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  • Writer's pictureMelinda Gronen

How I Became a Caped Crusader...

Growing up in Iowa, I was active and adventurous. Most free days my brother and I would play outside from sun up to sun down. We would go swimming in the river, exploring in the woods, setting up elaborate blanket forts, and playing cops and robbers in dramatic scenarios taken straight from the TV show Miami Vice (which we secretly watched without parental permission.)

I remember going into the homes of neighbors to play with a new litter of kittens or watch Wheel of Fortune during "happy hour." I spent nights over at my friend's homes where we would stay up until the wee hours giggling and imagining how our lives might turn out. I was on the swim team and went on overnight school trips for various activities. I trusted adults implicitly and was loved, sheltered, and safe.

As an adult, I now understand is that my safety and security wasn't a guaranteed right of childhood. It was simply due to random good fortune. I was lucky because my parents loved each other without violence, had enough financial resources to provide a stable home in a safe community, didn't suffer from substance abuse or mental illness, and knew how to discipline my siblings and me without violence. I was lucky that none of my neighbors, teachers, family members, friends, or coaches ever touched or hurt me in a way that made me feel anything other than safe and supported. Quite simply, I had won a lottery I didn't know existed.

As a child, I didn't know that other kids suffered abuse silently and didn't feel safe and secure. I didn't know that some kids had to struggle every day with fear, anxiety, and confusion about what was happening to them. I didn't know that it was happening to some of my friends and they were too afraid to tell anyone. I didn't know the dangers of many of the situations I blindly, and with full trust in adults, put myself in. I didn't know that my luck could have run out at any time, instantly shattering my feelings of safety and security for a lifetime.

After almost two decades working in the field of child welfare in Chicagoland, I now know with horrific clarity what can happen to a child when their luck runs out and adults fail to protect and intervene. I have seen children who have experienced one time instances of abuse and children who have experienced abuse for the entirety of their short lives. I have worked with children who struggle to thrive after their abuse and have supported families whose children did not survive their abuse. I have seen adolescents and young adults direct their pain outward and inward in a desperate struggle to make the memories go away. I have listened to protective adults cry and express their guilt and shame at "missing the signs" and unknowingly putting their children in harm's way.

I have also learned that for every one adult that abuses a child there are thousands of adults who want to protect that same child. So why are so many children still suffering silently? It is simply because adults who want to provide a safe environment and protect kids don't always know how to put their intentions into actions. They trust the same way I trusted when I was a child. They often don't know the power of being proactive and how to ensure the safety of kids until it's too late.

Through the years, every child and family I have worked with provided a treasured opportunity to truly understand what went wrong. I learned to keep my eyes and heart open to the pain and trauma children and families experience so that they didn't feel alone or afraid anymore. I learned how to look beyond the surface. With open eyes, I worked with family after family. It soon became more and more clear that often child abuse can be predicted and prevented.

I learned that child abuse can be prevented by supporting families who are struggling, by removing the judgment and replacing it with empathy and supportive interventions. I learned that child abuse can be predicted by training physicians, nurses, teachers, law enforcement, and any other adult who works with children how to be proactive. I learned how to prevent child abuse by developing programs, understanding how to accurately assess injuries, and knowing how to intervene when there are concerns. In short, I learned how to make EVERY environment for children safer through educating and empowering adults to be SUPER ADVOCATES for kids.

My professional mission is to ensure that kids no longer have to rely on luck to have a safe and happy childhood. Our children should be able to rely on schools, hospitals, community and religious organizations, and the legal system to care enough to give every child a chance at a happy ending. With Caped Crusader Consulting, I continue this mission in honor of every child and family I have had the honor to work with. I now know the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Are you ready to harness your power to be a SUPER ADVOCATE for kids?

Melinda Gronen, MA, LCSW

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