Saturday, December 04, 2010

Want to Join The Fight Against Child Abuse? Then Turn Off your Computer.

You may have seen this making it's rounds on Facebook today:

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 not going to hold back, or be polite about it, and I fully realize this may cause me to lose followers, but I don't care. (Edited to add: This IS my blog. I can take whatever tone I like, so if you are easily offended, you may want to stop reading now and move on. I'm speaking as a person who has lived, worked with, and advocated for abused kids for the past 18 years and I'm protective as hell of them. This kind of thing brings out the Mama Bear in me.)

When I married my Hubs, he was contracting with Social Services and ran a therapeutic group home for severely at risk kids. 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 gang members, or had severe emotional problems.

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 didn't beat me daily and instead, we hugged each other. 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. 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 TEN years fighting to get those kids the services they needed, and people who would actually step up to the plate and help or support them were but a precious few.

Yet today people change their Facebook avatar from a warm cozy home or on a $400 iPhone, give themselves a chirpy pat on the back, and claim they are helping in the fight against child abuse.

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. It's worse than nothing. It makes light of all those kids that I busted my ass all these years to actually, tangibly, really, HELP.

Abused kids don't care about your Facebook status.

If you care, if you REALLY care, then I am 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 that damn 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 you aren't into working with kids, that's fine-then donate something. Answer phones. Collect donations. ANYTHING.

Don't tell me you don't have the time.

You certainly had the time to update your Facebook status.

Edited to add: I was emotional when I wrote this, with memories of kids that I have loved, and lost, playing on the edges while I composed. I am not trying to bash those who decided to participate in this. What angers me is when something like child abuse, poverty, or cancer is watered down to a Facebook meme which people cheerfully pass around and pretend that they are doing something. The truth is this; it does nothing. Am I being presumptuous? Maybe. I'm also not naive enough to think that every person who changes their status or avatar going to do something tangible to make a difference. Your neighbor isn't going to call Social Services because they saw your Facebook status. No child's life will be changed because of it. The child poverty rate in BC is the worst in Canada at 42%. Let's STOP wasting time with useless Facebook memes and actually DO something.

There's 500 million Facebook users, who spend over 700 billion minutes on Facebook a month.

Can you even imagine the impact if they spent a fraction of that time doing something tangible?

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