• May/June 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 3

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Highlights from the 13th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect

The theme of the 13th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Faces of Change: Embracing Diverse Cultures and Alternative Approaches, was reflected in the plenary sessions, skills seminars, roundtable sessions, think tanks, and more than 200 knowledge-building workshops. An exhibit hall, poster sessions, film forum, and field trips rounded out the conference agenda. Held April 23-28 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the conference attracted approximately 2,200 child welfare professionals from around the world.

Opening Dialogues

Maria Hinojosa was the inspirational keynote speaker at the opening plenary session of the conference. Hinojosa, a New York-based correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN), also hosts NPR's "Latino USA," a weekly national program reporting on news and culture in the Latino community. She has received numerous awards and honors, and authored the books Crews—Gang Members Talk with Maria Hinojosa (1995) and Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son (1999).

Using stories from her childhood, and vignettes from Raising Raul, Hinojosa shared with the audience vivid images of her experiences growing up and raising children in a multicultural society. Lamenting that we don't talk to each other enough or listen to each other's stories, she pointed out that raising children comes with no manual, and that cultural differences in raising children are wide and vast. She encouraged parents to give their children experiences so they will see the difference and live it.

Hinojosa urged the audience to learn to engage in conversation with others as equals. She described strategies for opening dialogue among parents and children, so that we can all move forward in an increasingly diverse America, and stressed that we have to be willing to admit our prejudices in the process. Since the recent U.S. Census shows that this country is changing, she challenged the audience to think about what we must do in response. She emphasized the importance of finding humanness in each one of us that allows us a common ground. She left the audience with a passionate appeal to live a life of difference, always opening our ears to differences, while asking and listening without judgement.

Saving Our Sons

Dr. James Gabarino, co-director of the Cornell University's Family Life Development Center, Professor of Human Development, and author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them, spoke about the problem of youth violence in the United States. He emphasized that the subtle ecological context in which troubled children develop can have a dramatic role in later violent juvenile delinquency and murder. Gabarino also noted that some cultural differences in child rearing practices produce no intrinsic difference in child development and should be embraced as pure diversity. Some cultures have different goals for human development; e.g., Hawaiian cultures maintain a sense of collective identity by having children sleep with parents. When culture can harm is when it reflects an incorrect understanding of child development, e.g., genital mutilation of girls. "All cultures are imperfect," said Gabarino. "Every culture has something to teach and to learn."

Gabarino outlined the universal needs of children as:

  • Physical (calories, vitamins, nutrients, etc.)
  • Psychological (acceptance vs. rejection; kids rejected develop badly)
  • Spiritual (knowing they live in a meaningful universe with a larger meaning to their lives).

He found that kids that kill have a "spiritual emptiness" in common. They seek out some sort of meaning from satanic or demonic sources. Spiritually empty kids also show no limits in their behavior. However, there is no single cause of adolescent violence. It is only a build-up of risk factors. For example, child maltreatment is a predictor of later violence only in the context of other accumulated risk factors, such as racism, poverty, and rejection. An important goal to helping the "lost boys" who fill our prisons is to expand their "circle of caring" through offering compassion. Children who don't have anyone who care about them don't have any context in which to apply right vs. wrong. Gabarino suggests that to transcend trauma implies "transformational grace," which children can achieve through receiving love, recognition of self-worth and talent, and reliance on deep cultural resources.

Modeling Resilience

Mr. Shane Salter, who currently serves as the Director of Foundation Giving at the Freddie Mac Foundation in Virginia, revealed the story of his personal experiences in a foster care system that was never able to provide the stable and loving home that he craved. The theme of his keynote address, "Trouble Don't Last Always: Survival in the Child Welfare System," was a story about resilience. Often children from abusive and/or neglectful families become helpless victims or perpetrators themselves, trapped in the generational cycle of abuse. However, sometimes, for whatever reason, some children are strengthened and become more determined than ever to overcome the barriers along their pathway. Shane Salter's story exemplified the capacity of the human spirit to be resilient.

Breaking a Cycle of Despair

Keynote speaker Larry Echohawk, J.D., a professor of law at the J. Reuben Clark School of Law, Brigham Young University in Utah, also discussed public policies in terms of his personal story. Echohawk, the first American Indian in U.S. history to be elected State's Attorney General (in Idaho), described the losses—cultural, historical, spiritual—suffered by his ancestors, the Pawnee, when they were driven from their home in what is now Nebraska to a reservation in Oklahoma. He said the despair from the Pawnee's relocation reverberated through generations, and referenced his own family's trials with alcoholism, domestic violence, and child abuse. Eventually, from his family's pain, promise emerged—his father stopped drinking, and Echohawk and his six siblings all had the opportunity to attend college. Three of them became lawyers.

But, Echohawk said, many families in Indian Country remain caught in an intergenerational cycle of alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, school dropouts, teen pregnancies, and criminal behavior. To break the cycle, he said, is a community responsibility—together we must build upon the strengths of our cultures and diverse backgrounds. He shared a belief held by the Iroquois Confederacy that we must think seven generations ahead. "We must hold the hands of the seventh generation" to ensure that they grasp promise and not violence, he said.

Doing No More Harm

Dr. Erylene Piper Mandy, a noted psycho-cultural anthropologist and Executive Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Experience, shared messages drawn from her studies and her own life-changing experiences in a powerful address that provided a thought-provoking challenge to child welfare professionals. She quickly gained the attention of the audience by asserting that professionals must relearn what they have been taught, and reframe their assumptions, before they can become better helpers. Mandy stressed her mantra, the first rule of helping, "Do no more harm!" She emphasized that we are all "diverse," coming from different places, with different ethnic combinations in our backgrounds. Our helping strategies must take this into account, and seek to balance the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves, as well as those we serve. Mandy acknowledged that conference attendees would not return home able to create ideal helping systems. But she sent participants away from the conference with the mission to be passionate about their jobs and know that truly helping even one child can make a difference.

Visiting a Pueblo

The Isleta Pueblo, a conference experiential learning opportunity, is one of many sovereign Native American Pueblos surrounding Albuquerque. It comprises 4,800 tribal members (one-fourth children, one-eighth elders). Following a tour of the Pueblo, which included a visit to a church dating back to the early 17th century, conference participants were treated to Native American food and a presentation by a Pueblo social worker on child welfare issues.

Caroline Dailey, LISW, mentioned that the primary issues affecting the Pueblo inhabitants were alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and a high unemployment rate. The combination of these issues often leaves parents unable to function normally, resulting in widespread child neglect. Most out-of-home placements are with relatives, or if none are available, the child is placed with another member of the community. Placements are higher around the holidays when alcohol abuse increases. Other problems include a high rate of single mothers who cannot get child support from their common law husbands, underreported sexual abuse, and a high suicide rate among young men.

Dailey explained that a new casino on the Pueblo grounds does not offer much hope for financial relief since the non-native owner hires about one-fourth of his staff from outside the Pueblo. Participation in a nearby domestic violence education and advocacy program has resulted in a positive trend of more reporting. There is also a new adult day care program on the Pueblo grounds. Pueblo social workers collaborate and coordinate service delivery for the Indian Health Service and the Women's, Infants, and Children nutrition (WIC) program. For Child Abuse Prevention Month, several awareness and educational activities, such as poster contests, are conducted in the schools, to provide a safety net for Pueblo children at home.

Ordering Audiotapes

To order professionally recorded audiotapes of any of the conference sessions, contact:

Conference Recording Service, Inc.
1308 Gilman St.
Berkeley, CA 94706
Phone: 510-527-3600
Fax: 510-527-8404
Website: http://www.conferencerecording.com

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