For children who’ve been abused, how can we make sure they have the future they deserve?

This is a question Laura asks herself a lot because she was sexually abused as a child—just like one out of every ten children.

Laura was eight when she was first sexually abused by her grandfather. When Laura told her parents – something many kids are too afraid to do – her mother believed her. Her father did not.

“The biggest challenge is breaking through stereotypes— that mentality that a child is lying or making it up because an adult says they aren’t telling the truth.”

Kimberly Kardelis, Program Manager, PennCAC

Her mother felt alone and didn’t know where to turn to get help – so she did her best to protect Laura by keeping her away from her grandfather and decided to never speak of the abuse again. But, because Laura was a little girl trying to make sense of a confusing, traumatic situation, she came to believe that it was her fault and her secret to keep. Like so many children who experience abuse, she internalized fear and shame.

In the absence of the help she needed, Laura’s abuse began to affect her life in increasingly destructive ways. Laura had her first drink at eleven. A suicide attempt at twelve. Disordered eating in high school. Unhealthy relationships in college.

Laura’s response to the abuse wasn’t that unusual. When children face sexual or physical abuse, the odds for a healthy, happy, productive future are not exactly in their favor. That’s because abuse doesn’t just affect them when they’re young. The Centers for Disease Control report that the long-term effects can be devastating.

Childhood abuse can have lifelong consequences on physical well-being as well as emotional and mental health. Victims of child abuse have higher rates of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which can increase their risk for chronic diseases, depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as addictive behavior. Abuse can also affect a child’s potential—lower their chances to graduate from high school, find stable adult relationships, and achieve professional success.

Thankfully, Laura was resilient. As an adult, she got sober, sought therapy, and was able to heal from her abusive past.

An important part of that journey was learning that she did not need to be a secret keeper anymore. By telling the truth about what happened to her and reclaiming her story, she was able to cast off the shame that so many survivors carry throughout their lives. Today, she even runs a nonprofit called Say It Survivor with her cousin — also a victim of their grandfather’s abuse — an organization dedicated to helping other adults who’ve experienced abuse as children tell their stories.

As Laura knows, it can take a lot of internal work to move forward from abuse, and not everyone who goes through what she did, comes out of it where she has. That’s why she’s also become a strong advocate for children who’ve been abused and a voice of support for the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Pennsylvania. As she has said:

“CACs provide the kind of trauma-informed, child-centered help that my family so desperately needed but wasn’t available to us. In situations where abuse has occurred, most families are doing their best to navigate a scary and confusing situation. Children’s Advocacy Centers provide children with a safe space to tell the truth about what happened and families with the tools and guidance they need to begin the healing process.”

PennCAC has been protecting a child’s right to their best tomorrow for almost 15 years.

We’ve been supporting CACs throughout our Keystone State in their work to stop abuse when it happens, protect children from ongoing violence, hold offenders accountable, and make sure victims and their non-offending caregivers get the support they need to heal.

We’ve also been working to restore futures. Each of our more than 40 CACs in Pennsylvania is dedicated to ensuring that children and families receive the follow-up services and resources they need to heal from trauma and thrive as they grow into adulthood.

CACs make sure that a child’s needs are always the priority by providing a child-friendly place where all the people involved in a case can meet with victims and their families—pediatricians and nurses, police officers and detectives, child welfare caseworkers and victim advocates, therapists, prosecutors, and forensic interviewers. Even after an investigation, CACs help connect families with follow-up services and resources as well as courtroom preparation and ongoing support through the trial process. Navigating the court process can be confusing, frightening, and frustrating. But CACs are there to help at every step, serving victims of child sexual abuse as well as victims of physical abuse and children who have witnessed violence.

At PennCAC we are inspired by survivors like Laura and the incredible strength of spirit and resilience we find in so many children who’ve been abused.

That’s why we work together as a network of CACs and multidisciplinary team partners. Every day, we help Pennsylvania’s children beat the odds as Laura did—to have a safer today, and a chance for their best tomorrow. Because abuse doesn’t have to keep a child from growing up into their full potential. With the right support, kids who’ve experienced abuse can have the future they deserve. The kind of future we all hope for, for our children.

Ending child abuse and building a stronger Pennsylvania—and a healthier, happier future for all of us—IS possible. And YOU can be a part of that.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support the life-changing work of CACs across Pennsylvania, please visit us at penncac.org.

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