Uplifting, educational, and hopeful. Those are the three words I would use to describe the first Child Abuse Prevention Symposium we recently held at the Hilton in downtown Harrisburg.
In honor of our 40th anniversary, our team brainstormed ideas on how we could celebrate our organization’s history. One idea made perfect sense to us, and that was to host a large-scale symposium where professionals from all the across the state could come together and receive child abuse prevention training. After all, child abuse prevention training is our organization’s core mission and for those of us that work in this profession: our calling.
Our morning started by hearing from Liz Murray, author of the best-selling memoir, “Breaking Night”. Many of you might recall the 2003 Lifetime movie, From Homeless to Harvard, that was based on her memoir. Liz shared her deeply personal journey with us and what it was like to be a child who grew up in the Bronx in extreme poverty, while being raised by her parents who both battled substance abuse disorders. As a child, Liz was the recipient of intervention services and she described in great detail for us what worked and what didn’t work for her and her family. As a teenager, her parent’s addiction took a turn for the worse; her mother was diagnosed with AIDS and subsequently passed away. At 15 years old, she became homeless. Liz ultimately encountered a teacher who changed the course of her life. This teacher took the time to listen and became her honest encourager. Liz received a scholarship from the New York Times, attended Harvard University, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. I strongly encourage you to read her memoir, it’s truly uplifting. But, until you do, let me leave you with a few highlights from Liz’s speech:
- You can make a difference in the life of a child. Liz’s life is proof.
- People cannot give you what they don’t have. We have to know better in order to do better.
- You have to meet the children and families you work with where they are.
- Always be acutely aware of your interactions with children. They pick up on your words, tone of voice, and body language. They most certainly will internalize what you are projecting.
Throughout the day, attendees participated in breakout sessions from Liz and two nationally known child abuse prevention experts: Victor Vieth and Jane Straub. Victor is the Director of Education and Research at Zero Abuse Project. He has trained thousands of child-protection professionals, and published countless articles related to the investigation, prosecution and prevention of child abuse and neglect. Jane is the Victim Assistance Specialist at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and she educates professionals on topics related to violence and prevention and advocates for victims and families struggling with the effects of abuse or neglect.
Both Victor and Jane provided exceeded expectations. Their trainings focused on topics like what steps every organization needs to take to protect children; the ripple effects of sexual harm; and how to identify satisfaction, fatigue, and vicarious trauma. It’s crucial for professionals in our field to not only focus on prevention methods and techniques, but to also develop the tools to care for ourselves. Working in this profession is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s truly a calling and I often say this work is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Our day concluded by hearing from Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who many of you are familiar with. The Attorney General and his office exemplified courageous fortitude when they pushed forward with the grand jury report and investigation into Catholic Diocese’s systematic cover-up of child sexual abuse that was perpetrated by members of the clergy. We were honored to have the Attorney General come and speak to us about all the work his office has done, especially on the day of our symposium. Not only could we think of a better individual to speak, but just hours before our symposium kicked-off, the Attorney General (now former) charged State Senator Mike Folmer with possession of child pornography. Until a few days ago, Folmer was a powerful member of the State Senate and Chairman of the Senate Government Committee. The Attorney General told us that “no one is above the law—no one” and for that I am hopeful.
I am hopeful that we now live in a time when regardless of an individual’s position or level of authority, child abuse will not be tolerated. We still have a long way to go, but it’s clear that child abuse is a regular topic of conversation in our society, while 20 ago it was never discussed. Secrets were kept hidden, children who were abused suffered in silence, and our leaders ignored the problem. Seeing 200 professionals gather together at our symposium to continue their education and learn more about how to prevent child abuse is yet another step forward.