Helping the children

Originally published by The Herald Palladium

Kaitlin Sieber’s mother recognized early on that she had a heart for children, but knew where to draw boundaries.

Sieber, 33, was in the eighth grade when her family was contemplating adopting four children whose foster parents they’d been helping. Sieber said that, as much as she cared for the children, she was adamant that her parents should not adopt them. They were soon adopted by another family, but Sieber’s family continued to help.

A graduate of Coloma High School with a master’s degree in social work, Sieber now is the senior therapist at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Michigan. She and her husband, Matthew, have two daughters.

The CAC supports children through a coordinated response to child abuse that includes prevention, assessment and intervention. The goal is to prevent or minimize further trauma to children by reducing the frequency of investigative interviews, improve the coordination and prosecution of child abuse cases and heighten community awareness of child abuse.

The CAC serves about 500 clients a year, primarily children ages 3-18 from Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. The center is funded by federal, state and local money, philanthropy, and foundation, corporate and individual donations. Services are free.

Sieber sat down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Julie Swidwa to talk about the services offered at the CAC and her role as a therapist there.

Tell me in your own words what it is you do.

We interview children in cases of allegations of abuse, primarily sexual abuse. We do that in a child-friendly manner with an interviewer who’s been trained. This is done under a protocol by a forensic interviewer. There is a two-way mirror and law enforcement, Children’s Protective Services and prosecution all are present (on the other side) so the child doesn’t have to repeat the same interviews.

That’s the first step into our agency. The person has to be referred by law enforcement, CPS or prosecution, regarding an allegation of child abuse, and they’re brought here to be interviewed.

At what point do you come in?

Most typically, when a child discloses sexual abuse or some physical abuse, then they’re referred to counseling. We offer therapy to children, their caregivers, non-offending family members and, uniquely, adults who were abused as a child. Adults do not have to be referred. They just have to have had a history of child abuse. Quite commonly, we find that the caregivers of children have their own history. Their children are coming here as victims, and a parent discloses during the intake process that maybe they’ve been a past victim themself.

What’s the toughest thing about this job?

I think the hardest part, for me, is often times seeing holes in the system and wanting so eagerly to immediately have policy change or law change to be able to assist these families with gaps in these services that are evolving.

Give me an example of a hole in the system.

In our county there’s a lack of public transportation. People who come here have a need. We offer this free therapy and services but they can’t get here. So I know for sure that the county is aware that we need public transportation, but it’s all about politics and funding and it has to happen as a process.

How long do you counsel each person?

We work from an evidence-based model, used for trauma: Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The average is 12 weeks. The beautiful thing about what we do is we don’t have any requirements on limits. So we can see families as long as they need it and we think they need it. But it’s an average of 12 weeks. Roughly a three-month process.

Do you have any way to gauge whether what you’re doing is working?

We do a survey that actually gives us some raw data from the beginning to end of the process. And, you know, when a child transitions from letting their abuse be used to define them to knowing it was something that happened in their past that does not have to define their future, that is our goal. That you no longer see your future through the lens of abuse. It’s something you’ll never forget, but not something that defines you.

Do you have a favorite age to work with?

I think each age group has benefits. Younger kids are able to process with abandon, maybe lack the embarrassment that a teen or adult may have surrounding this topic, they freely are willing to say they’re angry. A teen, however, engages in great dialogue. And caregivers I have a heart for because they kind of are the heart of the home. Here they are helping their child process and if they’re not full, like with a pitcher of water, they can’t pour into their child’s cup if they’re not full themselves.

So I think as I’ve evolved as a therapist, I’ve come to know the importance of a caregiver so I might actually at this point in my career say that the caregiver is my favorite population. Because I feel like it’s a two-for-one. You’re assisting not only the child but also the parent.

Is there anything else you would like people to know?

Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. But that will probably never happen. The message we are trying to communicate with our community, our politicians, anyone who’s willing to listen, is that child sexual abuse can be reduced, and it can be reduced by simple, preventative measures. Such as helping children be aware of their body, body safety, their body belongs to them and they’re the boss of their own body, helping a child identify three safe people in their lives, to tell if they ever feel uncomfortable, that they know at all times they can talk to.

Read the full story at The Herald Palladium