5 Things I Learned About Childhood Trauma from Sheldon Kennedy

Ten days ago, I watched a news interview with former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy. Today, Kennedy is a child advocate and the Lead Director at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, Alberta. sheldon_kennedy_2011-12-31Kennedy’s interview was a response to the National Parole Board’s decision to grant Graham James full parole. James is a convicted sex offender and Kennedy's former junior hockey coach. In 1996, Kennedy went public with his story of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of James. While deeply disappointed with the parole board’s decision, Kennedy used the situation to educate and inform the public about the impact of childhood trauma and abuse.  

*Here are the top five things I learned:

1. The impact of childhood trauma (sexual, physical, verbal abuse, and neglect) has life-long implications for individuals and families. “The impact of early childhood trauma when kids live in sustained toxic stress environments such as sexual abuse has life-long impacts. That is what we know today. Over 80% of mental health issues in this country stem from adverse childhood experiences." 2. Science supports the impact of abuse "The science is clear. The impact [of abuse] is real. It has life-long impacts on the developing brain of children." 3. The majority of children know their abusers "Most of society's understanding of the way that people hurt kids is, and what I learned in school, it was the white van that cruised through town that might steal your kid or pick up your child."
  • 98% of kids know their abusers
  • 47% of kids are abused by their parents or caregivers
4. Current judicial sentencing does not reflect the impact of this crime “We need a shift. We need to fill the gap that exists between the sentencing and the impact of this crime.”
  • 72% of people in treatment centres disclose early childhood abuse
  • Children that have been abused are 26 times more likely to experience youth homeless
  • There is a 30% higher risk of high school drop-out
  • Victims of childhood abuse have 4 times as many contacts with mental health hospitals
  • Victims of crime cost society $54 million per year
5. Although the damage is invisible, it's real "People have a hard time seeing the impact on the kids that come through our doors. 68% [of children] present three or more of the following: suicidal ideation, self-harm, addictions, depression, the list goes on." I'll leave you with one final quote by Mr. Kennedy: 

"To know better is to do better."

I encourage you to watch the interview and think about these questions:

  • What did you learn from the interview?
  • What beliefs and stereotypes about abuse do you need to examine and change?
  • How can you respond to those who suffer from the impact of abuse and trauma?
  • How can we as individuals and a society do better?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

*The information and quotes are attributed to Sheldon Kennedy, CBC News Network, September 15, 2016.