Traumatised young people can be extremely difficult to live and work with. Their behaviour can become very extreme and very challenging. They may act abusively towards others. They may exhibit criminal behaviour. They may cause harm to themselves through drugs, drink or self-injury. They may withdraw into themselves and refuse to communicate with anyone. Being an adolescent is difficult enough at the best of times, but being an adolescent who has been severely abused can be so much more difficult. While it is perfectly understandable that abused young people are reacting strongly, it is also difficult to help them to help themselves while all this is going on for them.
Perhaps the best way to begin to reach out to a young person who has been severely traumatised is to find someone who can take the time to begin to build a relationship of equality and trust with them. A friend of the family, a youth worker or a worker from a voluntary organisation can be approached for help in this matter. Providing the person is trustworthy, honest and genuinely caring of the young person, they can often begin to make some headway with the survivor. Though it will take some time for a relationship to build, it is worth taking this time, as it will pay off longer term. It also helps a lot if this person does not report everything said by the young person back to the parents or carers but keeps a high degree of confidentiality.
For young runaways, because they are so mistrustful of adults, it can be difficult to reach out to them with any offers of help. Sometimes the police pick up these young people and, either take them back home if they know their identity, or take them into care if they refuse to let the police know anything about them and no missing person report is filed for them.
In a care setting, if they stay long enough, there is a chance that they may eventually relax enough to begin to trust someone. If the young runaway looks old enough to possibly be a young adult or close to it, the police on noticing them sometimes leave them alone. Occasionally, police officers take the time to build a relationship with these street kids and this can be invaluable in terms of the young person realising that some adults, even those working with the police can be okay.
Although leaving young people living on the street can seem like an almost uncaring thing to do, in many ways, some survivor’s are safer on the street than at home. The reason many young people become runaways is as a result of abuse at home. At least if they are lucky enough while on the street to have a police officer keeping a friendly eye on them, the young person can benefit a great deal from this. Street workers, from a variety of organisations, can also be invaluable in helping young survivors who have run away from home make safe links and safe contacts with responsible and caring adults. In time, the young person may begin to trust, talk and begin to get appropriate help.
Non-abusive parents and carers can suffer great stress and anxiety through trying to care for an abused young person. Unlike a younger child, who will throw tantrums, but can be controlled and comforted with a cuddle, young people are usually too big and far too sophisticated for this sort of thing. Parents and carers often have to endure screaming matches, trashed bedrooms, running away, dangerous behaviours, mental health problems, suicidal youngsters and a great deal more. Unlike most parents who may have to occasionally deal with some of these things in ordinary teenagers, the parents of ritually abused young people have to endure this day after day and hour after hour.
While they may be very understanding, if they know about the extent of the abuse the young person has experienced, understanding in itself, is simply not enough to get through each day with their sanity intact.
Even the most understanding parent or carer would find it hard to cope alone with such a distressed and traumatised young person. Add to that if the parent or carer has other children to care for, the difficultly of looking after the needs of the non-abused children alongside the needs of a traumatised young person. Sometimes too, as the young person feels let down by adults, yet feels safe enough to vent their frustration on parents or carers, these poor people face the brunt of all the anger and distress.
Sometimes parents end up in the position of listening to disclosures. If there is a good relationship between the parent and young person, despite outbursts and tantrums, the young person sometimes feels safe enough to begin talking. Often a great many of these disclosures come immediately after outbursts and tantrums. While it is good that the young person is beginning to talk, the things that the young person talks about can be very difficult for a parent or carer to hear. A lot of what the young survivor says will be unbelievable. A lot will be horrible to hear. All of it will be unacceptable to a loving parent.
Parents and carers have to deal with this without any specialised training or support and frequently with no awareness of the issues at all. The fact that so many manage it is a testament to their love and willingness to care for the young person.
Parents and carers in this position need to get all the help they can to support the whole family, not just the abused young person. Many turn to the psychiatric services or social services for help but often feel let down by the response, or lack of response they get. Parents often need to battle long and hard with agencies and keep on demanding practical and emotional support for themselves as well as help for the traumatised young person. So few people in all the different professions understand, believe or are prepared to work with survivors of ritual abuse that getting help for the young survivor is seldom easy or straightforward.
Parents and carers have to become extremely demanding and be prepared to keep up the pressure until they get the help they need and deserve. They also need to recognise their own expertise with their own child and not be taken in by people who, by virtue of their position, assume or indicate that they know better. Just because someone is a consultant, a social worker or a doctor does not mean that they understand ritual abuse or the particular difficulties of the family. They are not living with it, never have lived with it and probably never will live with it. The parents, siblings and young survivors become the ones with the expertise.