How children overcome the trauma of abuse, neglect

After two child abuse cases in one week, KSAT looks at effects of abuse

SAN ANTONIO – Two horrific child abuse cases in one week, are making an impact on the San Antonio community. Children were found tied up in a backyard in one case, and a baby died after allegedly being abused, in another case.

This has raised questions of what happens to children in those situations and how they can ever get over that level of neglect.

"For our staff the first task is to recognize that these children are in distress. So we have to make them feel safe and comfortable immediately," said Children's Shelter Chief Clinical Officer Diana Ochoa-Johnson.

Ochoa-Johnson said once children are removed from their homes, the healing process begins.

Kids removed from homes typically stay at the Children's Shelter for 30 days but they can stay up to 90 days, until they're placed back with their family, with another relative, or with a foster family.

"By the time a child gets hurt so severely that they need to be removed, it's probably been ongoing," Ochoa-Johnson said.

Research shows ongoing trauma can affect children's brain development.

"They're in fight or flight mode because of the trauma. They're focused on survival and so it makes it difficult for them to utilize that part of the brain that helps us listen, communicate, make sense of the world, and build relationships," she explained.

That's why intervention and counseling is crucial.

"If they become adults without ever having dealt with their trauma, we're going to see higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of depression, anxiety," she said.

Also, there's a higher probability these victims will eventually continue the cycle of abuse. Ochoa-Johnson said one-third of abused children become abusive parents, so it's important to intervene early.

"One of the things that stuck out for me in one of these incidents is that a neighbor heard a child in distress and called the authorities. That's the right thing to do," she said.

Making that call could save a child's life.

"If you see something, do something about it. Even if you're not sure. If you have that gut feeling, call law enforcement."

With counseling and attention, children once caught in violence can begin to heal.

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