EndCAN Co-Founder & Executive Director
EndCAN Communications Manager
Lori Poland discusses the impact of ACEs – adverse childhood experiences – and how positive childhood experiences can buffer the impact of trauma. Lori is joined by producer Lyndsay Lack.
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Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast Episode #34 – Dismantling the Shame & Silence
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Hello everybody and welcome to season 2’s Louder Than Silence podcast. My name is Lori Poland , I’m the Executive Director at the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You’ve heard her beautiful, soft, gentle voice and she’s here with me again today. She is our Communications Manager Lyndsay Lack, it’s so good to have Lyndsay here. WE’re going to be talking with you guys about where we’ve been, where we’re going, and so since launching a year ago we’ve been able to see tremendous growth and can’t thank each of you enough for listening and continuing the conversation around child abuse and neglect, keeping it live and well even though it’s a hard topic. Nobody wants to talk about child abuse but we know the way to end it is to talk about it and we know the more we talk about it, the more likely we are to keep it out of the darkness where offenders want it to live.
>> Lyndsay: Yeah thank you for listening. Because of you tuning in and joining us on this podcast we’ve been able to speak with a number of strong and very brave survivors who have been able to share their stories as well as many amazing professionals in the field.
>> Lori: Yeah it truly inspires me when I’m listening to people talk. Just the people coming onto this podcast alone is remarkable because we’ve had survivors who are coming forward and validating the experiences of millions of people who have been impacted by this topic, but also we’ve been able to talk to people who are in the field working beside us and working to enact long-lasting change.
>> Lyndsay: It’s important to reiterate, if you’re not someone who’s working in the field you may not even realize there’s a very strong powerful movement of many people and organizations committed to taking this on and ending it. You should just know that.
>> Lori: I think the other piece to that is it isn’t something you need to have lived experience around. The topic of child abuse and neglect affects so many people and we’re only at the beginning of having that conversation and you know as people go back to season 1 they can understand ACEs and certainly in season 2 we’ve had a lot of conversations around the impacts of abuse, on ourselves and our families’ health and on society as a whole. But we’ve had 33 episodes in season 1, is that right?
>> Lyndsay: That’s correct.
>> Lori: That’s more episodes than some of my favorite shows so we just cannot wait to share even more Survivor stories and advocates getting their hands dirty every day because honestly we are just real people having real conversations and together we’re not only Louder Than Silence, we’re ending child abuse and neglect.
>> Lyndsay: That’s right. To remind you, this podcast is brought to you by the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect, or EndCAN. We are made of a team of child abuse Survivors, pediatricians and advocates. We believe that ending child abuse and neglect is possible, if we approach it like every other public health program. We’ll be releasing an episode in which I caught up with, in addition to our Executive Director Poland, Dr. Richard Krugman explained to me that child abuse is an endemic epidemic because an epidemic like COVID is where lives are lost at a peak and whereas where an endemic is a constant loss of life over time, which is what child abuse is because it is a statistic that hasn’t changed for decades, which is that five children die every day of child abuse. Every day. Five lives. So it’s a serious problem that we are excited to pay attention to and do something about.
>> Lori: That’s just fatalities, and there are statistics around fatalities of child abuse and neglect because every state has a fatalities’ committee that gets together and reviews those specific deaths, how they happened and who the offenders were. We don’t have that for the people who have never spoken out, who are continuing to experience abuse and neglect in their own homes and communities and no one knows about that even for the children in the system or are getting treatment in services, there’s not enough statistics to see the true numbers. I’ve found so often people who don’t have lived experience with child abuse and neglect are truly shocked at the number of statistics we do have. So I’m going to have Lyndsay share some of the statistics around child abuse and neglect from the CDC’s 2019 fatality report.
>> Lyndsay: So right now I’m looking at a report called Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities 2019 which I think is the last time this information was made available. It’s compiled by the Department of Justice through the Children’s Bureau. So those are government statistics from 2019. I hope they didn’t grow from 2019 to 2021 but in 2019 the report estimated that 1840 children died due to abuse and neglect. I’m not good enough at math to know if that equals out to 5 times 365 days a year, but when you think about 1840 children, that’s a pretty devastating loss of life. Some other statistics from this report are of those fatalities in 2019, 45.4% were of children younger than one year old which is pretty interesting. Big opportunity to better protect newborn babies. The next age group is one to three year olds and that accounted for 30.9% of fatalities of child abuse related deaths so the overwhelming majority are under the age of three years old.
>> Lori: That speaks to the number of support systems that are in place. Really from the time that kids and parents go home all the way up to preschool which is on average 3 and a half, parents are alone. They’re alone with their babies. You put a parent that has their own trauma issues, substance abuse, toxic environment, whatever. I’ve had 3 children and I know as a mom at 3:00 in the morning after a long time of lack of sleep that my child screaming and yelling is incredibly hard. We don’t know what time of day it happened, those statistics aren’t being evaluated but parenting is hard and a significant number of children abused before the age of 5 is grossly higher than children abused after the age of five, not to say that kids are left alone at all because that’s where a lot of abuse occurs but there is something to be said about having other eyes on our kids and helping parents. When we leave them to their own devices it can be really challenging.
>> Lyndsay: I think it’s always important when we think about statistics is to think about story because every number, every individual, there is a life there. There is a person, a web of other people. To your point, this report is only of the people who passed away. And there are a lot of survivors, we know. It is truly an endemic, and it is not only possible for us to end it but I think we have a serious obligation to do so. Back to the task at hand, which is not to depress you wherever you are listening to this podcast. It’s to engage you in a conversation about how we do better so I will turn the mic back over to Lori.
>> Lori: You know I think with the staggering rate of children that die in this endemic, I think that is such an interesting way of looking at it. It must be possible to end child abuse and neglect, it’s gotta be. That statistic just considers the number of children who actually die, we’re not even talking about the number of children who were abused and who survive. Those who survive are more likely to suffer health issues like heart disease, chronic pain, PTSD, depression, cancer, diabetes or even the possibility of one day becoming an abuser themselves and repeating the cycle. I think 97% of people who are offenders were abused as children. So we believe we can truly prevent child abuse and neglect and with enough research for understanding and advocacy, both from a group standing together to be a voice and a policy change, that we can not only eradicate child abuse and neglect but ultimately we have an obligation to eradicate it. Which is why we’re so excited to segue into our next topic.
>> Lyndsay: This year in conjunction with our partner Breaking Silence we are hosting the first ever Walk Together to End Child Abuse and Neglect. This walk is a fundraising walk for child abuse prevention efforts. EndCAN already funds research projects and people who are studying to become child abuse pediatricians, to focus specifically on child abuse and we need more of that if we’re going to be able to make a positive impact for future generations of children and this walk is a means to do that. So we are fundraising together and we will be having these Walks in 3 cities including Denver, Dallas, and Columbus Ohio. If you can’t make it to one of our in-person Walks you can join us virtually with the Walk Where You Are option which is pretty exciting so we really hope you visit endcan.org/walktogether and register today to join us. So go there, we’ll just wait a couple of seconds for you to sign up. Hit pause, come back and hit play. Okay did you sign up? Great.
>> Lori: I’m signed up and registered in all four cities and I will also be signing up on Walk Where You Are because I could walk for days on end. That’s one of the goals for me. One of the things we’ll be highlighting on our Walks is positive childhood experiences because as you have already been so eloquently introduced to, our topic is hard. It’s hard to hear some of these numbers and statistics, and there is so much positivity and optimism that comes out of this as well and if we can focus on this maybe people won’t be afraid to talk about it. ACEs stands for adverse childhood experiences and it basically increases the likelihood of having chronic health problems and issues later on in adulthood. These range from substance abuse in the home, parental separation, mental illness, incarcerated relatives, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect.
>> Lyndsay: So essentially if you’ve experienced any number of those 10 things you’re more likely to experience chronic health problems and mental health issues later in life. The inverse of ACEs are Positive Childhood Experiences so one thing we’re trying to do at EndCAN is draw more attention to the power of PCEs. I know that sounds silly, how can that actually be a thing? It is though, if you think about how we reverse the impact of experiencing things like physical and sexual abuse, experiencing parental separation. There are things called buffering factor that if you can have the kind of supportive cocoon that shield you from some of these more traumatizing experiences as a child so PCEs are kind of like pieces of not only a positive childhood but also a foundation for adulthood.
>> Lori: Those things are the ability to talk about your feelings, feeling family is supportive during difficult times, enjoyment in participating in community traditions, feeling of belonging during school, being supported by friends and our community, having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care, and then feeling safe and protected by an adult at home. Those are positive experiences that can really move that pendulum from the adverse ones into a longstanding healthy functioning lifestyle.
>> Lyndsay: So I have a question for you. In terms of adult Survivors of child abuse and neglect, who have experienced 1 or 10 ACEs and they’re struggling in adulthood with that. Is it possible for an adult to try to nurture their inner child with these PCEs? What would that look like?
>> Lori: Absolutely. Just like it’s never too late to shift to a healthy lifestyle, it’s never too late to introduce positive experiences into our lives. Because from my clinical world, I believe our bodies pause any time we have a disruption or an ACE. The inverse of that, the way to find healing, is to integrate and introduce as many positive experiences as we can to make up for those. Like having two people in our lives who genuinely care. It doesn’t have to be a parent or adult, just two people in our life that care for us. And putting ourselves in an environment that is safe, predictable, happy is the same way of feeling safe and protected for an adult in a home. A PCE is a sense of belonging in high school because for me, it is a feeling of belonging. Every single human has a sense of belonging, whether 6 weeks old or 60 years old. They want to belong. Feeling supported in difficult times? Of course. And it doesn’t have to be just by our family. I call the people I’m surrounded with our framily because these are people I’ve chosen in my life that help impact me. And the more people I surround myself with that are happy, predictable and consistent, the better I am as an adult.
>> Lyndsay: One thing I’m thinking about is you recently gave a presentation about this and you said humans are pack animals and social, and I think that is so well illustrated in PCEs. They’re all oriented at positive social experiences. It’s almost like if you were to watch a nature doc on the human child with David Attenborough narrating, he would probably walk you through each of these seven things.
>> Lori: The Homo Sapien, watch as he goes to his community members [laughing]
>> Lyndsay: [laughing] See how he enjoys participating in traditional celebrations in the community.
>> Lori: As there’s this slow zoom in from 200 yards away of someone walking into a house [laughs]
>> Lyndsay: The footage you could use., It would just be like Olive Garden commercial footage [laughs]. You have your families supporting each other, listening to each other’s feelings
>> Lori: A great place to capture that mood, and the movie Love Actually does an exceptional job at the beginning and the end, the airport is a great place to capture that human engagement. You see people coming and going, they’re sad when they leave and tears of happiness when they return. You know I think that COVID has made us realize the power of community and it taught a lot of people how valuable it is for us to have one another, to come together and put our differences aside or even down and learn to love one another.
>> Lyndsay: I have another question for you both as a parent and a clinician, this 7th PCE, feeling safe and protected at home, what are some things adults can do to demonstrate to the children they’re caring for that they are protected.
>> Lori: Many things that kids need to know, they just need reassurance. So starting at the age of six weeks a human being has the capacity to recognize their life is dependent on another person. That goes on until the age of fifteen when the brain is developed enough – that doesn’t mean that a 15 year old has a fully developed brain so we don’t want to run with that idea, but their brains are developed enough to recognize that their life is not dependent on someone else. Essentially what we can do as adults in order to affirm children is to continuously let them know, even if their environment isn’t safe, that they are going to be okay, that we’ve got them, that even if this isn’t ideal we’ve got them. And I believe in you. And, and, and. But if they are in a safe environment it’s reminding them that they are, if they’ve been in a safe environment it’s reminding them that you’re doing everything you can to keep them in a safe environment. You know there are children all over the world who don’t have access to safe environments. This is not to say that there’s no hope for them. Instead it’s a reminder that – so to me what I say to kids in unsafe environments that this isn’t ideal. If I could change this for you in one second I would, I’d move you into this kind of place to help you and I know that I can’t do that. What I do know is when you grow up you get to make life choices that are different and I can’t wait to see what you do given what you’ve had, and you can put yourself into an environment that feels safe and predictable. Just giving them that north star for kids, giving them that little gleam of hope, it’s amazing that they can do that because a lot of times, as a first time mom, I feel like I had to do it the same way that my family did it. While they did what they knew to do and what worked for them, it wasn’t the way I wanted to do it and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that the way they did it was bad, it just means it’s different. So that is the power of choice and in a lot of places in our world, they have that capacity and they can make that choice. And if they don’t, it’s just reminding children or anybody that you’re around, that you see them and hear them and maybe their situation isn’t ideal but you see them and hear them and you believe in them. We’re going down some deep segues here, this is awesome and so fun. Let’s keep moving along off the PCEs. I just want to take it to the next level of giving people a sense of hope. I hope this season’s podcast will introduce all sorts of different possibilities to our repertoire of understanding. We can’t do that without our listeners, we can’t do that without our volunteers who sign up to be a podcast guest, we can’t do it without our champions and we’re certainly not going to be able to end this topic of child abuse and neglect without everybody, that’s what it’s going to take.
>> Lyndsay: Especially if we want, in a perfect world, for every child to have PCEs, it’s all about a network of people who work towards that outcome. It’s not just one child;s network, it’s all the adults in every child’s life, making sure they not only don’t contribute to any ACEs but contribute positively.
>> Lori: It’s like, don’t do harm and please do good. Right like don’t do nothing, do good. Be the change. That’s the next ask. The first ask is to stop hurting our kids because some day those kids are going to be the ones that make laws and take care of you and feed you. It’s so funny how adults forget so quickly that we were kids and how quickly we look at our children and think that they don’t have the insight or capacity to understand but I feel like kids are so much smarter than adults.
>> Lyndsay: You know we’re not that different. I think the list for positive and negative experiences for both children and adults, I think is also the same for adulthood. Experiencing any of these things would impact you as an adult also. We all just want positive experiences, not just want but we need them to survive.
>> Lori: One of the outcomes of ACEs, if you have more than 4 the chances of you dying 20 years younger is higher. You get 20 more years of your life if you have these positive experiences. So that’s what we’re going to keep promoting. We’re going to fan the flame and keep promoting. Thank you all for being here, thank you for listening in, signing on and thank you for being a part of the change simply by listening.
>> Lyndsay: We know there’s bazillions of podcasts you can listen to and we are so thankful you decide to spend some time being a part of this conversation with us.
>> Lori: Right. Well I hope everybody has a wonderful day and thank you for listening. Stay tuned for our next episode and many more to follow. I’m Lori Poland and you’ve been listening to the Louder Than Silence podcast with the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect and our special amazing wonderful guest who is our Communications Manager here at EndCAN. You can visit our website at endcan.org. You can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok at @endcanorg. Check out the show notes as well because there will be some good information for you there too. Take care, bye!