MURFREESBORO – Dealing with abused children is like being dropped into a lake of oil in a foreign country with the children, said a grandmother whose two grandchildren in her care suffered physical, mental, and verbal abuse.
“You have to extract yourself and the children from the lake, escaping without knowing the language, customs or anyone and making your way home,” said the Rutherford County grandmother who did not want to be named to protect the identity of the children.
The grandmother is responsible for the lives of a boy and his younger sister who are elementary school age.
She reached out to the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford and Cannon Countiesto heal. In the last 14 years, the Child Advocacy Centerhas assisted over 13,500 individuals, and trained over 2,600 adults how to protect children.
“Child Advocacy is a lifeline,” the grandmother said thoughtfully. “This gives us peace of mind to be able to approach our situation with clear thoughts and a path to address what we are going through.”
The Department of Children’s Services guided the grandmother and the children to the Child Advocacy Center two years ago where Jennifer Gamble, the family services coordinator, offered services including group therapy and counseling for the children and a support group for the non-offending parents and grandparents.
Group therapy taught the children to protect themselves, learn boundaries, say no, and understand the abuse was not their fault.
Gamble said the children learn they are not alone.
Victims and their families also learn 90 percent of abused children know the abuser.
The grandmother noted the abusers are human beings with souls, love, laughter, and happiness.
“You don’t have to turn off your emotions for them,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “But you have to suppress them to fight for the rights of the children.”
Through the support group, the grandmother deals with emotional aspects such as guilt, frustration, and the belief the system doesn’t understand the situation.
She has attended group therapy that helped her define her emotions better. The adults can feel emotional overload. She’s learned how to express emotions such as anger and address it.
“Until you understand exactly what you are dealing with, it’s hard to express your emotions adequately,” she said.
She’s empathetic to reach out and help others in the journey. But her biggest obstacle remains the system doesn’t work the way she believes it should. The system doesn’t solve problems in one hour like a television show.
“I think that abuse can happen anywhere to anyone at any time and it can be verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional and as parents and grandparents, we can be overly diligent but we can’t take the blame on ourselves for other people’s actions,” the grandmother said, adding she must give herself permission to let go.
Gamble said the grandmother offers help to parents.
“She’s been totally invaluable,” Gamble said. “It’s been very helpful to help clients from what she’s been through.”
One of the grandmother’s greatest challenges is to ensure the children have a normal childhood. They become so absorbed in the process of counseling and therapy, they may forget to be a child.
Although the abuse was horrible, the grandmother is determined the children will not use the abuse as a crutch to fail in life. The abuse does not define who they are.
She makes sure they have fun, learn, and participate in a variety of activities.
“I have such a blessing to have these kids,” she said with a broad smile.
And she feels blessed by finding the Child Advocacy Centerstaff members like Gamble who is an anchor is the lake of oil.
“She faces the unknown dangers and helps you fight the monsters in your own life,” the grandmother said. “The therapist and the Child Advocacy Center help children face their monsters.”