- Chronic runaway
- Poor self-esteem
- Disruptive, disrespectful or aggressive
- Cruel to animals or younger children
- Has learning disorders, poor school performance
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Genital pain, itching and/or bleeding
- Stomach aches
- Problems with sleep (too much, too little, nightmares)
- Problems with appetite (eats too much or too little)
- Excessive masturbation
- Sexualized play or behavior
- Unexplained fears
- Regressive behavior
- Low self-esteem
- Withdrawal from others
- Difficulty concentrating, problems in school
- Animal cruelty
- Suicide attempts
- Repeated attempts to run away
- Alcohol/drug use
- Any significant changes from what is normal for that particular child
Signs of Neglect
- Poor hygiene, body odor, dirty or scaly skin
- Inappropriate clothing for weather (e.g.; heavy clothing in hot weather)
- Torn or dirty clothing
- Distended stomach
- Speech disorders (i.e., stuttering)
- Failure to thrive
- Unattended medical or dental needs
- Lack of age appropriate supervision
- Chronic illnesses (skin ulcers, allergies, etc.)
- Thinning hair
- Withdrawn, isolated
- Aggressive or hyperactive
- Begging, stealing or hoarding food
- Poor social skills
- Frequent school absences or tardiness
- Listless, lethargic or falls asleep in school
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Child states caregivers are absent or child is alone frequently
- Delinquent behavior
- Assumes “adult role” or seems “parentified”
If a Child Discloses Abuse
- Remain calm
- Believe the child
- Allow child to talk
- Show interest and concern
- Reassure and support the child
- Take action and report
- Panic or over-react
- Press the child to talk
- Promise anything you can’t control
- Confront the offender
- Blame or minimize the child’s feelings
- Overwhelm the child with questions