‘Children Need Heroes, Be One’
When I decided to become a counselor, I did not think I wanted to counsel children. I had previously worked at Tu Casa, Inc., with the Children’s Advocacy Center of the San Luis Valley (CAC) under its umbrella. Even though I did not work directly with the children at the CAC, I did occasionally work with the family in one way or another.
If I said the emotional weight some cases carried didn’t bother me, I would be lying. However, fate has its way of making changes. After I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Counseling, I was hired to be a counselor for an elementary school. I agreed and embraced the challenge; I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone.
Truth be told, I was not ready for what was in store. I am thankful for the guidance I received from the other counselors who had been working in the district for many years. I learned everything from family history, dynamic roles, current living situations, any type of behavior I should be aware of, and whatever else was needed to help students.
As a counselor, I am determined to establish a trusting relationship with the students. It is my job to let students know what they tell me is private and confidential unless it involves them being hurt, hurting someone else, or hurting themselves. Many of the students took that information with a grain of salt. Some students talked about certain forms of abuse as if they were talking to me about their favorite movie, very nonchalantly.
Recent statistics from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration indicates 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse. Those statistics range in smaller counties in the San Luis Valley, but they do not change drastically. Abuse can be defined in many forms such as, sexual, physical, emotional, neglect, witness to violence, and drug endangerment. In some cases around the San Luis Valley, abuse is generational.
Children growing up around or with abuse can lead them to become jaded or nonresponsive to certain situations. Unbeknownst to them however, they are becoming victims to underlying trauma that can have many negative effects. The impact of childhood trauma can lead to learning problems leading to lower grades, increased need of mental health services, increased involvement with child welfare, and possible long-term health problems.
I recall the day I was faced with how daunting child abuse can be on a student and how important it was to be a counselor and unite with a strong team. A student I had previously met with, arrived at school with scratches and bruises on their face. I pulled them into my office to discuss what happened. Like many times before, they described the event as if it was just another day. Hearing details of what the student had endured really tested my training on not showing emotions — especially because they were not showing any signs of emotion.
Getting all the details was necessary to make a report to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 844-CO-4-Kids (844-264-5437). I made the report. I spoke to all necessary team members to alert them of the abuse that occurred and shared my extreme concern for the safety of the student. I was informed by the local Department of Social Services that a caseworker would contact me before the end of the day.
Due to the county's large caseload, the day was coming to an end and there was still no word. I did not feel comfortable letting that student go home. I could not keep the student at school so I consulted with my team and made the decision to contact law enforcement. That call changed everything. I am now happy to say that this student is in a safe environment, thriving, and as happy as can be.
The theme of this year’s Child Abuse Prevention Month is “Children Need Heroes, Be One.” The partnership I had with local law enforcement, the counseling team, and school administrators, we became one big hero. Our job is to be the heroes children need to feel safe. You do not need to be a professional to help a child. If you see something, be a hero and report what you see to the Colorado Child Abuse Hotline (844) 264-5437.
Francisca Archuleta is a counselor with the Bill Metz Elementary School. She can be reached at [email protected].