“It’s easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.” — Frederick Douglass
Tressa, 40, 5ft 9in and 100lbs, appeared cachet, incoherent, angry, defiant and illiterate to police when they arrested her for child endangerment and neglect, possession of methamphetamine and state drunk. Her 3-year-old son, RJ, was found wandering the neighborhood at 3 a.m., prompting 911 calls and the arrest of his mother.
Fearful and withdrawn, RJ was developmentally delayed (didn’t know his name, didn’t speak, wasn’t clean). There had been three previous unsubstantiated child protection reports of alleged cases of child neglect and parental substance abuse. Services have been offered to Tressa in the past. This time, however, Tressa was incarcerated and RJ was placed in foster care without contact with her mother for almost 6 weeks. Children and Youth Services (CYS) recommended inpatient drug treatment for Tressa and out-of-home care for RJ. None of Tressa’s loved ones were willing to help, support or care for RJ.
According to Tressa, no one had ever asked her what had happened to her. CYS was unaware that Tressa’s childhood traumas included intergenerational familial alcoholism and mental illness, domestic abuse, emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. As a teenager, she was promiscuous and involved in alcohol and drug addiction. From age 15 to 17, she was raped, had a miscarriage and forced termination of a second pregnancy. From ages 18 to 30, she had three children but was in a dysfunctional marriage where there was emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse as well as domestic violence and animal abuse. Divorced at 31, she became homeless, eating out of dumpsters and manufacturing and distributing drugs.
Both Tressa and RJ exhibited many manifestations of untreated trauma: ADHD, depression, anger, substance abuse, trust issues, developmental and educational delays, poor self-esteem, defiant oppositional behaviors, nightmares, poor social and social skills. adaptation, etc.
Tressa and RJ’s life began to change in a positive direction with the help of CYS, residential addiction treatment, an in-home family support partner, addiction counselors and cognitive therapy. -behavioral trauma-based.
Child abuse can be a multigenerational problem. The lives of many of these families can only be described as chaotic. Tressa’s adverse childhood experiences resulted in her social, emotional, and cognitive impairments with the adoption of risky health behaviors and resulting illnesses, disabilities, and social problems. RJ fell victim to the developmental cascade of transgenerational child abuse.
The humanity of our approach matters. A multigenerational and multidisciplinary team approach is necessary for these families in distress. This may consist of home visits, nutritional support, brain health care, medication, parent education about negative childhood experiences and stress, mindfulness practices, parent education on reducing adversity as well as appropriate counseling such as trauma-based cognitive behavioral therapy. Research shows that negative childhood experiences don’t have to be fate and that positive experiences can help moderate the effects of negative childhood experiences.
Relationship health refers to the ability to develop and maintain safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with emotionally available, engaged, and responsive adults. Adults provide children and adolescents with positive experiences that mitigate adversity and develop the fundamental social and emotional skills needed to be resilient in the face of adversity. Hope overcomes negative childhood experiences when protective factors outweigh negative experiences.
Dr. Pat Bruno is a pediatrician at Geisinger. He is the medical director of the Sunbury Child Advocacy Centre.