Lesson from a Three-Year-Old
Family courts all over the country are placing children in harm’s way.
By Jody Layton
When a child reports abuse by a parent, the child’s worse nightmare is realized. The abuser warned them not to tell, or bad things would happen. The bad things that happen are truly unimaginable.
Child advocates and caring therapists find themselves helpless to intervene in any legal manner. Here is the story of one small child whose life tragedy continued unabated.
“A three year old forever changed my life. For her privacy, you can know her as Isabella. I wish this could never happen or that I could say this happened many years ago, back in a time when child sex abuse was still hidden away or blamed on the child or put in a back closet. But that is not true. This happened, over several years, less than 3 years ago.
One of the things I am is a child advocate. My neighbors did not know that. They barely knew me when in their desperation I got a call on a weekend afternoon. They did not know what to do with the sudden hysteria of their then, two and half year old grandchild.
I went to their home and saw Isabella racing back and forth, screaming and sobbing. I saw her hurl herself into a tiny and furious ball on the floor and hit herself and anyone who came near her. She shrieked wordlessly. Every so often she would yell No, and then a name.
Her vocabulary did not yet have constructs for what she wanted to say but her sensory system did. I realized a report had to be made to child protective services.
Over the next 18 months, and the destroyed toddler hood of Isabella, more than 18 reports, by more than four caring adults and involving four states were repeatedly made to child protective services as Isabella repeatedly showed and told new events and ongoing trauma and abuse as she was forced to continue her every other week visits to the family she continued to ‘allege’ harmed, abused, and betrayed her.
Investigative interviews called ‘neutral’, were conducted by child protective services in front of, and at the home of the alleged parent abuser and her family with Isabella expected to convince workers of her truth in front of the specific people she alleged participated in her harm; punished her for ‘telling’; and who, she declared, themselves harmed her. Isabella was blamed for not saying anything. And, when in the manner of a three year old, she did ‘tell’ by shoving the parent away or hitting the older child she alleged also harmed her, those actions were used as ‘evidence’ by child protective workers, ‘to agree with the ‘allegedly’ offending parent, that it was the three old who was harming the nine year old sibling.
When interviews occurred in safe places Isabella literally declared what happened. These declarations were not included in either considerations or reports of the workers or their supervisors or their supervisors’ supervisors. I was told that when Isabella showed a therapist where on her body things happened and used words to describe, the therapist neglected to report either to child protection or to her supervisor. When Isabella told her pediatrician exactly what happened (not hearsay…I was invited to be in the room by a concerned adult) the doctor did not make a report and later denied the facts of what she had been entrusted with by her young patient.
Those who pursued reporting and following state laws as well as laws of the heart and mindsets of protection for Isabella, became accused and pursued by the ‘alleged’ abusing parent. Court actions were threatened and attempted by that parent. Fables were created to shift focus of un-trauma-educated, yet well meaning judiciary. In one state, in an irony too bitter to be missed, following repeated letters from me up thru a system, a paper review was conducted by the head of the Child Fatality Review Board. Meanwhile, as Isabella maintained her horror and trauma and harm thru her small words, every action and sensory reaction of her small being and body, the review board found no reason to demand actions to potentially protect a still living child.
I learned how archaic assumptions were allowed in ostensibly trained workers. I learned how denial still too easily prevailed about what abuse looks like when a two and three year old is in trauma and trying to ‘tell.’ I was given a tragically graphic demonstration that families of influence can fully create walls of ingratiation and protective denial that infiltrate detectives, child protection workers and supervisors, therapists, and even court appointed guardian ad litems with no special training in young abuse victims or trauma.
I learned that such deep bias pre-exists that without ‘evidence’ that would completely match the denial systems’ imagination, it would be almost impossible to come up with a ‘finding’ of enough evidence to safely save Isabella’s childhood and thus her future wellbeing. I learned that medical findings (that included odd infections and odd inflammations in exactly areas from ‘stories’ Isabella had specifically and repeatedly declared) were not considered as any evidence or connecting corroborations, and by the very doctors who had the declarations and found the body based symptoms.
Then the family who had been trying to protect Isabella wore down under their own desperation, fear, and their frustrated despair at Isabella’s actions and new patterns that bled of untreated trauma (the allegedly abusing parent refused to allow treatment and this prevailed).
From this place of toxic strain the previously ‘safe’ family as a ‘legal strategy’, determined to agree with the allegedly abusing parent’s tactic; that Isabella had made up what they had been desperately reporting and going to court about for then more than three years. Their lawyer, ironically engaged to force protection for Isabella, advised the family to make no further reports to child protective service because she did not want child protection to be further ‘irritated’ by the reporting.
At my last knowledge, over twenty reports have been made.
Isabella was turning four and still trying to get some adult to make her abuser ‘stop hurting me.’ Isabella was still trying to get herself taken care of. Her most haunting words to me (and there were many) were ‘It’s okay Jody. You can get the ladies (her ‘protective’ workers and the female detective) to listen to me now, so that they make (her abuser) stop.”
Isabella and I had a forever phrase and I end here with that, to her wherever she now is.
My heart loves your heart, always and forever,
Please sign the petition for Congressional Oversight Hearings to help Isabella and thousands of others just like her.