The cases of child abuse in the Madison area are increasing, and while some of the scars are evident, others aren’t not, officials said. This is the reason a local nonprofit has also been working quietly for almost three decades to help some of the most vulnerable victims heal.
The pain of child abuse can be locked away for years, resurfacing in troubling ways. That was starting to happen to 6-year-old Ian. His mother, Lulu Santiago, said she noticed something was wrong last year.
“He was scared about staying in his room by himself,” said Santiago. “He was just very sad. I asked him many times, ‘Ian, what happened at school?’ and ‘How was school?’ He was like, ‘Good,’ ‘I don’t know.'”
It was through his school that Santiago said she found out the truth. The news was devastating: Someone close to Ian abused him when he was 5 years old. Santiago said she didn’t want to share the details, fearing Ian’s progress would be affected, but she was determined to help her son heal.
She said she accepted a referral to the Rainbow Project in Madison.
“So many of the kids we see have lost ownership of their bodies, and a lot of times, it’s happened because someone or something in their life has directly assaulted their body,” said Jenny Bisswurm, child and family psychotherapist at the Rainbow Project Inc.
For the 30 years, the counseling and resource clinic has served children 10 and under, most of whom have experienced early childhood trauma.
“I truly, truly believe that they have the ability to heal within, and they have the spirit that it takes to do that,” said Bisswurm.
Bisswurm uses a combination of movement and yoga therapy to help abuse survivors heal. Ian’s weekly sessions start slow and simple with what is called “belly breathing.” It reduces muscle tension and blood pressure as it calms the body, according to Bisswurm.
“My mom is here. She is a safe person. I am safe in my body,” Bisswurm whispered to Ian during one of their sessions as he took deep breaths.
The hour-long session continued outside with yoga.
“We’re going to breathe in and put or arms out to the sky,” Bisswurm instructed. “[Grab] all the sun’s happy energy.”
The two then move on to one of Ian’s favorite poses, the warrior.
Back inside, Santiago joined in the therapy.
“Could you imagine it’s a really warm day?” asked Santiago as her son lay on the floor.
This type of therapy is becoming increasingly popular around the nation. While the approach isn’t for all children, Bisswurm said it works well for some, such as Ian.
“Kids will come in and be so proud that they didn’t get into an altercation at school because they used their breaths,” she said.
A new found happiness is a sign that Santiago, like many other children, is turning his pain into inner peace. Santiago said it took about six months, but Ian has made a tremendous improvement. She said he now smiles, has better self-esteem and is beginning to trust people again.
Suspected child abuse cases are increasing in Dane County. A little more than 4,000 cases were reported in 2008, officials said. But last year, the number jumped to nearly 5,200 cases — 1,000 more than the year before.
Officials said that the reasons for the increase include greater stress on parents or caregivers, unemployment and especially poverty, according to the Exchange Center, which works to prevent abuse.
The impact of that abuse on a child’s development is great.
“A child that lives in an environment that is very stressful with a lot of yelling and potentially abusive situations will be impacted on brain development. That child by somewhere between (ages) 3 and 5 will have a brain that is 20-30 percent smaller than a child that is in a healthy nurtured home,” said Jane Nemke, executive director at the Exchange Center.
There are things all parents, those affected by abuse and those not, can do at home to help open the lines of communication, according to the Rainbow Project. Even little things like brushing a child’s hair at night can make a huge difference.[via Channel3000]