Webinar presenter Andrew Campbell answered a number of your questions after his presentation, More than Words: The Emotional Maltreatment of Children. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: You mentioned during your webinar that there’s some interesting information or findings that you found about domestic violence and disaster situations. Knowing that we’ve been living through COVID for the last few months, what can we learn about communities that have gone through physical disasters and domestic violence and how can we apply that to our existing situation?
Andrew Campbell: There’s actually a number of things there. And actually, I hinted at in my COVID-19 related paper I just published. I’m actually writing a paper just on this topic now, but just saying some of the key points, I think when we look at natural disasters, we see a lot of the similar circumstances that we’re seeing now. One different thing, we don’t necessarily see the physical destruction of buildings and communities as we see in the natural disaster, but we still see the same types of closures, restricted access by key reporters of abuse so school is not having access to children, and libraries and other social service providers that have that had either at least have their services severely restricted. So, we see that also after natural disasters resulting in a decrease in child abuse reports, but the literature is pretty clear and what it appears that the incident was actually up. It’s just that we weren’t getting those reports. So, you know, I think a lot of communities are we are seeing that right now. Fewer child abuse reports are just a reminder that probably, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that child abuse is down. My concern and what we see in some of these others that stirs to is this just kind of the overwhelming number of cases once lockdowns are lifted and abusers leave the home and there’s actually opportunity to get out and report. I have a concern there and then the other thing that I would add again just as the topic I could talk on for another hour, but the mental health concerns, so in a lot of natural disasters, we will see an increase in mental health-related issues for up to four years after the natural disaster. The conditions right now are similar in a lot of ways and so my fear is that we will continue to see this increase in mental illness and mental harm which again is very tightly correlated and connected to family violence and child abuse so my concern is that we are looking at long-term effect and pretty serious ones which again speaks to the importance of developing more effective intervention and action plans now and also for the next time this happens so we’re better prepared and more ready.
Audience Question: Would you discuss animal abuse as an alarming caregiver behavior? How exposure to animal abuse constitutes an ACE? Could you talk about that a little bit more?
Andrew Campbell: Yep, absolutely. So, as I said, you know, when we think about domestic violence and we think about these abusive homes, you know, children and animals often represent the most vulnerable members of the household. Unfortunately, we see them both often targeted and when violence occurs in the home often because of that. We also see abusers targeting children and pets as a means to keep a victim from reporting abuse, you know as a way that to say, you know, well, you know, I’m going to do that again, or I’m going to kill the dog or hurt the child if you try to report. We see that, the underlying mental harm there. For a child though often, many of them are so tied to that pet. I just think of heartbreaking stories of thinking of one child in particular who was continually falling asleep at school and that you know, the teacher thought that he was playing video games or something up late-night doing that and you know talk to the child and said, well, why are you falling asleep and the child replied, well, this is you know, my only chance to sleep. My dad had said that he’s going to kill our German Shepherd and so every night I sleep with him because that’s the only way I know for sure he’s still going to be alive when it’s morning and he’s so big he doesn’t sit well on my bed and I can’t sleep at all. So, by the time I get to school I’m exhausted and again you just think of that bond and that connection. Again children look to these pets in these homes because they are not getting it from humans for support, for stability, for love, for unconditional, you know, just for so much and they rely so heavily on and when those animals are abused, there’s just something that you know particularly when the child is younger and maybe even more dependent on that animal. It just sets these cycles we’ve discussed and even almost in hyper-speed where we can see something where a child then witnesses the abuse and maybe more likely then, they go on to abuse animals in advance and that you know and other forms of abuse as well. So, I absolutely consider it to be an adverse childhood experience even if it’s not always considered as such when you read some studies then some other presentations or but absolutely, I think it ranks right there and obviously children are significantly impacted. Like I said my dog saved my life. If my dog had been abused and harmed, I would not be here today. I don’t know what would have happened to me, but I can promise you I would not be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t be here as I am. My dog saved my life. And so, the idea of watching him be harmed, you know, I don’t know what would have happened to me, but I wouldn’t have made it here.
Audience Question: The study of epigenetics is revealing how abuse can have genealogical consequences. Do you have any thoughts? And Andrew just for the rest of us who may not be necessarily aware of this research, can you explain that just a touch before you dive into answering her question?
Andrew Campbell: It does feel like a little bit of a loaded question please Anytime I answer anything, I was going to be very careful to make sure so I will have you ever asked that p follow it up with an email to me directly and we can get into a little deeper. I know there’s a lot of research and education and information out there implying that again we think about some of the changes to our bodies that stress and other things create that there’s I’m assuming what she’s describing is this idea of some of those traits being passed on to future generations potentially making them predisposed or more likely to commit acts of abuse. You know, when I look at that, I think it makes it more difficult to break those cycles but again not impossible. I mean speaking of my own experience I had such fear, a real fear of ever even having a family, of having children, you know, just this idea that I had no blueprint really of what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to be. I had this just real overwhelming fear and I never wanted to have a family because I was afraid I would harm my own kids, but then I had children and found that nothing could be farther from the truth. I actually am a good father and I take good care of them and I’m there for them and supportive of them. I could see something like that and making it more difficult again not impossible. I refuse to believe that cycles cannot be broken. There are good research and indication out there looking at trauma-informed care and forms of therapy that can even breakthrough and work through some of those things as well. Some more difficult, but definitely not impossible. You know again, I think as family violence professionals we’re used to having the odds stacked against us and it is a continual uphill climb but so too are the victims we serve, you know, they face even more difficult conditions on a daily basis and find ways to overcome so, you know, I’m sure we can as well. So, I would encourage an e-mail though and I can get a little deeper into that and followed support a little better with some literature too.
Audience Question: We need better communication and collaboration within communities to assist these people. How can we get organizations to cooperate? Andrew, talk to us. How can we get organizations within our communities to work better together?
Andrew Campbell: You know, I wish there was just an easy answer I could give but the reality is it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of barriers to working with different organizations. I’ve found something to be successful with one at this point and others to not be successful. What I think what it boils down to if I again kind of put me on the spot here trying to solve an issue I’ve wrestled with, one of the successes that I found is identifying individuals within organizations that seem to be more approachable. I think there’s value in sitting on panels and sitting on different teams and connecting with and meeting face-to-face with other organizations within your community. So if you haven’t done that I would start there, you know just see it, again when we’re allowed to meet face-to-face, reach out to organizations and see about setting up some sort of face-to-face meeting and even more so than just on the phone but connect and when we were able to again, when that seems safe to do. So, you know, we can zoom and other software now but have that face-to-face meeting, find someone within an organization that you can connect with that shares the same type of passion. Organizations often are aware of that. I think of a police department I reached out to recently that you know, as soon as I started talking about the overlap of animal abuse and child abuse they said oh, well you want to talk to this officer because they’re interested in that too. So find someone within each organization, you know, rather than looking at it as a huge organization that we have to win over, find someone, try to find some within the organization that seem to have at least some sort of similar interest or similar line of thought, go through them and allow them to bring in their organization that seems to have worked well for me and engaging other community agencies. Again, the other way is just getting the message out there. Many of these agencies may not understand these issues and so providing some education again in a way that’s not a thing I know more than you but here is some information that you may want to consider. Are you aware of this? Figure out a way to tie it into their agency as well. Thinking of you know, I work a lot on these issues with other agencies and also bring up the fact that you know the risk is increased for First Responders too, involved in these incidents. So even inform the agencies, you know that we’re not just talking about the risk for people in the home but for your agency when you respond as well. So, finding ways to make it more personal to the organization finding individuals within each organization that you can connect with. If you can just find one, you know the right person in your community, you know, they can unlock a lot of doors for you.