Every year, the National Children’s Alliance holds an annual conference in Washington D.C. State coalitions and local CACs gather in a downtown hotel to share their work. They recognize the accomplishments of leaders in our field and build skills to improve coordinated responses to child abuse.
The Alliance team was there in full force, and we have returned home with some new insights to share.
1. A survivor brings his story to the screen
Sasha Joseph Neulinger survived years of sexual abuse at the hands of extended family members. A prolonged court case brought two uncles and a cousin to justice. Even so, Sasha knew he had more healing to do. As an adult he studied film and began a project using the home videos his father had taken.
He says of his experience: “I got to observe myself outside of the darkness of my own mind… It was the first time that I could cognitively accept that at one point in my life, I was beautiful and lovable… The experience was that of reclaiming memories of joy that I had never retained from childhood, memories that had been completely overshadowed by the painful ones. Seeing that child, my childhood self, I couldn’t help but love him… I couldn’t help but love myself.”
2. Throw out everything you think you know (about communications)
When talking with the public about child abuse, most of what we have learned about messaging is wrong. The opening conference keynote, given by Frameworks Institute CEO Nat Kendall-Taylor, busted the most common myths about how we tell stories about the importance of our work.
Top among them: Telling stories that focus too much on the horror of abuse, particularly child sexual abuse. Their research finds that there is a strong sense of hopelessness and fatalism when people hear these stories. They are not convinced anything can be done to address the problem, because it’s just too big. Kendall-Taylor recently gave an overview of how fatalism and other cultural attitudes impact communications.
So, how do we inspire people to act on this issue? Tell stories that spotlight the urgency of the problem and potential solutions equally. Children can survive and thrive after abuse – especially when a CAC supports them. The movement has an opportunity to highlight these stories to advance our cause.
3. Former Vice President Joe Biden Celebrates His Son’s Legacy
Former Vice President Biden took to the stage with his grandson Hunter in tow. There, he reflected on his son Beau’s commitment to addressing child abuse. He shared memories of how he served children and families in Delaware: “This issue was the passion of Beau’s life.”
Beau Biden, who passed away from brain cancer in 2015, served as the Delaware Attorney General before his death. While in office, he was a powerful voice for children and CACs. Now, the Beau Biden Foundation continues his life’s legacy by working to ensure that all children are free from the threat of abuse.
“1 in 10 children will be molested. Children with disabilities experience it at higher rates… Poor families experience it just as much as rich families. It is an epidemic and must be stopped.” -Former Vice President Joe Biden
4. Making Change on Capitol Hill
Our 13-member Minnesota CAC delegation trekked over to the Hart Senate Office Building to meet with policymakers representing our state. First, we met with Senator Amy Klobuchar’s staff and discussed the need to increase access to CAC services in Minnesota.
Later that day we met with Senator Tina Smith and her staff to introduce them to the work of CACs. We also talked about increased child abuse reports in Minnesota, and the pressing need for locally-based CAC services.
5. Chapters, CACs seeking insight into community assessment
Alliance staff partnered with Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center to present the results of a year-long community assessment project. In order to provide the best services for all children and families, understanding the needs and strengths of the community served by a CAC is critical. To address this issue, a collaborative workgroup developed a Community Assessment Workbook (available soon to state chapter organizations) with step-by-step guidance to completing an assessment.
Minnesota participated in the project and you can download our statewide report for free.