Child Abuse Prevention: A Personal Reflection

Roy A. Harley
Executive Director
Prevent Child Abuse Illinois

My life has been so very gifted from the outset. I grew up in a wonderful family with seven brothers and sisters, loving and caring parents, lots of aunts and uncles, and over 100 first cousins. We lived in a pleasant community where we knew our neighbors, had lots of playmates, and felt safe and secure.  And our church was just down the street where we were part of another warm and caring community. I think I grew up the way God meant for every child to grow up. And if every child could grow up the way I did, this would be a very different world.

And, of course, as a child, you think that every family is just like your family. I was well past high school when it dawned on me that that simply wasn’t true. And I began to think about that and to remember some of my classmates.

Lane was a new kid in third grade. He was a skinny little guy, all fidgety, and kept pretty much to himself.  We thought he was a bit odd and although we tried to engage him, not much came of that.  Eventually he began to disappear from the classroom. And the teachers or the janitors would find him hiding out in various nooks and crannies and closets in the school. Strange.He didn’t stay with us for very long.

And then there was Eleanor. She went to school with us for all eight years of grade school. Seldom clean, poorly dressed, sad faced, sometimes an odor.  She wasn’t a particularly good student, but she did participate in class and socialized with other kids to some extent. She lived a block away from where I lived, but she never came out of the house and she never played with the rest of us. Something wasn’t quite right.

In sixth grade, it was Jesse. It was the saddest thing. And I recall it quite vividly. Jesse came to school one morning wearing a girl’s pink plastic head band. I wasn’t at school when Jesse arrived that day, but some of my classmates told about how his dad was all angry and brought him to school yelling at him, shaming him, and telling him that he had better keep that head band on all day. And his dad told the teacher as well.  Jesse sat silent with his head down or behind a book and he fidgeted with that head band all day long.  At one point, he took it off and laid it on his desk. And then even the teacher herself said to him, “Aren’t you supposed to keep that on?” I recall being so embarrassed for him. Then the next day he came to school wearing a dress! Unbelievable. He did not come back to school after lunch. One can only imagine.

In those days, there wasn’t much out there for abused and neglected children. Nor was there much talk or attention paid to it. Nevertheless, my eyes became open and I came to realize the extent to which not every child grew up in the kind of world that I grew up in.

One of the great gifts or blessings in my life has been the way in which it has unfolded. At every turn there has been an incredible clarity, grace if you will, about a life choice. This was true for my military service, my marriage, my children, my academic endeavors, my career path, and my ordination to the diaconate as well as many choices not quite as life changing as these.

As a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was working on a field project in Rock Island County when one of my contacts there asked me if I would help the local Child Abuse Council with a major planning effort they were undertaking.

And there was that clarity! I already had an inclination to this issue, and now an invitation to do something about it. Needless to say, it then became my passion and my career.

Child abuse is so very harmful. It harms children. It harms families. It harms communities. It harms futures. It harms all of us.I believe that God meant for every child to grow up in the kind of family and community that I grew up in and that if we can make that happen our world will be the kind of world that God meant for it to be.

For the full issue in which this article appears, click here

Roy A. Harley is Executive Director, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, the chartered state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. He has a BA from the University of Toledo, Ohio, an MA in Anthropology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Quincy University. His 40 years of experience in child abuse prevention includes 17 years as Executive Director of the local Child Abuse Council in Moline, Illinois. He has been involved in several statewide initiatives including Child Death Review Teams, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, Healthy Families Illinois, the Prevention Resource Development Project, and Illinois Court Appointed Special Advocates. Mr. Harley has served on the Erin’s Law Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children and was the Illinois recipient of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner’s Award in 2003. He and his wife Patricia reside in Springfield. They have five adult children, nine grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

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