When Sheldon Kennedy comes to the Arden Theatre on March 22, he will talk about the abuses he endured and his struggle to achieve mental health.
Helping professionals say his message is something that everybody should listen to. The fact that he’s talking about a painful topic might be even more important.
Petal Murti, therapist with River’s Edge Counselling, said Kennedy’s prominence as a famous hockey player helps others to come forward with their own stories, to start their own journeys toward recovery.
“A lot of our healing happens through connection, through the ability to have acceptance and understanding in a relationship with other people,” Murti said.
Glori Meldrum, founder and chair of Little Warriors, shares that view. Her Edmonton-based organization offers educational programs to train people what to do if they suspect a child is being abused, much like Kennedy’s own Respect Group does for thousands of sports coaches across the country.
“When people come and are vulnerable like Sheldon is being in sharing his story, it inspires other people and it gives them the courage to speak up too. I think that that is such a big piece. When you share, others share. When you’re brave, others are brave,” Meldrum said.
Meldrum and Little Warriors are also behind the Be Brave Ranch, a unique treatment facility in Strathcona County. It takes in children who have experienced abuse and counsels them while they’re still young, hopefully before psychological traumas cause other behavioural problems later on in their lives. There, the team of professionals sees firsthand how the greater societal issue of silence demonstrates its power. Even though the ranch has already made great strides in helping many others to heal, that silence is often the bigger demon to battle, she continued.
“I think we’re at the beginning of great change. 95 per cent of kids still don’t tell anybody until they’re over the age of 18. That’s a big problem. These kids need to know that it’s safe and that they’re going to be believed.”
Having Sheldon Kennedy come to town is a big moment in changing the system, starting with making more young people aware of the abuses that they are suffering. Before his presentation at the Arden Theatre, he will speak to a junior high school assembly to drive that point home more directly.
He will tell youths to speak up for themselves.
Speaking up is not easy, says Doreen Slessor, executive director of St. Albert Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF), the local organization that offers advocacy and counselling programs related to domestic abuse.
“That’s why the perpetrators get away with it so often: it’s because of that guilt and shame that they put on the kids, and the stigma of coming forward,” Slessor said. She is thrilled to have such a high profile spokesperson come to town to spread the message of communication as a weapon against perpetrators.
“Especially a hockey player, a person that children idolize – a sports icon – for them to have the courage to come forward and tell their story makes it so much easier for other young fellas that might have had the same experience to come forward.”
Education is prevention, she says.
The event is a fundraiser for the St. Albert Community Foundation’s youth mental health initiatives, a fund stream that SAIF has accessed in the past to help its still burgeoning youth counselling program. SAIF is also hosting its annual Red Shoe Gala later this month as another way to help keep all of its programs going strong.
At the same time that kids are being encouraged to communicate more, these professionals suggest that a greater communication is still needed. The system itself is dysfunctional, as involved agencies often have their own conflicts.
“There’s the treatment piece, the prevention piece, there’s the court piece ... we have to make sure that all the pieces work together. We’re definitely at the beginning of making a dent in this issue,” Meldrum stated.
Murti is optimistic but her experiences in both the public and private sectors have given her a darkened realism. There are big problems that one just can’t snap their fingers to resolve.
“I’ve seen the barriers on both sides where somebody is coming from the community and getting access to services in the public sector. It takes a long time. There are longer wait lists. There are higher criteria and the caseloads are much higher. Therefore, the serviceability can become quite difficult,” Murti explained.
She admitted that even her private practice referrals sometimes aren’t accepted by psychiatric or medical professionals in the public sector. These instances have even involved individuals at risk of suicide.
The system where communication is so vital has so often become a game of egos and red tape, she said, wishing that she could simply provide care for her patients without having bureaucratic fights to contend with as well. She has referred people to public sector care professionals but the information transfer gets cut off, leaving the people to advocate for themselves “and not having the vocabulary or even the stability to speak to what’s been going on.”
“Access to psychiatrists can take extended periods of time, upwards of seven to eight months, nine months,” Murti continued. “Throughout that time, they (victims) might be unstable and struggling without any real psychiatric evaluation of their medical needs. On top of that, a lot of times psychiatrists don’t communicate with psychologists in the public sector.”
Until this communication gets fixed, she says, this system is a form of abuse too.
“It’s creating a lot of people who should be communicating but just aren’t.”
Where to find help
If you are concerned for the safety or well being of a child in Alberta, please contact the Northern Alberta Child Intervention Services or Southern Alberta Child Intervention Services at 1-800-638-0715. You will be prompted to press 1 if you are calling from Red Deer or a community south of Red Deer. Press 2 if you are calling from a community north of Red Deer.<br />You can also call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-5437 (KIDS) to speak with a caseworker.<br /><br />Other Resources<br />• Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF): www.stopabuse.ca/780-460-2195<br />• St. Albert RCMP (non-emergency): 780-458-4300 or 24-hour complaint line 780-458-7700<br />• Zebra Centre CAC: www.zebracentre.ca/780-421-2385<br />• Little Warriors/Be Brave Ranch: www.littlewarriors.ca/780-922-9010<br />Kids Help Phone: www.kidshelpphone.ca/1-800-668-6868<br />• Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre: www.sheldonkennedycac.ca/403-428-5300
Signs and Tips
What are some signs that a child may be <br />neglected or abused?<br />• A child who is continually hungry, dirty or unsuitably dressed for the weather. <br />• A young child who is often left alone or <br />is inadequately supervised. <br />• A child who is extremely withdrawn or is usually aggressive to other people. <br />• Unexplained bruises or injuries.<br />• A child who shows<br />knowledge of sexual <br />matters beyond their age of development or who exhibits <br />sexualized behaviour around adults or <br />other children. <br />• A child who does not want to be at <br />home or runs away from home. <br /><br />What do you do if a child discloses abuse?<br />• Listen.<br />• Allow the child to relay what happened <br />in his or her own words. Do not ask <br />leading questions.<br />• Remain calm and neutral. <br />• Do not overreact, show horror or anger, or any other reaction that would <br />lead the child to believe the abuse or <br />neglect was his/her fault.<br />• Support and acknowledge the child’s feelings.<br />• Reassure the child and tell the child <br />you believe what you have heard.<br />• Comfort the child by saying that it was <br />a good thing for him/her to tell you.<br />• Assure the child that you will do <br />something to help.<br />• Do not attempt to intervene on your <br />own.<br />• Contact your local Child and Family <br />Services Office or Delegated First <br />Nations Agency, or call the Child <br />Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-KIDS (5437) or police/RCMP.<br /><br />Child Abuse Factsheet, produced by the Alberta Government (http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/documents/factsheet-Reporting-Child-Abuse.pdf)