Thursday, 14 April 2011

Guest Post: Things Social Workers Investigating Possible Abuse Need to Know

Hi everyone :) Susannah invited me to post my latest blog post on her blog as a guest author.  I'm a fairly new blogger, writing about dealing with the effects of childhood abuse, and trying to raise awareness and speak up for those who can't speak for themselves.  If you'd like to read more of my posts, feel free to check out my blog: All The King's Horses

I hope you find this post helpful!

Puzzled Hat x

I read an article on the BBC news site yesterday and it made me really angry. It's a piece about how intervening adults don't listen carefully enough to children they are concerned about.  Nor do they pay enough attention to the concerns voiced by other adults about those children. There is so much emphasis on supporting the parents that the voices that need to be heard are often sidelined... and that is just not okay. 

I understand the need to provide help to the parents or guardians of the children about whom concerns have been raised, but surely it is more important to listen to the needs of the child?  When I was growing up, a number of people contacted Social Services because they were concerned about the welfare of my siblings and I.  I'm not sure who exactly reported things, or what was said (except in one case where a family member raised their concerns)... but nobody ever did anything to help... nobody ever listened. I still feel hurt by that today.

The thing is, people investigating possible child abuse/neglect cases need to listen much more carefully and not just listen with their ears. Every time a social worker came to our house, I begged silently with all of my heart that they would 'hear' my voice and that they would help us. But my voice was truly silent to them.  I tried to tell them in other ways. They didn't hear.  There are a few things that social workers and other investigating forces really, really need to know and understand...

1. An abused child is NOT going to tell you flat-out that they're being abused.  

Silence - an abused child is not going to tell you flat-out that they're being abused

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious being they've been told never to tell ...and the fear of what will be done to them or the people they love if they do is more than enough to keep their lips sealed.  Kids aren't stupid. Telling something without a guarantee that they'll be safe after telling is a really, really bad idea. 

2. The 'family' you see when you visit is very possibly a total act. 

Fake family - The family you see when you visit is very possibly a total act

In an abusive family, there are unspoken and spoken rules that require its members to behave in certain ways in order to present a 'normal' front. But please, use your eyes! When social workers visited my house, everything on the inside of me was screaming for them to see beneath the surface.  Watch the subtle reactions of the children and the adults in that house when they act out their interactions. Please, please don't just listen to the obvious communications.  Please don't assume that if a parent is appearing to be affectionate, that all is well. Look for signs of repulsion underneath the smiles.  Look for well hidden flinching.  Check for the looks,  body language and cues between family members and trust your gut.

3. Talking to family members together and expecting to hear the truth is foolish. 

If you talk to family members together, the kids won't feel free to speak the truth

The dynamics of an abusive family are incredibly complex and if you think that discussing things all together is going to give you the information you need, you're wrong. Be assured that every move the abused person/people in that family make will be heavily under guard of the abuser(s).  An abused child cannot tell you what is happening when they know they are being closely watched by the one hurting them.  Even if you separate the children from the adults and try to speak to them that way, it's not likely to work. The family dynamics are far too powerful, even if you have just two family members together.  Do not underestimate the power that the presence of another family member can have.

4. Don't expect all the children in the household to be in the same situation.

Odd one out - remember not all the children might be treated the same by the parents

I remember one time a social worker tried to get me and my siblings to tell them what was happening, through drawing pictures on a big piece of paper all together. I can tell you now, if you'd have done that with me on my own away from my siblings, you'd have seen something very different.  There were things being done to me that I was trying to protect them from knowing.  There were things done to me that weren't done to all of them because they were 'good' and I was different. They knew that and even they were monitoring what I 'said' or drew. Even with my parents out of the room, I was not safe or free to say what my insides were screaming. Please, speak to the children individually.  I cannot stress enough how much of a difference that might make!!

5. Be aware of the consequences of your visit.

Your visit will have consequences for the children and they might be holding on in the hope you'll return to help

Every time a social worker or other investigator visits an abusive home, there will be consequences for the abused.  The very fact that you are there, means that someone said something.  It doesn't matter if it was the person being abused or not, the abuser(s) will assume it was ...or that the abused child was somehow careless at covering things up.  There will be consequences. Please, don't just file away your report and forget about the case, even if you didn't manage to get enough evidence to take action. Please check on the child... even if it's away from the home. If you don't, they'll feel like you're someone who just came  and made things worse and didn't care enough to come back. 

6. Little things can make a difference. 

little caring acts can make a huge difference for the child

There was only one social worker who visited, who came back. She didn't take any action but I get the feeling that she suspected something. After her first visit, I wanted to die. Literally. The consequences were bad and I felt as though no-one would ever hear my silent cries for help.  I felt abandoned and ready to give up. Even though that social worker obviously didn't get the evidence she needed to take action (and I could tell you exactly why she didn't), she came back one last time to give me a teddy bear. She probably will never realise the difference that made. Okay so it didn't stop the abuse.  It didn't get me out of there. It didn't make the pain go away.  But for a child who was at the point of wanting to just curl up and die, it was a flicker of hope. A simple act that said "I care". It was one of the only things that ever said to me that someone might have noticed something.

Look for non-verbal communication

Finally, please remember that children are not stupid.  They need to know what's going on.  If they're anything like I was, they want to be prepared for what's coming next and to do that they need information.  Explain what's happened and what's going to happen.  Don't just leave them and move onto your next case. Tell them if you're going to come back or not. They might be holding on in the hope that you'll come back and rescue them.  I know I did... but no-one came. No-one heard.  No-one made it stop.

I wasn't able to speak then, but I am speaking now... and I hope that my voice will speak for the children who can't speak for themselves today.

Susannah's Signature
I'd love to hear your reply and I know it'll be valued by other readers too! I always try to respond, please just be aware that it can take me some time to find the energy to do so as I've been particularly ill recently and struggling to get online. Thanks for reading! :)


Monday, 11 April 2011

Six Products I couldn't live without!


I wanted to share with you guys the six products that have helped me cope with being ill, in pain, and bedbound the most recently - those which have made enough of a difference to my life that I would highly recommend them to other people in similar circumstances. It can be hard to find things that are actually worth the money you pay ... and there are SO many gimmicky products that tell you they'll somehow revolutionise your life, when all they really do is make you poorer. ;)

The Marpac SleepMate White Noise Machine

Bit of a bigger review here simply because I posted one on Amazon a while back so I can just copy/paste to save effort.

Oh my gosh, this is one of the best things I've ever owned!!! Some of my biggest problems right now are noise intolerance and insomnia. For years I've slept with a large fan on in the summer, and the white noise it makes lulls me to sleep, and it shuts out so much household noise that it helps me stay asleep. It also makes me more relaxed while I'm awake, and lessens the 'jump' effect when there's a sudden noise in the house. Of course in the winter the large fan isn't always an option, and I always struggle more with my sleep. (and miss it when I'm awake too!) This year my noise intolerance has been particularly bad, and so I started to search for an alternative to my fan.

After some research, I decided to try a white noise machine, and I got one this Christmas, part gift from my parents, part gift to myself. I had read that the machine sometimes takes a week or so to get used to, and also to find the settings that work best for each individual, and that was the case for me even though I'm so used to constant white noise. (There is quite a lot of difference in tone and volume on the different settings available.) I tried out different tones during waking hours for the first week, while I adjusted to it, but it soon faded into the background and I started using it at night after about 5 days.

It's a very simple design and I would imagine it could keep running for a long time without any problems, though of course I can't give you a personal account of that. No, it's not fancy - but to me that's a plus because to use internal fans rather than a recorded sound (which is what lots of other noise machines are) means that there is no 'loop' in the noise - it's a very even, consistent noise, much more so than an actual fan, actually.

I've had the unit on almost constantly for 3 and a half months now, and I absolutely love it! I'm honestly not sure I could live without one now!! It actually blocks out more noise than my large fan ever did. I don't find it irritating at all, which I have to admit I was initially concerned about.

I'd recommend this machine to anyone struggling with their sleep or with needing a quiet environment, and most definitely for anyone with any kind of noise intolerance! Honestly, I couldn't rate it higher than I do!!

Perskindol Active Gel

A fellow ME blogger, Living Life from a Bed, recommended this product to me, and I'm SO glad she did! I've used 4head for migraines for years - a cooling menthol based stick that you rub on your forehead which instantly cools the area and essentially blocks the pain receptors - but it hadn't really ever occurred to me to find a similar product for pain elsewhere in my body. Perskindol is pretty much exactly that. It's a gel containing various essential oils including menthol and wintergreen (it smells basically like root beer, lol)

I've pretty much instantly taken to this gel. It smells quite strong but not offensive like some of the products on the market like Deep Heat etc. (which are so strong they stink your room out for days, plus make your skin feel like it's burning - they're the reason I hadn't tried any of these sorts of products for my ME pain) Once you've applied the gel, it can take a few minutes to really kick in, but then the area gets cold and the pain is reduced. I've found it's particularly affective for my RSI and for my feet which have quite a bit of very painful oedema right now. I hate that it's going to cost me that bit of money each month, but I'm afraid it's just become an essential!!

The Book Seat

This product is so simple it's genius! I literally couldn't read books without it, because it's too painful, and my hands are too weak, to hold a book open. (Though I've only been able to cope with audiobooks recently because of neuro issues, I ultimately by far prefer reading the book myself and this is the only way I'm able to do so now.) It's perfect for using on a bed, too, because you can position it on any angle. It needs little explanation, really. Your book (it holds even a large hardback book) sits on it, the pages are propped open by a transparent plastic bar at the front of the 'seat' and it's full of polystyrene beads so it can be moulded into the perfect position. I LOVE my book seat! ;)

Wheat Bags
As they sound, these are bags filled with wheat, which can be heated in the microwave (or cooled in the freezer) and applied to areas of pain. They're much better than hot water bottles, both because they're much more convenient, and because they mould to your body. You can buy them in heaps of places nowadays - just search them on google. :) They come in all shapes and sizes, to best fit different areas of your body.

Cushtie Pillows

These are absolutely my most necessary pillows - I've had several of them on my bed for years now, and they're just outstanding for my needs. I have an astounding number of pillows on my bed. Body pillows supporting me right down my body, pillows for my head, pillows for my legs, and pillows supporting my arms. And without them I'm basically a gibbering wreck of pain.

Cushties are small pillows filled with tiny polystyrene beads, with a stretchy soft cover which allows them to be moulded to your body in a way that no other pillow can be. They have the perfect amount of beads in them, unlike every other similar pillow I've ever tried, which were all over-stuffed and so nowhere near as comfortable. They're so soft and just, well, perfect!! I use them to support my neck/head, and my arms, and often mould one into my back, too. I'm really touch-sensitive and have just found cushties to be the best, most gentle support for my body! I just counted and I'm a little embarrassed to say that I have 8 of them currently on my bed. Oops. :D

Magicool Spray

If you struggle with getting hot flushes, night sweats, or really, really overheated, magicool might just help you! It's a cooling spray, described by the company as 'your personal air conditioner in a can'. Again, this is something which the first time I tried it, I was convinced it could only be just a gimmick - but was quickly convinced otherwise! It doesn't need much explanation. You spray it either on your skin or in the air around you, and it provides an instant cooling affect which lasts quite some time. I have no idea how it works, I just know that it does. ;)

You can get a fragrance free version, so it's probably safe for the majority of ME/CFS patients, unless you have MCS or something similar.

I hope these recommendations might help you guys - I'd love to hear from you if you try any of these items, or already have, and what you think of them! :)

What other products have you found which help you deal with your illness and pain?

Susannah's Signature
I'd love to hear your reply and I know it'll be valued by other readers too! I always try to respond, please just be aware that it can take me some time to find the energy to do so as I've been particularly ill recently and struggling to get online. Thanks for reading! :)


Sunday, 10 April 2011

Creating a strong network for survivors of abuse on Twitter at #5petals

Over the last few weeks my health has hit some pitfalls, probably caused by having to deal with home visits from dentists then going out to the surgery. As you know, my insomnia has been causing me problems again, and the night sweats are back with a vengeance ... and now a chest infection has taken hold - I have asthma so that's not great - plus I'm struggling with side affects from the antibiotics I'm on to combat the infection. All adds up to me being a miserable girl right now!

Except that oddly, I'm not. Actually, for the most part, I'm feeling kind of happy right now because despite all I've got going on, I've managed to achieve something over that time. I probably pushed myself too hard to do it - but there are some things that are just so worth it!

Though my blogs have been mostly about ME since I began writing here, I'm also a survivor of abuse, and (as much as I'm able to be, given my fairly drastic physical limitations), an abuse activist and supporter of other survivors.

11 years ago, I founded an online support group for survivors of abuse, at a time when there wasn't really any positive places online for survivors to go. I was in an abusive marriage, and I guess began the forum as much for me as for the members we hoped to bring in. Somewhat surprisingly and amazingly, that support forum has continued to thrive over the last 11 years, and is still going strong today! We've had our up's and downs as a forum, but the up's have always been more than the downs, and CS is still a really amazing place to be! We have many loyal staff, some who have been with us almost from the very beginning (!) and many wonderful members! :)

The first time I became bedbound, I had to give up being frontline staff on our forum. I just wasn't able to give our staff and members the kind of consistency & stability they needed - and it was simply too much for me personally. That loss is one of the things I've most grieved for over the years. My role now is much more in the background. I handle the finances, oversee the staff, help determine the direction the community forum goes in, and work on the backend of things in terms of the forum software and website. Basically the jobs that need doing but don't necessarily need to be done on any time scale - so I can fit things in as and when my body lets me. The staff team there have been really amazing at running the forum in my absence and also so supportive of me during these years - though it hasn't always been easy, going from working alongside each other many hours every day - to me popping in and out of things like a yo-yo!

Christian Survivors (CS), our community, was 11 years old this week. What an amazing milestone for an online group! It's one of the things I am most proud of in my life, bringing that group to life and seeing how wonderfully it has sprouted wings and flown - seeing how many people it's touched over the years, and how many lives have been improved by it being there! We cater to survivors of every type of abuse, and have members of any and all faiths and beliefs. This year is bringing lots of changes, as our staff are working on moving to a brand new forum software - our first such move in many, many years - and bringing in some new functionality for the forum, and newq goals for our organisation.

To mark the milestone, myself and my best friend & carer, Jo, who is also a staff member at CS, have been working on a couple of new things to launch there ... and I've managed to get an astounding amount of work done over the last few weeks despite all the up's and down's with my own health! I'm pretty much in crash mode now, lol, and will have to take a complete break for a couple of weeks to let my body calm back down - but it's just so good to actually achieve something!! So worth the push!!

The 5 Petals: Hope, Healing, Friendship, Speaking Out, & Safety! If you're a survivor, or an abuse activist or support agency, please join us on Twitter at #5petalsWhat we've launched this week is a brand new project, based on our organisations' logo (an almond blossom with 5 petals). We've had a brand new version of our logo painted & designed to go along with the project, because we're using the image of the flower to sum up the 5 most important things about CS, & those we believe to be most important for survivors of abuse : Hope, Healing, Friendship, Safety, & Hope. The project we're launching is something we'll be using hopefully many times over the years, to give the survivor community a focus through things such as art projects we can work on together.

Join CS on twitter to network with other survivors & share resources @SurvivorOasisAlong with this, we've launched a Twitter account for our organisation, which we hope to use to reach many survivors, and to network with other similar organisations. As the first & probably the most longterm 5 Petals project, we want to try to help provide a stronger network for survivors & survivor support agencies on Twitter. There are quite a few abuse hashtags on Twitter, but unfortunately most of them aren't used very well by survivors, both because they've been taken over with discussions on things like addiction recovery instead, and because many survivors simply don't know that they're there! So, we're going to be trying to start a new hashtag trend, specifically geared towards survivors and survivor issues, & also providing a place for bloggers and support organisations to network, and for activists to promote abuse issues on Twitter. In addition, CS will be regularly providing links to many great survivor resources all over the internet, including many abuse survivor blogs. If you're a survivor of abuse, or interested in promoting our cause, you can now find us at #5petals & CS's Twitter account is @SurvivorOasis. You can direct message us if you have a survivor blog or website and would like to be considered for us to promote your site.

I'm so excited about this project, though I'm aware it could take a long time and a lot of work to take off - and even more aware that we can't do it alone! If you'd consider working with us either as an individual, a blogger, or an organisation, to strengthen the survivor community on Twitter, please contact me & our team at email us - We'd love to partner with you in some way! You can help in the smallest of ways, simply by letting friends and family know about #5petals, or by officially partnering with CS to get this hashtag going! Sadly, up to 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence at some time in their life, and one out of every five to seven men are sexually abused by the time they reach their eighteenth birthday - so the chances are that you know at least one survivor of abuse, and probably many more.

We're running an event right now where we're asking people if they would be willing to speak out for & to abuse survivors (to help them do the same!) by switching out their twitter avatar for a while, to use one of our #5petals avatars, to change their location on Twitter to #5petals, or to add a button to their website or blog. Doing so could provide a life line for someone you know! I really do believe that we can change things for the better, one person, one act, at a time. If you'd be willing to help out, I'd be really honoured! Please feel free to grab one of the buttons below. I've provided a grab code and a one click add to blogger button, or you can simply right click and download the image to your own computer. :) You can also find different buttons and banners on our website. I'd love to know if you decide to get involved!

"Small acts, when multiplied by millions
of people, can transform the world."
Howard Zinn

Find out about the new #5petals Twitter hashtag for survivors of abuse & abuse activist & support organisations!

Susannah's Signature
I'd love to hear your reply and I know it'll be valued by other readers too! I always try to respond, please just be aware that it can take me some time to find the energy to do so as I've been particularly ill recently and struggling to get online. Thanks for reading! :)