Protecting Children and the Earth
- By: Candace McKibben
The first time I remember feeling like a colleague with an adult was when I was in seminary. I feel sure that many of my high school and college experiences were preparing me for being an adult and that I might have experienced that distinction earlier, but what I remember is the day that an adult I had known and admired for all of my childhood, asked to confide in me. I was home on a break between semesters. I could see that she was clearly troubled and I was not prepared for what she shared. What unfolded was a story of a young granddaughter who had been sexually abused. She hoped because of my seminary training I might be able to help her support her granddaughter.
She had suspected for some time that her granddaughter was not as happy as she had once been. She knew that there seemed to be tension in the household when she would visit. But she felt like it was not her business and, against her better judgment, did not intervene. By the time the grandmother finally told her granddaughter if she ever needed to talk with an adult about something that was troubling to her, she could call, her granddaughter said, “What if it’s too late?” The words pierced the grandmother’s soul.
When I see the beautiful blue and silver pinwheels shimmering in the sunlight at businesses and faith communities around town during April, I think of that grandmother and her grandchild. I know now what I did not know in my early twenties, that it is a story that is far too common and it is a story we must work to change.
The national “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign was started in April 2008 by Prevent Child Abuse America. The pinwheel is the campaign symbol to remind us of the happy childhoods and bright futures that all children deserve and the important role we each play in ensuring every child has an equal opportunity for growth and development. During April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month, we are encouraged to be proactive in changing the narrative of child abuse. Whether it is emotional, physical or sexual abuse; the loss of a parent through divorce, death or incarceration; or lack of basic needs such as food, shelter, or healthcare; children who experience an adverse childhood experience can be impacted for a lifetime. But one caring adult can make a difference.
This week I happened to be in the car during part of the excellent interview on NPR with Joshua Johnson of 1A and the staff from Sesame Street. They were talking about their new character, Julia, who is a person living with autism, as well as work aimed at supporting children who are dealing with trauma. Their mission at Sesame Street is to help children grow smarter, stronger and kinder, and they realize that this is achieved by modeling for children and parents the best ways to relate, communicate and cope with the realities of life. As Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, who directs work with community and family engagement at Sesame Street, described their involvement with Syrian refuge children, interviewer Joshua Johnson was audibly moved. He said, “What you are describing about the children connecting with Elmo emotionally is amazing. But as an adult it is heartbreaking to hear Elmo say he is sad and sometimes scared for his new friends.”
It is heartbreaking and can feel overwhelming to hear of childhood trauma, but knowing that one caring adult can make a difference is inspiring. On the excellent Ounce of Prevention Florida website, there are a number of helpful resources for what we can do to support children and their families, including promoting healthy childhood development, encouraging positive parenting, and providing concrete support for basic needs. One caring adult grandmother made a great difference in the life of her granddaughter years ago and now that granddaughter has beautiful and healthy children of her own.
One of the most amazing child advocates I know is my friend and parishioner, who during our time of intercessory prayer last week had an unusual request. She asked that we pray for one of our historic trees that is in danger of being cut down. She is concerned both about the loss of the tree and what it says about us that we would allow this. I see a parallel in her strong advocacy for children and for all life needing our compassionate care. As we approach Earth Day, may our prayers for protection and voice of advocacy be united for our mother earth, for the trees, and for the children who bring life such beauty.