Abused Children ‘Full of Fear and Trepidation’
DAVID KURTZ is the director of the Childhelp USA Child Abuse Hotline, a national hotline, located in Hollywood, which takes abuse reports, offers crisis counseling to adults and children, handles interventions and refers clients for therapy specifically for the abused. The group’s telephone number, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, is familiar from MTV spots, billboards and other public service vehicles. Kurtz spoke with NANCY SLATE.
We’ve had some very dramatic interventions on the hotline. One 10-year-pld girl who called was being sexually abused repeatedly by her father, who also was into child pornography and was taking pictures. We talked her into making a report by stressing several things. First, that the abuse wasn’t her fault. It’s a child’s nature to take responsibility, so this was very important. We told her that her father needed help, and the best way for him to get it is to make a report. We reminded her that abuse won’t stop by itself and it might get worse, that something had to be done, and she was the only one who could do it. After a couple of months of her calling us, we built trust and got her to make a report to Children’s Protective Services. The court then placed her with relatives.
Often, it’s too hard for a child to make a report on the first call. They’re full of fear and trepidation and also terribly conflicted: They want the abuse to stop, but they don’t want Mommy or Daddy to get in trouble. So we get them to keep calling back by building their trust. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver, but we tell them their parents won’t necessarily get in trouble. Then we really listen to them, validate them and allay their fears. We never judge. Kids will hang up if they feel judged. So we plant the seed and invite them to call back. They can even speak to the same counselor every time. We work with them like this till they’re able to make a report.
During an intervention, when the child wants to make a report, we do a conference call, usually with Children’s Protective Services. That’s when we switch hats and go from counselor to advocate. We support the child, calm his fears, urge him on, and talk to the agency worker if he’s not being sensitive to the child’s needs.
In the future, we want to expand the hotline to serve more people. It also will get into the area of system failure, which is when judges send abused children back to their abusers. We want to educate the public and get them to call us when they see this happening.