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Victim Service “Silent Spirits”

Driving into town this morning, thoughts of my 15 years of experience working with individuals, communities and systems consumed me.  Truth be told, I am so extremely appauled and frustrated with the “top-down” cultural shift from our Nations leadership. Human Service, Public Education and Nonprofits feel “corporatized” and complacent. Understandibly so.. from federal to state to county there is a tactical fight in progress to maintain funding. This competiveness has created a great division between former “collaborative” partnerships. This sense of self preservation has a tremendous impact on providing advocacy and prevention services in our communities.

Human Service agencies and more specifically child protective services have been tasked with taking all mandatory reports of child abuse and neglect. This process can be very extensive and time consuming when the report is filed, investigation in place and placement of child in alternative living environment.  CPS Caseworkers are tasked with caseloads that are sometimes in the hundreds and are required to follow up on all actions pertaining to each child, family and community placements. There are very limited resources in “safe” home placements and few community resources. This inability to accomplish daily tasks, respond to severe cases of abuse and provide tangible outcomes can leave caseworkers with vicarious trauma (exposure to other peoples trauma/victimization with secondary victimization occuring) and complacent.

Public Education has become the “catch all” service entity for children. Societal expectations of schools has become unrealistic and damaging. While working in a high school, I discovered that Administration and specialized workers spent 80% of their time on 20% of the student population. The issues that kids face today include; child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, generational poverty and bullying/harassment. The risk factors that are associated with their violence experiences present themselves as substance abuse and risky behaviors with a deep undertone of hopelessness. Parent/Guardian interactions tend to be less than desirable and outcomes tend to be blaming the school faculty and administration. Unfortunately, this experience demonstrated that adult accountability was minimal and many of these young people ended up in the juvenile system for drug and alcohol related charges or theft type of crimes. Parent accountability was minimal and these teens ended up with probation violations, fines and detention due to lack of adult supervision or support. The consistent parent and community expectation of the school was to provide supervision, education, healthcare, mental health, pregnancy prevention, community involvement and building safety. Being a mandatory reporter in the school district, I quickly realized that CPS reports rarely went past “file documentation”. This left us feeling angry and extremely frustrated because we witnessed first-hand that re-victimization was inevitable and vicarious trauma was what we were left with.

Non-Profits are, by design, established to support community driven work for marginalized, underserved and survivors of violence in most communities. Throughout the past 15 years, we have seen a transition in “public service” leadership focus to “corporatized” leadership. In about 2007, the economy tanked and jobs eliminated. Job seekers from the corporate sector started seeking employment in the non-profit sector. I have been witness to organizations that are operating under leadership that is driven by self-serving and abusive leadership that lacks integrity. “I will stick a boot up your ass” and “You all should be thankful that you have a job” kind of statements being used to intimidate staff into working extra hours or complying with dysfunctional orgnizational culture. The human services field used to be a culture of advocating for those who need assistance, empower those who have had power taken away and sharing space with others who had simular vision and focus toward equality. Now….. external perceptions of fraud and self-service are fueled by individuals exploiting funders, communities and media relations. Internal operations of exploitation, abuse and minimal integrity. Please understand that I speak directly to those who fall into this ugly category and recognize that there are great organizations with great leadership. The damage that some do is unspeakable and to sum it up… If you present that you provide service x y & z, but when people attempt to access, that service is not operating.. that is a terrible form of re-victimization and leaves people with thoughts of hopelessness. When you provide online and printed marketing materials that are all stock images and false stories because that what makes people want to support your “work”, that is unspeakable. Those who do the work don’t have to look far to find those who have benefited from the work. They in turn want to share their stories with others through that organization. Competing for $$$ has become the norm and service to community is about meeting deliverables on grants and presenting well to communities. Now that I have made myself feel better…

This blog has been a “work in progress” for the past two months. I attended the EVAW conference this last week and was re-inspired and have done an extensive amount of self evaluation. To sum it up:

Exploitation is Real and crosses all of our communities

Vicarious trauma is affecting all of our communities

Complacency has become a very normal response

Victims of sex abuse, incest and exploitation deserve support

Offenders need to be identified and prevented from accessing our communities

Prevention starts with all of US.

Supporting a family through this very terrible type of trauma has been some of the most impactful and rewarding experience. To see a child who can’t hold their head up and carries the burden of “telling” is heartbreaking. Spending time with them and their families feels awkward at first. With some time and trust, experiences start to include laughter and empowerment. When “swimming the stream” of our systems, advocates are sometiimes the only person that a family turns to for answers, resources and support. As an Advocate, we need to recognize and remember the “power” that we hold in peoples lives. When a child has a supportive family, advocate and community, we are blessed to see a transformation of broken to hopeful for a future. Some of my favorite interactions are; “Do you think that I could do your job when I get older”, “I want to be a teacher when I get older” and “Knock-knock. Who’s There? Cows Who? No Cows Go Moo”.

Savenia Falquist

Silent Spirits

  1. Thank you for all you do, Savenia! As a survivor of childhood abuse in all (that i can think of) its forms, it is much appreciated that you are speaking out for children everywhere. Thank you for both your compassion and for your hard work and for giving a voice to victims everywhere!-Don

  2. Thank you for your continued work and inspiration in the area of child protector.
    A Survior

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