The Fight Against Child Abuse Takes More Than An Avatar
You may have seen this making it's rounds on Facebook recently:
Please Join the Fight against Child Abuse... Change your profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood.. The Goal is to not see a human face on Facebook until Monday, December 6th.. please invite your friends to do the same...
At first, I ignored it as just another Facebook fad that will make it's rounds and then disappear. Facebook awareness campaigns have never been my thing. I managed for awhile, but then saw this tweet from @bumblebrie about a post @pigtailpals had written.
Right after that, was another tweet from someone that they changed their avatar under pressure from their friends, in a "There, are you happy?" kind of tone.
From then on, I've become a little stabby about the whole thing, and let me tell you why. I'm speaking as someone who has lived, worked with, and advocated for abused kids for the past 18 years, and I am as protective as hell of them. Child abuse is ugly. So ugly that watering it down to something like a meme to cheerfully pass around on Facebook seems disrespectful to every single child I've taken into my home, made a hot lunch for, or worked to connect with. What I want you to think about doing is moving from the virtual to the tangible, and here's why:
When I married my husband, he was contracting with Social Services and ran a therapeutic group home for severely at risk teenage boys. By that, I mean that often their needs were such that they could not be placed in a typical foster home. Sometimes, they were gang members. Other times, they were developing mental illnesses, were addicted to drugs or alcohol, had witnessed parents commit suicide or murder, were sex offenders, or had severe emotional problems. Sometimes they were just really messed up kids.
ALL of them had been abused in some way. NONE of them were lovable kids that you could just be kind too and make it all go away. They were ornery. Violent. They had HUGE problems.
Severely abused and neglected kids can be that way.
Despite all that, they were CHILDREN.
Their faces lit up on Christmas morning when they saw presents for them under the tree, because in their home Christmas might mean Mom having sex in the next room with a stranger, or Dad passed out cold on the floor. There would be no Santa, much less turkey or pumpkin pie. They found it odd that Hubs and I hugged each other and he didn't beat me daily. It took awhile for most of them to realize that the food was always going to be there, and they would never go hungry.
They marveled at going camping, became a bunch of excited five year olds when we took them to the water slides or to play paint ball, loved the movie theater, and dissolved in laughter at night when we'd play board games. We helped them with their homework, taught them how to be self sufficient and disciplined them when we had to, even if it meant calling the police when they had broken the law.
They screamed at night in fear from nightmares. Some wet the bed or sobbed after visits with their families. Some ran away because they couldn't stand being separated. Others had to sleep with the light on.
People, I found, could be incredibly cruel or judgmental to them, as if the kids deserved what had happened to them because, as teenagers, they weren't that lovable now. If they went missing, few people looked. If they got themselves into trouble and needed rescuing from the Downtown East Side, not many would listen. If they became caught up with adults who were plying them with sex, drugs, and alcohol, it wasn't considered a protection issue.
They were little kids once and nobody rescued them then, nobody made that call to social services, nobody CARED enough to actually do something, so why should they do something now? We spent years fighting tooth and nail for everything they needed, and people who would actually step up to the plate and help or support them were but a precious few. Most people would judge, shun, or take advantage of them because by the time they came to us, they were disposable children.
Children should never be disposable.
Yet last week people changed their Facebook avatar from a warm cozy home or on a $400 iPhone, gave themselves a chirpy pat on the back, and claimed they were helping in the fight against child abuse. Until, of course, the very next meme comes along and then avatars change to support that flavor of the week.
I call BULLSHIT.
It raises awareness, some people said to me. It's better than nothing. Really? If we, as connected as we are in this day and age, know all about Heidi Montag's plastic surgeries but aren't aware of child abuse, then we are dumb as rocks. You might think that I'm assuming that everyone who changed their status didn't do anything, and perhaps you are right. The thing is, I'm also not naive enough to believe that everyone who changed their status got out there and tangibly did something to help a child in need. The blogging community is powerful -- we've done amazing things. While social media has helped us come together, we need to remember that the real magic happens when we step away from the virtual and make things tangible because the truth is, abused kids don't care about your Facebook status. They are looking for a safe place to sleep, a hot meal, clean clothes, and someone who will pay attention to them.
If you care, if you really care, then today I'm issuing you a challenge. It isn't easy, but the good stuff never is. Are you up for it? I am standing here, boldly telling you that okay, you talked your talk.
Now it's time to WALK it.
Turn off your computer.
Get out of your comfy chair.
Pick up the phone.
Call you local Food Bank, Community services, Social Services office, Community school/Public School, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, local Transition house, or the like.
Ask what you can DO.
It doesn't have to be a lot. But studies show that if a child can connect to ONE CARING ADULT, their chances of success increases greatly. If working with kids isn't for you, then put a few cans in the food bank donation box at the grocery store. Stuff a few dollars in that Salvation Army kettle. Donate the winter clothes that your child outgrew. Food Bank donations are down overall and in some places, as much as 50%. Community services are often short of people, and I personally know of breakfast programs that could use extra people or donations. The child poverty rate in BC is the worst in Canada at 42%, and here we sit on Facebook, just talking.
There's been enough talk. Real change happens when the talk becomes action. There are over 500 million Facebook users, who spend over 700 million minutes on Facebook a month. Can you imagine the impact if they spent a fraction of that time doing something tangible?
Please don't say you don't have the time.
You definitely had the time to update your Facebook status.