By Elisheva R. Aufrichtig
After experiencing abuse, witnessing a homicide, or undergoing other trauma, it is crucial that a child receives empathetic care and is allowed to tell his or her story in a comfortable, child-friendly, pressure-free setting. At Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC), the child development specialists, pediatricians, forensic interviewers, and all of the other professionals are specifically trained to work with children who have experienced trauma and make their experience as easy as possible. The following is a true-to-life fictionalized account of what a child might experience in the course of a day at BCAC.
Our car pulls up to a big red and gray building. We walk up some stairs, get buzzed in, and go up to the security guy’s desk. The security guy asks us if we are going to BCAC and Grandma says yes, so he calls someone on the phone to come down and get us.
A lady with a big smile on her face comes out of the elevator. “Hello! I’m Ms. Vera. What’s your name? How are you doing? Do you know who you are visiting with today?”
I don’t know what to answer. I feel shy. Grandma tells her our names as we go up to the fourth floor.
The sounds of children playing float towards us as we leave the elevator. “Now, you get to go to the playroom right there. There are all sorts of toys and games and projects to do.” Butterflies hang from the ceiling on strings. Some kids are pretending to sell ice cream and cookies and others are crafting at a table. A baby crawls around with little baby toys.
We walk into the playroom and Grandma sits down. I sit next to her in a green chair and wonder what I’m supposed to do right now. A woman comes up to us and sits in the chair beside me.
“Hi, I’m Ms. Amanda,” she says. “What is your name?”
I tell Ms. Amanda my name and she starts talking about the play area. “We have many different toys and games that you can play with while you are in the playroom. We also have paint and other arts and crafts stuff for you to do, if you want. What would you like to play?”
“I guess I like painting.”
“If you want, you can paint with me at this table,” says Ms. Amanda.
I ask if she has any blue paint because it is my favorite and she says, “Yes!”
Right before we sit down at the table, I hear Ms. Amanda ask my Grandma if I can have a snack while we paint. Grandma says it’s fine and I’m so glad because I was too nervous to eat breakfast today and I’m getting hungry.
We start painting and swirling the blue paint around to make a sky makes me feel better, like I’m looking at the real sky.
Another woman named Ms. Denny walks into the playroom and says hi to grandma. She looks over at me painting with Ms. Amanda and says hi to me, too. She asks about my painting and I show her the blue swirly sky and also some purple dots I added to make a field of wildflowers. Ms. Denny then starts talking to Grandma.
While we are painting, I notice a picture of a dog in the playroom.
“Hey! You guys have a dog?”
“Yes, his name is Manny!”
“Dogs are, like, my favorite people in the world,” I say. “Can I play with him?”
Ms. Amanda says that I have to ask Grandma first to make sure it’s okay. After Grandma tells her that it’s okay and I’m not allergic to dogs, Ms. Amanda then asks all the other kids and grown-ups in the room if it’s okay if Manny comes to play in the playroom. After they all say yes, Ms. Amanda goes to get Manny.
While I wait, I go over to Ms. Kelly, who also plays with people in the playroom, and we eat the (not real!) ice cream that the other kids made for us.
Ms. Amanda comes back with Manny on a leash. I spend a lot of time with Manny. He’s big and huggable and I love petting and brushing his black fur since it makes me feel so calm. He can do the best tricks! He can even play games like Honey Bee Tree and pull out the leaves without the bees falling down. I’m really good at that game so he totally loses but that’s okay. Other kids hang around with us and I’m having a lot of fun.
Then another person comes over to talk with Grandma. “Hi, I’m Sammy Jo,” she says. “Your grandmother and I are going to go talk to some people downstairs, and soon we’ll come back and get you, and have a chance to talk more.”
When they come back, they come get me and we leave the playroom. We take Manny with us to the back, where there are many more rooms. Other people are waiting for us, including the cop I met yesterday. “Hey, again,” he says.
“Remember I said we were going to talk again today?” Sammy Jo says. “So I have a room for us to talk in.” Me and Sammy Jo and Manny go into a room with huge magenta rectangles and sort of gray-blue rectangles. I notice two cameras—they’re hard to miss.
“Why are there cameras in this room?” I ask.
“The camera records us while we talk so that I don’t forget anything you say. Everyone else is in another room, watching us, to help me do my job, and I wear this earpiece so that they can ask me questions if they want,” explains Sammy Jo.
We talk about school, my friends, and things I like to do for fun. Then she asks me questions about what happened to me and lets me tell the story in the way I want to. Manny is really nice and lets me hug him when I talk about the scary and bad parts. “Everything you’re telling me is really important. You’re doing a really good job helping me understand,” says Sammy Jo.
Afterwards, we go back out to the playroom and I play Hedbanz with Ms. Kelly and other kids.
“They told me that we’re going to have a visit with the doctor soon, honey,” says Grandma. We go upstairs in the elevator and walk through a colorful hallway.
The doctor introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Dr. Lane.”
I wonder why I need to visit a doctor. “But I’m not feeling sick.”
“Well, I’m going to look at you from your nose to your toes and check that everything is healthy. In the last part of the exam I take a look at your private parts. Do you know who is allowed to look at your private parts? Someone you trust who is helping you with a bath, in the bathroom, or a doctor like me.” She also shows me a camera and says they are going to take pictures to help them.
“Help you do what?” I ask her. “That’s weird.”
“Normally, nobody should take pictures of your private areas, but these photos are stored away in a file only for people who are meant to have access. The pictures help by making things bigger, so if I have any questions, you don’t have to come back; I can just look at the pictures.”
Grandma wants to ask a question. “Is the exam going to be…internal?”
“No,” says Dr. Lane. “I’m just taking a look at the outside.”
I start feeling very nervous. “Do I have to? Maybe we can come back another day for this.”
“Manny can stay in the room with us if you want. You seem a little nervous and Manny is great at helping people by staying close, right next to you. I know it’s uncomfortable and I’m going to make this as fast as possible; if anything hurts, I’ll change what I’m doing,” says Dr. Lane.
When we are finished, I get to pick out a stuffed animal. Obviously, I pick a dog. We head back downstairs and Ms. Kelly asks me to name my favorite color because she’ll be giving me a blanket. “Swirls of blue and green,” I say (that’s the coolest color). I also pick out a book: The Cat in the Hat since it has the weirdest and funniest pictures.
“But I don’t want to leave!” I say when Ms. Kelly and Ms. Vera and Sammy Jo and Ms. Denny say good-bye. “I didn’t even get to do the craft project.”
“Will you be coming to the support group on Thursday?” Ms. Denny asks Grandma.
“Maybe we’ll come back on Thursday and you can play here again,” Grandma tells me.
Elisheva Aufrichtig is a Communications Intern at BCAC.