Every 47 seconds, a child is abused or neglected in America, and the medium age for that child is 9 years old.
The Exchange Club Family Center of Memphis understands these studies because it is the only organization in Memphis that offers free therapies to women and children who come from homes of domestic abuse. Services such as therapy to overcome traumatic events are critical for Shelby County, the location for 25 percent of all child abuse cases in Tennessee.
Statewide, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services receives more than 140,000 calls annually to the Childhood Abuse Hotline. In 2012, police in Shelby County responded to about 850 cases of domestic violence each month. Today, around 650 cases of child abuse or child neglect are reported each month.
For children who experience abuse, which includes sexual, emotional or physical neglect in any form, problems can extend to many areas of their lives. Abused children are more likely to perform poorly in school, commit crimes, experience emotional and/or sexual problems, and partake in alcohol and/or drug abuse as they grow older.
The Exchange Club Family Center, located on Union Avenue, fights to break the cycle of family violence and child abuse, offering services to children and their families. Rebekah Barrom, director of victim services for the Exchange Club, works directly with both the children and parents who participate in the organization’s program called Children’s Domestic Violence Program, which offers group therapies to moms and their children.
“One of the best ways to work with children is to help their parents,” Barrom said. “They’re welcome to stay longer than the 12 weeks. Our primary goal is to reduce trauma symptoms in the children and in the women.”
Unfortunately, only about 50 percent of the families who are referred to the program keep their initial appointment and even fewer complete the therapy. Many families delay participating in the program due to moves away from homes where the domestic violence took place, other pressing concerns for women, such as looking for jobs, and court dates that have to be met. Suffering from domestic violence and trying to move on is an extreme transitional period, according to Barrom, and these tasks often take priority over therapy.
Poverty increases the risk of domestic violence as does alcohol and drug abuse, Barrom explained. But victims treated at the club do not only come from impoverished neighborhoods. Victims come from all backgrounds and socio-economic groups.
“Women are victims, and men are victims,” Barrom said.
The Exchange Club does not charge for any of its programs or individual counseling sessions. It is fully funded by donations, sponsors, and grants. Therapies help families deal with Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which often follow traumatic events. These behaviors include avoidance that reminds them of the trauma, irritability, negative or depressing thoughts, or just being hyper-active.
“For kids this means lower grades, more fighting at school or with their siblings, and problems sleeping,” Barrom said.
Safety planning, feelings identification, play rooms, coping skills, cognitive behavioral therapy, and narrative work, such as art therapy, are all types of therapies offered to help overcome traumatic symptoms.
Jordan Howard, director of communication and development at the Family Safety Center in Memphis, said signs of domestic abuse are clear, if people take the time to look.
“If you have a friend that has to constantly check in with their significant other, take note,” Howard said.
The Family Safety Center often holds forums in communities to reach people who are too scared to report violence to police. The forums also include information on ways victims can seek help and protect themselves and their families.