April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. For the past 11 years, PACES has worked closely with Sunflower House, a non-profit children’s advocacy and abuse prevention center serving Johnson and Wyandotte counties. When a child experiences abuse and comes to Sunflower House for support, a team of PACES therapists is ready to work with the child and their family to help them work through their trauma and mitigate the lasting mental health impacts.
The partnership between PACES and Sunflower House began with just one PACES therapist providing services to children and families at Sunflower House. The program has grown significantly since then to include a team of five embedded PACES therapists, who are trained to work with children who have experienced trauma. The team is also equipped to work with the child’s family to offer mental health support to parents and caregivers.
Natalia Pesado, Child Bilingual Therapist, oversees the team of PACES therapists at Sunflower House. She says that while all children experience trauma differently, there can be lasting physical and mental health impacts, including diabetes, high blood pressure, posttraumatic stress, depression and anxiety. By providing therapeutic interventions, Pesado and her team work to mitigate those lasting impacts.
Pesado says communication and education for both children and adults can go a long way toward preventing child abuse and making sure children feel safe disclosing abuse if it does happen.
“The more trust there is between a parent or caregiver and a child, that results in a child being more likely to tell,” says Pesado.
To help keep children safe, Sunflower House offers a number of different child abuse awareness trainings for the community. The trainings cover a variety of topics, including how to keep kids safe online, how to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect and how to handle a disclosure of abuse.
Pesado says that it is important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about personal safety.
“Let a child know that if they are in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation, they can say no. Tell them to find a way to get to a safe place and tell someone what happened,” says Pesado. “Talk about the difference between a surprise and a secret. There are a number of age-appropriate books that can help teach kids about inappropriate touches.”
When a child does disclose abuse, Pesado says the disclosure can change family dynamics. But she says it is important for families to keep living life.
“That sense of normalcy can help to carry a child through.”