The Child Advocacy Center Sponsors Event on Child Abuse, Trauma Awareness

Over 800 teachers in attendance August 12

     The Child Advocacy Center sponsored a program on August 12, from 9 - 11 a.m for all Shelby County teachers to learn about child abuse and trauma from the speaker, Kevin McNeil. 

     “Teachers can see the effects of abuse more clearly than anybody else because they see the children struggle to focus, struggle with relationships and connections to other students,” McNeil said. “It is important to talk to teachers and help them understand that what they are seeing could make way for deeper questions about what they are seeing or what this child is saying to me, not just judging them on their behavior.”

    Approximately 850 teachers from six schools in the Shelby County area attended the event. 

     “We had San Augustine, Center, Timpson, Shelbyville, Tenaha and Excelsior come to this event,” Shelby County Children’s Advocacy Center (SCCAC) Executive Director Denise Merriman said. “ We put on this event for people to get on the same page, stand together and say that child abuse is not something we will tolerate, we are standing together to protect our children.”

     The SCCAC deals with around 200 child abuse cases per year and while anonymous, the majority are reported by professionals, she said.

     “Teachers spend a lot of time around children and they have experience and connection,” McNeil said. “If children are being abused at home, they often cannot separate school and home, so they bring what they experience from home to the school environment. A lot of times, teachers see what that, but they don’t recognize what it is. One of the things that trauma does to a person is prevent the part of the brain that helps children focus, plan and navigate school develop. When a person is traumatized, that part of the brain is not developing because their survival brain has kicked in, they are so focused on surviving that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain used for learning, is not properly engaged.” 

     According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, The Role of Educators in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect, ‘Parents have a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit, and society presumes that parents will act in their children’s best interest. When parents do not protect their children from harm or meet their basic needs—as with cases of child abuse and neglect—society has a responsibility to intervene to protect the health and welfare of these children. Any intervention into family life on behalf of children must be guided by Federal and State laws, sound professional standards for practice, and strong philosophical underpinnings.’ 

     “If teachers see a drastic change in a child, like a straight-A, the student suddenly becomes unconcerned about grades, missing classes, falling asleep in class, teachers can make themselves available for the student to talk to them,” McNeil said. “Every child is looking for someone to trust or to tell because studies show that over 90 percent of abuse is caused by someone that the victims know. The more we know, and the more the public understands what trauma and abuse do, the more they can get involved and look for symptoms of abuse, or listen for it. Oftentimes you can’t see the abuse until it is too late.” 

     The SCCAC serves children in the Shelby County that are victims of crimes, abuse or neglect and is a non-profit organization. 

     “This has been the biggest event in the Civic Center history,” SCCAC Clinical Director Sarah Shires said. “Every year, teachers in Texas are required to attend training on recognizing and reporting child abuse. We wanted to make this event new and different from regular training that teachers might have done in the past.” 

     McNeil is a retired child abuse investigator from Atlanta, Georgia. Now he travels the country speaking up to 20 times per year about abuse and its lasting effects.

     “I didn’t choose to be a cop or detective, it chose me,” McNeil said. “To be honest, it was my divine calling. Once I started investigating crimes against children, domestic abuse and human trafficking, I saw a big gap. People and particularly law enforcement was responding to the problem, but we weren’t dealing with the root issue that caused the problem in the first place. A lot of times, by the time we made a case and arrest, we put someone in jail but the trauma that was associated with the abuse continued to follow victims throughout their lives. There wasn’t enough being done to help victims heal after the event itself, so I became adamant and passionate about not only prevention but awareness and education.”