Jan 122013
 
Drawing of a boy by BZTAT

Artwork by BZTAT

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, our collective senses have been rattled. Not only with the telling of the story of what happened, but also with the images that have been thrust into our view of frightened children, grief stricken parents, and other signs of intense pain.

And guns. Everywhere you turn – newspapers, TV news, online magazines – you see pictures of assault weapons. It is as if seeing the image of these machines that are designed to kill will somehow motivate us to some kind of action.

As we are gripped with the pain of this one tragedy, however, we tend to ignore the daily tragedy of harm that befalls other children daily.  An average of 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse in the United States. Nearly 6 million children are harmed in some way by domestic abuse each year according to reports, which likely underestimate the true number of abuses cases.

We have ugly pictures to go along with that too. Photos of sad, morose children wth dirty faces and black eyes evoke pity and implore us to do something. Again, it seems that the only way to motivate people to action is to assault them with images of awful things.

Another area of activism that tries to motivate with horrifying imagry is the pet rescue community. Images of bloody and emaciated animals creep their way into my Facebook newsfeed every day. Activists think that sharing these awful pictures of abused and neglected animals will motivate us to do something to stop animal abuse.

Artists often buy into this myth that scare tactics motivate people to action. They fill their artworks with macabre images that thrill the arts intelligencia, who analyze their expressiveness with egoistic verbosity.

But looking at the statistics on mass shootings, child abuse and animal abuse, these motivation tactics do not seem to be working. Children are still being harmed. Animals are still being harmed.  The two phenomena are deeply intertwined in their occurrence in our society.  And shocking us with imagry is not making a dent in creating change.

As an artist, I do not enjoy creating ugly things. I deplore violence towards children and animals, and I want to use my art to educate people about how these two issues are connected. I want to inspire and lead people towards meaningful change. But I cannot, and will not do it by perpetuating the ugliness.

All of my artwork has a positive and joyful quality. It is not by accident. I choose color and other artistic elements that bring about those qualities on purpose. It is not to ignore the less positive realities in life, but to articulate the more positive outcomes that we seek.

With my Okey’s Promise projects, I more purposefully challenge people to initiate a dialogue about the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence – a particularly ugly reality of human society. But even so, I do this by intriguing people with images of hope instead of creating images that make them want to turn away.

I don’t know if I will make a dent any more than those who resort to sensationalism tactics. I can’t go wrong with hope, though. What have I got to lose?

BZTAT

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Dec 172012
 

Self portrait by BZTATI never knew Nancy Lanza. I never heard of her or her son Adam until they both perished in a spray of bullets last week.

I have never met Lisa Long either. She is the courageous parent who wrote the I am Adam Lanza’s Mother article that has gone viral in cyberspace since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I have known many women and men like them, however. They are decent parents and foster parents who have children with emotional disturbances. They do everything they can to get mental health and educational services to meet the needs of their kids, and yet it is never enough.

Some live in fear of their own children, or those with whom they are charged to care, because their children’s behaviors often spiral out of control. Irrevocable violence is always a heartbeat away with these families.

I have sat in emergency rooms with these parents following emotional meltdowns from their progenies. When a child has a psychiatric episode in Ohio, they are directed to an emergency room for evaluation. After about 5-6 hours, the child is either sent home because he or she has fallen asleep, or they get admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Often, an ambulance ride and full court press attention in an ER is just the ticket to make the raging beast settle down and look like an adorably cute cherub. The doctors say, “doesn’t look suicidal or homicidal to me,” and they act condescending towards the parents as if THEY are the problem.

If a child does get admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward, they are usually discharged in a few days after being placed on high doses of psychiatric medications that have not yet had time to take effect.

And then the parent and family counselor get back on the roller coaster.

Too many visits to the hospital in a short amount of time leads to the ER doctors telling you to call the juvenile justice authorities. To them, it is a behavior problem, not a medical or psychiatric issue.

Never mind that showing dysregulated behavior is how a child often manifests emotional distress.

In the wake of Sandy Hook and the long list of previous mass shootings, you hear the cry, “Why didn’t someone see the signs and do something?” I can tell you that I have seen the signs with some very volatile youth. I have tried to do something. And I have been chastised and bitterly rebuked for trying to go around the usual barriers to getting kids help.

Thankfully, none of my clients ever got to the point that Adam Lanza did. But I have seen some close calls.

Our mental health system is broken. We must do something about how we deal with individuals with emotional disorders if we ever want to see things improve. But fixing the mental health system alone is not sufficient in ending senseless violence with our children.

  • We must do everything possible to get high powered weaponry out of the reach of those with no need for it, especially those likely to demonstrate instability. As long as assault weapons are available to the masses, troubled people will get their hands on them and use them.
  • We must find a way to reduce the amount of violent stimuli in our culture, including virulent music, violent movies and TV shows, and video games.
  • We must sufficiently fund daycare and after school programs so that youth are properly supervised.
  • We must provide trauma based interventions to every youth affected by domestic violence, community violence, abuse, neglect, disaster, or other types of trauma.
  • We must start responding in a way that meets individuals and communities’ needs, instead of simply responding in the cheapest method possible.
  • We must get off of our political high horses and acknowledge that social programs, such as those most at risk in the fiscal cliff debate are the very things that we need to keep our kids safe. 

I left the mental health profession a year ago because I no longer felt effective. After spending 20 years working with high risk youth and families, I was no longer able to make the personal sacrifices and risks to my own well-being that it took to go to work each day. It is sad to me that it happened, but I had to stop.

The saddest part is that it does not have to be this way.

The majority of people experiencing emotional disorders are non-violent and low risk. They are no harm to anyone, and yet they too suffer from the complete inadequacy of our mental health treatment system.

If you ask me, that is just wrong.

Will we really do something to change it all?

As they say, it takes a village. It is up to all of us to change priorities and purposes. I am hopeful, but wary.

Please, surprise me world.

BZTAT

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Dec 162012
 
Boy  on sidewalk digital drawing by BZTAT

Digital drawing by BZTAT

We can all agree on the problem – too many innocent lives cut down needlessly in mass shootings with unprovoked displays of violence.

Coming to a consensus solution to the problem, however, seems farther away than ever.

My Facebook newsfeed has become an all out verbal war of opinions and admonitions since the story of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre first broke.

Some cry out for gun control. Others cry out for improved mental healthcare. Others decry the prevalence of virtual violence in games, movies and TV. Some just want us to shut up and grieve.

Who am I to argue with any of them? I feel as helpless as anyone in this.

As a counselor who worked with troubled youth for 20 years, I have more knowledge, expertise and relevant experience to bring forth in the conversation. Yet my skilled thoughts seem unwanted in this stream of impassioned discourse.

Certainly my political views come into play as I form my own clinically-based solutions. I could also argue that my expertise and experiences have guided my political perspective.

We cannot avoid a political discussion of the issues. Politics guide the formation of laws and public policy to address such concerns, and something has to be done. We can, however, be reasonable and sensible in our approach.

My suggestion is that we voice our concerns to our law and policy makers instead of admonishing our Facebook friends. Write or call your senators, representatives, governors, etc. Let THEM know what recourse YOU want them to take.

Violence against children is a pervasive problem in our society. Although it is not usually 20 cut down in a single incident in a matter of minutes, children die DAILY in sprays of bullets. Survivors live in terror, yet they rarely get their intense mental health needs addressed. Often they reenact their trauma through video games with realistic visual imagery.

Young survivors of trauma are at much greater risk of becoming violent offenders as they grow older.

Something needs to change in our society’s approach to children and violence. Will we take action and find true solutions to ALL the factors that come into play? Or will we succumb to blather and useless noisy rhetoric?

Time will tell. I hope we do right by our children. They are counting on us.

BZTAT

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Jul 292012
 

cavalier king charles spaniel puppy abstract by BZTAT

As the major media outlets have been focused on the Olympics, the latest political news, and the traumatic shooting in Aurora, CO, a tragedy in upstate New York seemed to slip by us virtually unnoticed this past week.

According to the New York Daily News, one of the few news sites that did notice the tragedy, an 11-year old girl was arrested for senselessly beating her foster parent’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy to death.

According to the news report, the girl’s actions were surprisingly callous and provoked simply by being told “no” by her foster parent. The implication was that the child’s superficial needs being thwarted prompted the attack.

We know virtually nothing about the girl, other than the fact that she was in foster care, and that her placement in the home where the tragedy took place was temporary.

Knowing that the girl was in foster care, we can surmise that she had encountered some sort of turbulence in her young life, but we can only speculate on what experiences may have led up to her horrible actions against an innocent creature.

We do know this, however. Children are not born with malice. It is put in them.

When children harm animals, it is likely that they have been harmed themselves. Their actions are typically the only way they know how to release the pain and psychological torment that has interrupted their experience of childhood.

Although the girl’s actions resulted from a seemingly superficial disappointment, I feel confident in guessing that there was much more to it than that.

The tragedy here is that many lives have been deeply hurt by the girl’s actions. The puppy lost its life, and the foster parent’s family lost a treasured pet. The girl now is not only a likely victim herself, she is a perpetrator, leaving her with legal consequences and deeper psychological trauma.

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” -Anthropologist Margaret Mead

We cannot, and should not let this girl escape consequences for her actions. Yet consequences alone will not be sufficient treatment for her. She needs a combination of specialized trauma therapy, close supervision and monitoring, education regarding effective problem-solving, and unconditional support.

Will she get it?

I have my doubts. Our system of care for troubled youth is underfunded and not well-designed. Sadly, it often fails. Even if this girl does get the right mix of services, there are so many others who need it and will not get it.

That is why it is so important to watch for signs of trouble before it reaches this level of tragic outcome. We need to be aware that children in troubled situations need help, and they often show signs of their distress well before it gets this bad.

What can you do?

  1. Report known or suspected incidents of child abuse to authorities IMMEDIATELY. Failing to report because you do not want to get involved is a tragedy in and of itself.
  2. Be alert to the behaviors of children and adolescents with whom you are regularly in contact, and report incidents of aggressive behavior towards animals to caregivers or authorities.
  3. Combine efforts to rescue animals with advocacy for children. If you have rescued an animal from a bad situation, see if any children may be in that same bad situation.
  4. Volunteer as a mentor for children with Big Brother’s Big Sisters or other mentoring groups and involve youth in compassionate programming for animals.
  5. Check out our Resource Page to learn more.
  6. Spread the message of Okey’s Promise so that others will be aware to watch for signs of animals and children in need.

Actual intervention and involvement with children is so needed in our communities. Combining that intervention and involvement with animal causes is a win-win on many levels.

Advocacy is important too. We can all spread the word.

Will you help us do that?

BZTAT

Learn about how you can get involved with the latest Okey’s Promise: Art for a Cause project!

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