The Family Ties Podcast
Being a Light for Abused Children
Children everywhere deserve to be safe and supported, including children being homeschooled. Lori Poland is joined by Kelley Richey, co-host of The Family Ties Podcast, who survived child abuse and being raised in a cult. Lori and Kelley discuss the importance of community when it comes to keeping kids safe.
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Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast Episode #35 – Being a Light for Abused Children
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: You know being a Survivor of Child Abuse and neglect myself, I remember so many instances where I felt alone and I was in the dark and even if I was around thousands of people when I’m speaking, anything like that. There are these moments where I just feel alone. There are also these people in my life that have been sprinkled and seasoned in who have been my flashlight and north star. They’ve guided me and they continue to guide me. Sometimes I don’t even know where I’m headed. They’re what keeps me going. I’m just so grateful for that. Being in this episode with Kelly Ritchie from the Family Ties podcast really reminded me of that, the power of somebody being that resource for our children. I hope you all enjoy this episode, thanks for listening.
>> Lori: A few months ago I had the pleasure of Kelly reaching out and it was really cool to talk with her and then I did a podcast with her and her sister that we’re definitely going to hear more about them, not just the one I did but they do some really cool things with talking with people who have lived experiences. It was great to be on the Family Ties podcast so of course I wanted Kelly to be here with you all, because our voices united make a louder voice and we’re all here for a greater cause which is ultimately to end child abuse and neglect and ensure people don’t live the way we did. We just want to do it different. So help me by welcoming our guest today, Kelly Ritchie.
>> Kelly: Thanks Lori, it’s a pleasure to be joining you. Thank you so much.
>> Lori: It’s a pleasure to have you here. So you know, why don’t we start with what brings you here, tell our listeners who you are in teh world and what brings you here.
>> Kelly: Well for starters, my sister and I started the Family Ties podcast about a year ago and we had kind of settled into a rhythm of really wanting to take our own past story of child abuse and neglect and kind of educate the public on stuff I don’t think many folks think about on a daily basis, especially those who never were abused. Maybe they had great childhoods and it’s not something that crosses their mind. There’s a lot of cases that we decided we wanted to be kind of true crime based and cover a child’s case because there’s a huge audience out there for true crime but nobody wants to listen to the stuff about kids because that is super depressing. To me it’s vital that we do not forget these children and we tell their story and then we work to change the future for these children which is how we found you, Lori. I was doing some research on different groups. I found Child USA, but then I found you and I thought this place is in Denver, they’re located here, this is meant to be so I started looking into it, listened to your story, started listening to your podcast, shared it with my sister and I thought she is doing everything that we want to do. We need to talk to her, we need to meet her. So then there was you.
>> Lori: I think it’s really beautiful how you said you want to share the story of a child. I’m just curious, in your podcast is it predominantly adults who are sharing their childhood experience? Or have you talked to any children or young adults?
>> Kelly: So far we’ve covered cases that we haven’t really spoken to anybody except for there have been a couple of mothers of children that have been killed by other guardians that we’ve gotten their perspective on. There’s another podcast that mainly just cover all the cases. I wanted to go a little bit further so we’re going to talk about these stories of these kids. I keep getting alerts on my phone of either kids that go missing or kids that were founded starved, abused, neglected and they’re all really modern so I challenged myself to cover cases that are happening right now so people know this isn’t something that’s going away. Before the pandemic you were getting 4-7 children dying every single day, then you have the pandemic to compound that and you have families being even more isolated because everybody’s at home. I would be curious to see what those numbers are now as opposed to before the pandemic.
>> Lori: I think the ultimate truth is we won’t know the impact COVID had on our globe for several years. So people A) people feel like they’re able to speak out and B) we get our children back out into society and get the eyes on them like teachers, friends of parents, community members that do help keep our families and children safe. It sounds to me, one of the things I love and value so much is that when people have lived experience, especially around anything that can be life-altering whether it’s cancer, diabetes, heart disease, the passion behind who we are is so much greater and one of the things I heard you say is this is for everybody. We all need to hear it, we all need to stay connected and I also heard your comment about when during the pandemic when people feel isolated and alone, it makes me wonder about your story. Where’s the identifying markers there that led you to be more passionate about child abuse specifically?
>> Kelly: I’d say my past is growing up in Bible belt Kentucky. I was homeschooled until graduation and my mother was physically and emotionally abusive to all of us children. That was an extra bit of isolation right there, so we’re out of the public eye. Social services were called on us a couple of different times on my mom and they never even could step through our front door because my mom would call the homeschool legal defense association because they’re there to protect the parents and families – and this stems back from the 80s when they first came about, that was when homeschooling was still not completely legal across the states. So you have this group where they will take on all your legal costs, they will get on the phone, they will take it from there. It doesn’t matter what is actually happening in the home. They see it as an assault on the parents’ rights to school at home. So it came from that, I think very negligible background where they’re trying to do something good for people who want to do homeschooling. There are plenty of people who do it well, a lot who do it poorly and who use that system to yank their kids out of the school system. If someone sees abuse happening, they yank them out of school and then no one sees them again until a tragedy occurs then their name pops up. That’s what I think we can stop. We were all kids once, and for me that means that involves you too. Because even if you weren’t abused we are supposed to protect the vulnerable because that’s where we come in. So if there’s a homeschool legal defense association for my parents, who’s there to protect me?
>> Lori: Wow. I’m just curious, do you mind sharing with our audience, do you know who called social services and why they even called them in the first place?
>> Kelly: I believe one of the first times was my father’s siblings who was concerned. People would come over and we ended up being pulled from a house on a street where we were pretty well known to suddenly we withdrew from society. My parents were involved with the quiverful movement where it’s all about having as many kids as possible, raising God’s army. It’s some really intensely cult-like things. So part of that was the government is out to get you, you should not let anybody see your kids out playing. We were told as kids we were going to be picked up by social services if we were outside playing and they saw us so we always had that fear of the other. There was always a fear that we would never see our siblings again. It was just one of those things that was used as manipulation to keep us in fear.
>> Lori: And the people that were designed to help, they don’t always help but their intention and the design of social services is to protect but then the people designed to help you were villianized as the people to harm you and hurt your family system. So then my guess would be there was this belief that you had to put it all together, almost sit up straighter if they were called upon but they didn’t even make it in the house. Wow that had to be challenging. How are you with your siblings? You had 5 other siblings. How are those relationships now, I’m curious.
>> Kelly: My sisters and I are all very close. Two of us in particular are extremely close, Jilly and I who do the podcast together. We have shared similar experiences without – he’ll never heart this – our brother sexually molested both of us at different times. I just never knew it had happened to her so I kept it to myself, it was always my deep rooted shame and pain. I felt somehow equally responsible because I didn’t fight it because I knew I would have gotten in trouble for it, not him, growing up in a society where women get blamed for being raped. What were you wearing, you shouldn’t have been alone with a guy anyways. In that kind of world, so I kept it to myself. Jilly, she’s the one who right around the time Trump was being elected, she had a tipping point. She’s a little bit more of an externalizer so she responded out of anger to something he posted about Trump because he’s of course a supporter and she is not and it became a battle. Then she literally outed him on Facebook, it kind of split our family down the middle. Nobody wanted to believe it of our brother because he’s the kind of guy that if he ran for president you’d probably vote for him because he seems like such a likeable, nice, wholesome guy. Everybody loves him but there’s a deep, dark manipulation under the surface there that people don’t know about. So my mom, we’ve kept her in the dark about this because she would never accept it. My dad thinks she’s lying and I’ve come out and said the gig is up, I have to corroborate her story. This is true and this still has become this thing no one in the family can talk about besides me and her.
>> Lori: It’s so common right? First of all it’s common that families don’t talk about abuse period. The victim blaming secondly is so common, as is the fear of family splitting and the responsibility being put on a victim. Even if the perpetrator isn’t within the home, the anger and rage that disrupts the system when anybody talks about child abuse and neglect as though – for me, I can share from my own lens, all I’m trying to do is let people you and Julia know, we’re not alone. You’re not alone, I’m not alone. First time we talked you did that for me. We do that for one another, then the people in my life and I would imagine those in yours that know me, they have my back 100% and they’re the ones that believe in me. My 14 year old said, ‘those who do love us are going to love us no matter what we look like and how we are, and those who don’t like us, their opinions really don’t matter.
>> Kelly: I like that. She’s so smart.
>> Lori: If only I knew that at 14. It’s so common, the other thing I think is so common and I hope in the very near future is something we all start talking about is that the typical perpetrator is not some gross sketchy guy in an alley with a white van. That’s not the standard perpetrator. The standard perpetrator is the trusted person that everybody loves and everybody likes. It’s almost like a game where it’s my word versus my word and I have a hard time with that.
>> Kelly: Part of the thing I liked and you talked about last time is the fact that there’s no concept of getting revenge here. I think that a lot of people who hear people come out with their stories that it’s about revenge. It’s about bringing someone down and ruining their lives. I’ve heard that so many times about my brother. There’s a statute of limitation, nothing can happen to him. I wouldn’t have posted that on Facebook, that’s not my style but we all have to tell our stories in our own ways at that time and her rage coming out at someone supporting another guy who says to just grab women by the you know what. So with that being said, I like your concept of wanting to heal people and not necessarily just wanting to see justice. We’re not always going to see justice for these things but I think those of us out there who do have abuse history, who have sexual abuse or any kind of neglect in their lives – you’re an adult now and you can move on. It’s not about just moving on and forgetting but making sure what happened to us doesn’t happen to other children who don’t have a say in any of this. We didn’t have a say.
>> Lori: We just want to change the norm.
>> Kelly: So using our stories to bring about good change is the only solution because we can sit here – and I don’t like the word victimhood but we can sit here and talk about what happened to us, or like what I’m learning in therapy about this accountability ladder, or we can talk about embracing it, finding solutions and making it happen. Those are the things that are like where are you on this accountability ladder.
>> Lori: You know what as a therapist I’ve heard of the accountability ladder and I even feel like there’s so much responsibility transference on people who are abused, the responsibility of not being at fault is huge. The responsibility of when and if somebody does come out with their story which I will always plug that the average age for a woman to tell her story is 52 years old. That is mind blowing to me and I hope that changes soon. The responsibility of learning how to say what we need to say just to talk in our adult lives and trying to be accountable or whatever and that accountability ladder is so I’ll explain what my definition of that is and Kelly please if your therapist has it a little different than help me out here but the accountability ladder is like we’re all in tiers and each step and each rung in the ladder has a different role. I have to take accountability for my part on this rung. What can I do, what’s my part in it. When I get lost in trying to go the criminal route or lost in trying to stay in that victimhood, or lost in whatever it is, it’s really hard for me to stay on the ladder. Is that how your therapist has described it for you?
>> Kelly: Yeah I would say in any given situation I would say that I’ve been at every single step on that ladder and it always starts at the very bottom where like, poor me, this happened to me, I’m such a victim. There are lots of people I work with who love that victimhood stance and it’s like okay, we get something bad happened in the past but let’s climb a little higher because if we just sit here we’re just going to fester. So let’s climb up one further and maybe one more step up. Then we learn to accept this. This did happen when I couldn’t control it but guess what? I’m an adult with agency now so how can I use that agency? I can’t change the past. That’s not an option. So I don’t need to let this ruin my life going forward. I don’t need to sit here and continually replay all these things which is why I like with the podcast to focus on other kids who are going through these things now in an age and a society where we don’t like to think that’s possible, especially in America. A child willfully being starved by a caretaker. It happens where more often than we’d like to think about. But still people love that true crime genre for some weird reason but then there’s a line drawn when you bring kids or animals into the mix. I think we need to start testing ourselves and challenging ourselves to start acknowledging the ugliness around us. Even on my street, I think all the time about how many of these kids are actually safe or how can I be more aware of the kids in my life that I see and would I be willing to put myself in an uncomfortable position to double check. If I have a feeling – my best friend in Kentucky recently had a conversation about the fact that we both grew up together and knew each other since we were two. We were both homeschooled in really religious environments. The way that you’re taught is that is that family’s business. You don’t get involved. You heard parents scream and yelling and yanking a kid around. That’s just happening right now, that doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Turn the other way. So she had always been living under that pretense. Then she told me there’s this little girl on my street who during the day she’ll ride her bike over, I don’t even know where she lives. She just shows up at Sarah’s house and she feeds her. She tries to ask her questions like where’s your mom and she dug a little deeper and ended up having to call child services because she was wearing the same set of clothes for days, just aimlessly out on this bike during school hours so it made her stop and made her realize it’s the first time she’s ever considered it her responsibility to check in. I think that’s big.
>> Lori: You know a couple things come to mind with that, and we’ve talked about that a bit lately on our team, is being the hero for the kid next door. That doesn’t mean calling social services, it doesn’t mean needing to prove they’re being neglected or abused. But you can be their flashlight, you can be their north star. I can’t even tell you how many people thankfully were in my life, throughout my life. Close to me or not, family members or not. It didn’t matter. There were people throughout my life, including my parents, who were my north star. They led me through whatever it was I was going through because I needed that as a child. That’s not to say that person was always successful at being that for me, but they were successful at being that for me at that time. It sounds like your friend Sarah was beautifully successful at being a north star for this little girl by feeding her, and even if she was in the same clothes Sarah did her part by nurturing her and being a safe place and this girl kept coming back because she knew she was in a safe place. Kids seek that belonging, that connection, because at our core every human just wants to matter. We all just want to matter. Another thing I find so interesting is how quickly we all go to who to blame for this and we go down that path. People want to talk about my abductor or abusers way more than they want to talk about what I’ve done with my life. They want to talk about that gruesome, sensationalized story. That’s not why I do this work. That informed where I’m at but what truly guides my light and keeps me going are conversations like this and people like you and all the other survivors out there that I know are thriving and succeeding and not even. Maybe they’re failing but I’m with them in it. There have been days and times when I feel like I’m failing but every day I keep going forward. Maybe that’s because of my kidnapping, maybe it’s not. It doesn’t matter. But it’s all part of the thread of my blanket.
>> Kelly: Well and then my question to you would be, what recommendations do you have for people who do want to keep an eye out but don’t necessarily feel like every situation calls for calling social services. What are the options if you are concerned to check in on a kid, what are the resources that adults can use to at least feel like they’re doing their part to be on the alert.
>> Lori: A few things, and I’ve been saying this consistently over the last few weeks because I love that this question keeps coming up more and more. I think each one of us has the responsibility to be a flashlight for every child who feels like they’re in the dark so we all- and I keep going back to the north star, that compass, because as long as we all know the direction we can keep moving that way. No matter how old or young we are. So being that, being the joy in their life for that day. I do it in the grocery store with every child and I’m sure there are some people who think that’s creepy but I’ve never met a kid who thinks that’s creepy. When kids look at me I smile at them. When I’m wearing a mask I smile with my eyes. When I’m not I smile with my whole face, just to let them know I am with them and I see them. Because to be seen lets you know that you matter. That’s the goal, we want to make every child feel like they matter. That’s successful parenting – and not parenting like me with my own children – but me parenting the world around me, whether it’s a 15 year old or a 5 year old, I have this innate responsibility to be a nurturing parent to anybody and everybody in my life so I think the other thing is, aside from calling social services, if you have a doubt, call. Your job isn’t to investigate or prove or have all of the information. Your job is to call. Because social services has the staff, hopefully in most cases, if they’re concerned enough they will investigate and prove and do the things they need to do in order to keep that child safe. That doesn’t always happen, you’re case in point but here you are however many years later being a bad ass in the world. Showing up, having a voice, being the change and that’s amazing. Not just you but your siblings, maybe 1 or 4 of them I don’t know but that’s amazing. The third thing I would say for people to do. It’s funny how this interview has switched to you asking me questions. You can tell you’re a natural podcaster, Kelly. But the third thing is be exactly what Sarah was for that little girl. She was a safe point. And if you can’t do anything, be a safe place. If that means you’ve got a book nook in your front yard. The day before yesterday I went on a walk and there was this giant maple tree with wires wrapped around it with price tags. None of them were blank because people used it as a wishing tree. There was a sign telling people to write their wish on a piece of paper and there was a Sharpie hanging on the whole thing so I wrote my wish on a piece of paper right there. Those people are a safe place for me and I didn’t even see them.
>> Kelly: That’s amazing. I love that idea.
>> Lori: That’s exactly what I thought. Now I need a wishing tree in my front yard.
>> Kelly: Copy cat coming up.
>> Lori: That’s the best thing to copy, right?
>> Kelly: We’ll see how that’s contagious. That positivity is contagious. I plan to do the Walk you guys are doing in September but the thing is that we can all do something in our own way. Not everybody has something to give. I have a very small amount that I try to give to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. They’re a group that’s doing a lot and if I personally could feel as if I’ve impacted one kid’s life in a positive way to stop something like this from happening to them then I do. I know that your organization doesn’t focus on this part as much but I feel extremely strongly that my personal calling is to help bring reform in law to the homeschooling community specifically. There are a lot of people that do homeschool, and a lot more since the pandemic, but there are only 25% that don’t do it for religious reasons. That percentage will start to grow I believe, I think we’re headed in that direction. There are so many kids that I grew up around and families I grew up watching that really abused a privilege because I do see it as a privilege to do that at home. With oversight, I think there are people in some groups that want to vilify the government and say that they’re the danger but honestly I think it is the government’s responsibility to step in and create some guidelines. We do need to see that learning is happening. Whether you have your own personal Montessori school, however you see it, there should be a level of transparency and there is not. To me that would go a long way in protecting a certain subset of children.
>> Lori: Well I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader when you get there, when you’re doing that work you just call me and I’ll be there by your side. Whether it’s sitting at the Capitol, walking, marching, writing letters, signing on to letters, know that I’m a champion for that and for you. I just am really grateful that you’ve taken your experience and turned it into something positive and possible. So thank you
>> Kelly: And it’s exciting. You know people like you, when I told you when you were a guest on our show, you’re such an inspiration because making actual change happen is such an exhausting thing and it’s a daunting thing to take on. First by yourself in the beginning you think if it’s worthwhile, if you’re wasting your time or if anybody will listen. But I think you’re starting to see people are receptive, this is just a tough topic. You have more people who are willing to carry signs for PETA – and I’m all for ending cruelty to animals and all those things – but look at the things they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’re pushing for. They have some real agency and power and it just means getting that word out, spreading it. It takes time. It’s like a plant you’re lovingly watering. You guys are doing the work. I feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines and I want to get in the game and take it from here. You rest, I’ll go here.
>> Lori: It’s like the baton pass. Or maybe the egg pass because right now we’re still pretty fragile [laughs]. Well that’s great. So Kelly tell our listeners, how can you find your podcast?
>> Kelly: It’s on all your major platforms – Apple, Spotify. Just type in The Family Ties Podcast or come visit the site, thefamilytiespodcast.com. I haven’t done as much writing as usual but I’m doing some research for something pretty specific. I’m going to be speaking with a group in Golden in a few weeks about homeschooling so people are interested in this stuff. I just want to say thank you for all you do. We’re all watching, we’re all cheering and want to be involved.
>> Lori: I also truly from the bottom of my heart want to thank you for sharing your story with us today. It doesn’t go unnoticed that it is a hard thing to do and it’s not always easy and it can feel very exposing so I just want to thank you for sharing it and for having Julia’s back when she disclosed her abuse with your brother. I think that is a whole other layer or grace and strength so I just really want to tip my hat to you and Julia for your courage to do something like that. It’s really beautiful, thank you for sharing that.
>> Kelly: Thank you.
>> Lori: Alright well ladies and gentlemen, this is the Louder Than Silence podcast you’ve been listening to. It’s been such a pleasure having you with us here with Kelly Ritchie. Again you can find her podcast at The Family Ties podcast on all major podcasting platforms, on YouTube or wherever. Join us, be a part of us. We have open arms, open ears, and open eyes. We see you, we hear you and we feel you. Have a great day everybody thanks so much for being here. Bye.
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