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Abuse's effects go deeper than bruises

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Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:15 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Iuliana Petre

Killeen Daily Herald

The short-term effects of child abuse – bruises and cuts – heal rather quickly when compared to the long-term – psychological, emotional – effects.

"The short-term effects are what everyone thinks of when they think of child abuse," said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services. "Those (physical) things tend to heal quickly as compared to the long-term effects. It's a long process to work through the emotional scars that come with abuse."

All scars can be reduced, and providing children with counseling and therapy are lucrative in the healing process.

"Some kids take quite a bit of counseling and therapy because when you're hurt by the people that you love and that are supposed to love you, that can be very damaging," Van Deusen said. "We see children with post-traumatic stress disorder and those kinds of things because that's what can stem from child abuse."

Licensed professional counselor Owen McGonnell says post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by intense stress, which over a period of time changes the way that a person reacts reflexively, adding that these reflexive actions lack a thought process and are done immediately when triggered by any set of events that remind a person of the abuse.

Abuse can result in other things as well, such as attachment disorders, difficulty getting close to or depending on other people, Van Deusen said.

"These social difficulties are a result of the rejection or neglect and neglect particularly, is associated with some personality disorders, such as children acting out or trying to get attention."

Abuse can also lead to borderline personality disorders, individuals who are very dependent, very jealous or needs-driven, said Dr. Dave Hardy, a pediatric child abuse physician with Scott & White Hospital in Temple.

"Needs-driven kids are the ones who say 'I need you to love me and if you don't that's unacceptable.' That's the damage we're doing to children. We're producing that type of person," Hardy said. "It takes things like Aware Central Texas, counselors or someone who can finally make a connection with these kids and adults to take them out of the cycle. It's even harder when they become the abuser themselves. They have to want help. It's not going to happen right away."

Vicious cycle

Many years worth of case studies have shown that people who have been abused tend to impose the same type of abuse on their own children.

"It's a cycle of abuse and just one of the risk factors of having been abused," Van Deusen said. "That's one of the biggest problems, but that's how they identify parenting by smacking their child across the face or locking the child in the closet."

Hardy said abuse is a huge pandemic that affects at least 1 million children every year, "and that's just what we can confirm. It's probably three times that amount."

Thirty percent of abused children are abused so badly, Hardy said, that they go on to abuse their own children.

"They become carriers," Hardy said.

The doctor believes the place to start is at the source with families, then schools.

Preventing and restoring

Parenting classes, counseling and therapy can help children and adults who are abusers.

Hardy recently started a shaken baby preventive program at Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood.

Darnall is the only hospital in Texas that offers the hospital-based program that involves showing parents a 12-minute DVD where parents who have had children who cried constantly tell their stories.

"It's a powerful video," Hardy said, adding that parents are also provided with a 19-page cartoon-like handout to take home. The handout explains why kids cry and what to do about it.

Hardy said there is a proven 50 percent reduction in shaken baby syndrome in places where this program was started.

While programs like these help prevent abuse, Van Deusen is also impressed at how young victims have the power to heal when provided resources and a caring hand.

"One thing that I think is encouraging is that children are pretty resilient. If you give them some of the tools they need, they can bounce back from abuse and lead a regular life and become productive members of society. It takes some care, some time and it's not easy to get over those emotional scars that persist after the physical scars heal," Van Deusen said.

Contact Iuliana Petre at ipetre@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7469.

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