I recently read a comment from a child advocate that speaks to the core of why advocacy is such an important service for young survivors of sexual abuse in our communities: "I've been working for decades now with children who have experienced significant harm. Each of them expected nothing more or less from life than what they'd experienced." Ultimately, our goal in child advocacy is to help young people envision and pursue a life that is more than and different from the trauma they have experienced, a life in which they expect and have hope for safety, healthy relationships, and new opportunities.
Our work with caregivers can provide valuable tools, resources, and support to promote resilience in children and families, but we can also play an important role in our direct advocacy with young survivors. Specifically, we can:
- Reinforce their bodily autonomy and rights by talking about (and modeling) boundaries, respect, and consent and helping them find the language to express their feelings and assert their needs
- Make sure that we create opportunities for them to exercise choice and vocalize opinions
- Explore their interests and talents and foster ideas to strengthen their development
- Re-establish trust and safety by helping them identify the people in their lives that build them up and help them grow
- Validate their feelings and teach coping skills to manage strong emotions or reactions
When we think about advocacy as promoting a child's long-term health and well-being (which of course has a positive ripple effect on that child's family and community), we may approach this service differently in our agencies and our communities. While our support during the initial crisis and subsequent medical and legal interventions is a critical part of child advocacy, it is only one piece of the puzzle. The following resources were created with this vision and offer activities, tools, and considerations for your direct and on-going advocacy with young survivors:
This resource focuses on resilience and how we can promote it in our everyday advocacy with young survivors and their caregivers. We often talk about the healing process; what we are really referring to is one understanding of resilience: The human capacity to face, overcome, be strengthened by or even transformed by, the adversities of life. In our work, we provide tools and support to empower survivors of all ages to build upon that capacity that already exists.
The purpose of this activity is to help nurture protective factors in children. Topics that are discussed in this game, such as supportive adults, healthy relationships, boundaries, confidence and competence, and healthy coping skills are connected to building resilience in kids.
I encourage you to reflect on the things you are already doing to empower young survivors in your work, while also exploring ways to broaden your philosophy and practice of child advocacy. I hope that it brings you renewed energy and passion for the important work you do.