By Elena Cawley
(The following is part 6 of a 7 part series to raise awareness of child abuse in Coffee County)
Nurse Practitioner Lori Littrell says raising awareness, educating the community about red flags, dispelling myths and believing children will help battle child abuse.
Littrell has worked at Our Kids for more than 10 years.
“Our Kids provides expert medical forensic evaluations and crisis counseling for children and families dealing with child sexual abuse,” Littrell said. “We serve over 45 counties in Middle Tennessee. We see over 800 children every year from birth to 15 years old. There is no cost to families for our services.”
Our Kids has a clinic in Manchester.
“We provide services for Coffee county and its surrounding counties,” Littrell said. “We have a satellite clinic located at the advocacy center in Manchester. We also have our main clinic in Nashville and other satellites in Cookeville, Clarksville and Lawrenceburg.”
Our Kids has offered services for more than 30 years, and nurse practitioners and social workers are on call 24/7, according to Littrell.
Myths surrounding child sexual abuse
“One of the biggest challenges of my job is helping children and families overcome the many myths that surround child sexual abuse,” Littrell said. “People often think children will act a certain way, perpetrators will act strange or will be a stranger. Many believe it will be obvious if something is happening. People often think that children’s bodies will look different. I’ve seen, time and time again, the reality looks very different, and this can sometimes make it difficult for adults to believe a child who has disclosed abuse and to act accordingly. The reality is most children are abused by someone who’s trusted and loved by the family. Many children show no signs that they are being abused – they may still seem happy and most do not fear their abuser.”
Littrell aims to dispel these myths and to provide medical exams in a safe environment.
“The most satisfying part of my job is to give a child a checkup – which is not painful or invasive and is done in a very kid-friendly way – and be able to look at them afterwards and tell them: ‘Your body is perfect. You look completely healthy. Your body looks like every other 7-year-old or 13-year-old child.’”
Littrell has witnessed the positive effect of her words.
“Some children take a very deep breath, some just visibly relax, some smile,” she said. “For some kids it looks like a weight drops off of them. Many kids worry that their bodies aren’t okay after abuse happens. The reality is the vast majority of kids have no injury and look completely normal and healthy when they have their checkups, and the most satisfying part for me is getting to communicate to kids and families.”
Littrell said the community can help fight child abuse.
“Most children do not make this up,” she said. “Disclosure is difficult and is a process.”
Recognize that abuse happens.
“There are classes, such as Darkness to Light, that help educate on what to look for and what to do if a child is being abused,” she said.
Parents, talk to your kids.
“Let children know what parts of their bodies are private and that no one should touch those parts. If anyone ever does, it’s always okay to tell,” she said. “Also, just talk to your kids. If we don’t communicate with our kids about the small things, it will be very difficult for them to talk about something big and potentially scary, like abuse.”
If you suspect abuse, report.
“You don’t have to prove abuse happened. If you have suspicions, report.”
There is hope.
“When children are believed and protected and receive the help they need, they will continue to thrive,” Littrell said. “The abuse does not have to define the child’s life. Children are resilient.”
For more information about Our Kids, visit www.ourkidscenter.com.
Know the signs
The following are possible indicators of abuse and neglect, according to the Department of Children’s Services:
The child has repeated, unexplained injuries that are not properly treated.
The child begins acting in unusual ways, becoming disruptive, aggressive, passive or withdrawn.
The child acts as a parent toward his or her brothers and sisters.
Disturbed sleep (nightmares, bed wetting, fear of sleeping alone, and needing a nightlight), may be an indication, as well.
The child loses his/her appetite, overeats or reports being hungry.
A sudden drop in school grades or lack of participation in activities may indicate abuse.
Developmentally inappropriate, such as sexual behavior that is not normal for his/her age group, may be a red flag.
The child may report abusive or neglectful acts.