During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s important to recognize those who have been personally affected. By listening to their stories, we can learn to notice the signs of abuse and neglect and help lift others out of suffering.
Lyla* grew up in a violent home where she endured physical abuse and was often left to fend for herself. One day, after witnessing her mother being beaten by her fiancé, Lyla decided that she had to flee for her own safety. She left home, took the family dogs with her and walked 16 miles to another town to seek help from a relative. It took her a whole day to walk the distance, but she was determined to get away.
For the first time in a long time, Lyla was finally safe, but the trauma she experienced had already taken its toll. Lyla was so used to being frightened and protecting herself that she reverted to some of the behaviors she’d resorted to while living in constant fear. She began lying, stealing and skipping school. She knew she was sabotaging her relationship with her new family, but figured they would end up leaving her no matter how well she behaved.
Past experiences convinced Lyla that no one would be there for her and that trauma would be an ever-present force in her life. Because of this, Lyla felt the need to arm herself with something sharp at all times in case she needed to defend herself. Having a weapon made her feel safe. Lyla needed help to sort through her painful memories and fear of looming threats. Thankfully New Life Children’s Center became her next home for a few crucial months.
While at New Life, Lyla received treatment for PTSD and Reactive Attachment Disorder. She learned that traumas from her past caused her to keep people at a distance because she assumed they would leave her. With some time, therapy, and care from the compassionate staff, Lyla started to learn more about herself. Her bruises started fading and her openness to let others into her life bloomed. She found joy in learning to cook and volunteering. Instead of skipping school and falling behind, Lyla attended class regularly and began achieving on grade level. Instead of hiding behind the scars of her past, Lyla now dreams about her future and is setting goals to make her dream of becoming a pilot a reality.
Stories like Lyla’s are more common than you might think. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, last year there were 41,120 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in Texas alone. If an adult in Lyla’s life had recognized some of the signs of abuse and neglect that she was displaying (running away, skipping school, bruises and abandonment), she might have been able to get help sooner. If you suspect a child is being abused, please report it to DFPS now by calling 1-800-252-5400 or by visiting the Texas Abuse Hotline Website.
*Lyla’s story is based on the real story of a child Upbring serves. While the story is true, identifying information has been altered to protect the child involved.