Our Executive Director, Libby Bergman, was interviewed by Kare 11 on September 1st, 2015 regarding a child’s death in Sandstone, Minnesota.Link to Kare 11
On Friday September 18th, a reporter from KSTP channel 5 called the Family Enhancement Center wanting to interview an “expert” around another child abuse case involving a parent’s boyfriend. Our staff member, Kathleen Fluegel, LICSW agreed to the interview and did a wonderful job!Link to KSTP
René, a former board member who works at Wells Fargo, talked about the response at her workplace. She said that several staff went out shopping on their lunch break and talked about how much fun they had picking out things for the boxes. One co-worker took her niece shopping and enjoyed that time together. Another co-worker asked if FEC was a place someone could call if they had a concern about abuse. The project created openings to talk about a topic not usually discussed at work. Wells Fargo staff filled over a dozen boxes.
At the Family Enhancement Center Gala on April 25, 2015, we built a pyramid with some of the boxes that were still empty. After telling those present about the project, we were delighted to see that all the empty boxes were taken by someone at the Gala to fill up. So it seems that the momentum of this effort keeps going!
It is our hope that this project helped people feel like they can do something positive in their community to prevent child abuse. The fun they had getting items for the boxes reflects the value of fun and play for our children. The Project provided an opening for talking about a subject that is often avoided. These conversations are so important in the community and in families. And it was so inspiring to see the heart-centered connection made between these adults and children within our community and our FEC families. We keep learning more from research about the impact of trauma on brain development, on health and well-being, and on our communities; but what we learned from this project is that we can start by saying NO to child abuse by tapping into the hearts of the community. To learn more about the pyramid project…
The Hague neighbors in St. Paul filled many boxes full of things that they remembered from their childhood. One neighbor recalled how important playing games was in her family. Another recalled the “bubble lady” in the neighborhood – all the children knew they could go to her house and find the supplies to make bubbles. One recalled the fun interactions while playing with sidewalk chalk. They talked about valuing their “village”, where they knew each other and took care of each other while respecting differences, and how important that was for kids growing up. One of the neighbors took a box to the restaurant where she works and her co-workers helped fill it up.
The Hague neighbors’ involvement with our project went deeper when they talked about how they thought these boxes of “activity stuff” could make a difference. Finding time and activities that increase interaction between parents and children strengthens that relationship. Fun time together builds up a reserve of care that can be drawn on when stressful things occur. The Hague neighbors could identify with the stressors that the parents the Family Enhancement Center works with experience, and could see how those could lead to losing control. They appreciated being able to contribute to something they feel will go directly to families in our area who will be able to use these donations.
My neighbor, Shelly Barton, said she wanted to participate but hoped it would be okay to give a check. We assured her that was a wonderful way to help. However, she decided to pick up a few items, and then found that she was having so much fun that she filled up a box. She went to several stores to get additional toys and books, and then included a yoga mat since she knew about the Healing Motion group. And she is already thinking about items to include in the box next year. −Barb Klatt, Board member
November 4, 2014
It is heartening to see so much media attention on child abuse recently. There is much to be done on our system of child protection, and I am hopeful that the task force appointed by Gov. Dayton will provide some meaningful reform. Nancy Zupfer, in her commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Oct. 26, pointed out the key question for this group: How can we put children’s interests first?
We have tended to resist getting personally involved in finding a way to stop abuse because we want to respect the privacy of the family – most of us have some family secrets that we wouldn’t want exposed so we feel we can’t step into this family secret either. And most of us have had the experience of reacting with a wish to strike out or even of using physical discipline in anger or out of desperation – so does that make us culpable as well? And isn’t it easier to distance ourselves from the most heinous examples of abuse by blaming a bad parent or an incompetent child protection worker?
I’ve worked in child protection, in hospitals, and in children’s mental health, and have watched us struggle to define abuse, and to determine a response that is right for kids and their families. The answers are not simple. Once a child is being abused, are they better off staying in their family home or moving to foster care? Is parenting improved by forcing services on families or by inviting them into services voluntarily? Is child protection right to hold to a very high standard for mandatory intervention, or are too many children not being protected? Definitions of abuse are all over the map, from the legal definition for substantiated abuse, to the definition counties use to decide to investigate, to the much less strict definition of reportable abuse that many providers must utilize, to a community standard of acceptable/effective discipline. Now we’ve added the term “credible abuse” for the Catholic Church to use in determining when to report. And we’ve recently learned (or re-learned) thanks to Gail Rosenblum’s recent column in the Star Tribune that psychological abuse can be just as harmful as physical or sexual abuse. The new TV comedy “Black-ish” devoted their episode on Oct. 22 to the parental choice of physical discipline and very poignantly brought the viewing audience into the emotional and historical choices about using a belt to discipline a child. And was Adrian Peterson justified in just trying to do what he thought was right by disciplining like his parents did?
Here is where I believe we miss the point. Once a child is being abused, even by the broadest definition, we’ve already missed the opportunity to give them the best chance to thrive. Research tells us that children’s brains develop in different ways when they have to manage the impact of trauma, reducing their ability to build positive strengths. The definition of abuse is grey and tricky. As a society, it is time for us to truly take on the responsibility of caring for all our children rather than leaving it hidden in the privacy of the family home. Of course we respect the rights of parents and we also support them in taking on the most difficult job of being a parent. Given that, let’s step up as a community and begin to talk about what we truly want for our kids. What forms of discipline are not only okay but actually helpful? Can we take a critical look at the use of physical discipline and try to figure out how to manage children’s behavior in other ways? How do we as parents gain enough support to step beyond our own histories of trauma and stress? Where can concerned family members go to get help without feeling judged or condemned?
We can continue to ask task forces to “fix a broken system” and try to distance ourselves from the most extreme examples of abuse. Or we can all acknowledge our roles as parents, elders, community members, and those looking to a better life for the next generation; and truly begin to make a difference. We need to have focused conversations in our churches, our PTAs, our community organizations, our political gatherings, our book clubs, and our civic groups. There are leaders in many child focused agencies who can be child advocates bringing the wisdom of research and experience to facilitate these discussions. The time is now. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Let’s do this!
Barb Klatt, LICSW
Children’s Mental Heath Manager, Retired
Co-founder and Board Member, Family Enhancement Center
September 4, 2014
The Boy Who Couldn’t be Saved, a front page story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday August 31st, gave us a detailed, insider view of the challenges we face as a society trying to address one of the most heartbreaking problems: ongoing, malicious abuse of a child. The abuse of Eric Dean was not due to a lack of parenting knowledge or coping skills. This kind of abuse was due to an astounding lack of empathy and emotional connection of a step-parent to their step-child. This kind of abuse cannot be solved by parenting classes or education. Lack of empathy and lack of connection by a parent to a child will not end well. In Eric Dean’s case, the worst happened. Unfortunately there are many more children who live broken lives as a result of this sort of appalling abuse.
So why was Eric Dean not removed from his home and placed in a safe environment? My answer is twofold. First off, as a society, we are still in denial that this type of malicious child abuse can happen. We don’t understand it, we are shocked by it and we don’t want to think about it. As kind as this denial is to our souls, it is dangerous to our world because it blinds the eyes of those who can make a difference. In this case, denial closed the eyes of Eric’s father and Eric’s extended family. Denial also closed the eyes of Eric’s social worker and her supervisor, leaving Eric in a living hell for the entire 3 years of his precious life.
Second, as a society, we do not place enough value on the need to put all of our children’s welfare first. If we wholeheartedly decided that all children’s well being came first, there would be no more denial of child abuse. If we sincerely decided that we will work together to protect all children, no one would be able to close their eyes to the possibility of abuse. And no one could get away with abusing a child for years at a stretch.
It would be easy to blame one social worker (or one county) for this failure and call it a day but that would be unfair. While there has to be a discerning eye on the system that failed Eric Dean, we as a community, must take the blame for Eric’s death. The social workers that face these damaged families on a daily basis do so in an earnest effort to help. Unfortunately, they are stretched due to budgetary constraints and are faced with huge caseloads, pressure to close cases as fast as they can and often are thrown into the fray without adequate training and mentoring. Finally, let’s be honest, they do not have our utmost support; most of us probably don’t even know what their work actually entails. We wince when they talk to us about their work. We turn away from their daily anguish. When what we should be doing is giving them praise, honor and our thanks for the immense challenge they face on a daily basis.
The next time, you meet a child protection worker, thank them for their work. Ask them what they need to keep going and what would make a difference? Call your county commissioner and tell them that you want them to work towards ending this kind of suffering. Be sure that when you vote, you are voting for an elected official who will commit to making the end of child abuse a priority. When you look at your family, friends and community be sure you are doing everything thing you can to support the children and families in your midst. We lost 3 year old Eric Dean; we should not have to lose another child. Let’s all work together to end child abuse.
December 17, 2013
The Catholic Church is ringing the alarm. If you are a parent, I’m sure the unfolding allegations of sexual abuse by priests have gotten your attention. My guess is that you would rather throw the newspaper away and turn off the news to avoid this subject altogether. However, I urge you to view this as an opportunity, as a parent, to take a look at how things are going with your own children.
What we know about sexual abuse is that is flourishes in secrecy. So let’s stop making certain parts of our body’s secret. Let’s give those parts real names. Let’s be prepared to tell our children about all the parts of their bodies and what should and should not be done to them.
Let’s prepare our children to manage their bodies by allowing them to learn about their own boundaries and to set limits on anyone (even adults) who cross their boundaries. Let’s also not make them feel guilty if they have been too afraid to say “no” to unwanted touch. Let’s tell them that “no matter what happened or happens”; they can share their “feelings about touch and touch questions” with you.
But that’s truly not enough. Research has shown that children who are able to talk openly about their feelings are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse. So that means we must create on-going communication where our children feel free to tell us things – even things we don’t want to hear. We need to be better listeners and less in a rush to correct, instruct, advise and condemn. That does not mean we don’t correct, it just means we listen carefully first. It means we think before we speak and be sure that what we are saying will not shut our kids down or make them less likely to share things in the future.
Lastly, let’s remember that all of those people that have molested children were once children themselves and that their touch problems probably started early. We know that 50% of sexual abusers start before age 18. So let’s talk to all of our children about consent and how important it is to be sure that they know the rules about consensual touch. Let’s be sure that our children feel free to come to us if they are having problems controlling themselves and that we will help them stop.
So many are doing so much in the large world outside our doors to stop sexual abuse of children. Let’s be sure we are doing all we can within the little world inside our own homes.