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CHILDREN AT RISK
Presented by
Roch Longueépée
To the Univeralist Unitarian Church of Halifax
19, July, 1998

The words I share with you today can be understood by everyone who can remember a time when they were a child, no matter how long ago. Some of us learned the important lessons of life, which would prepare us for adulthood in a complex world. For others it was a time in which childhood meant living in the shadows of fear and pain. Perhaps we can all remember a time when we reached out for love and all that responded was a lonely silence...

For many children in our nation and around the globe this is a frequent threat in the crucial years of physical and emotional development. These are our children at risk. Moreover, I want to talk about the struggles of these children living in this dark and inner world of abuse and neglect and about the signpost of social and family structures so many others and I have struggled with.
I am here today because I can no longer remain silent, because of my unending duty to understand our world rather than to simply fight for it.

In the moment of truth we should try to understand what the Greeks taught so many years ago... about the tragedy of necessity rather than the tragedy of possibility. It has been said that each generation must win its own struggle to be free. I know what it means to struggle, to suffer and I know all too well what these children face and what lays ahead.

I too am a survivor of abuse. At the age of two and one half months I lost my biological father to suicide, my mother four weeks later placed my twin brother and two older brothers and I in the Prince Edward Island Protestants Orphanage, two weeks later marrying the man she had been indulging in an affair with. My two older brother's stay in the orphanage lasted only a few months, while my twin brother and I would remain in the orphanage for the next four years. My twin brother and my stay at the orphanage was riddled with physical abuse and privation. Orphanage residents were typically subjected to severe physical punishment and isolation, often being banished to various parts of the orphanage like the basement coal cellar without any basic amenities and without food for extended periods of time.

Sanitary conditions at the orphanage were extremely poor. Inside the nursery, there were rows of beds on one side and rows of cribs on the other side. The smell of urine reeked throughout the nursery room, as babies were not changed long periods of time. Visitors would sometimes volunteer to take residents to their homes for the Christmas holidays. Upon arrival, visitors often found the children standing in lines at the end of their bed waiting to be picked to go to someone's house. My twin brother and I would often run and hide under a bed. Residents were lined up naked in the hall once a week and trooped through a cursory bath without a change in bathwater.

The affects of abuse are often life long for many victims and survivors, at high cost to society. A number of former residents suffered severe behavioral problems as a result of their attendance at the orphanage.

I have known of many former residents who have fallen victim to homelessness, poverty, violence, crime and suicide.

At the age of five, the orphanage was closed down due to lack of funds. My mother took my twin brother and me back home (for reasons I can only assume of pride) rather than have us taken into foster care.

My twin brother and me were under frequent psychiatric treatment by Dr. M.N. Beck, consulting psychiatrist and member of the Beck family, who had longstanding connections to the orphanage.

The mental health treatment continued beyond my twin brother and my stay at the orphanage into our later child protection case years. The mental health treatment often included a wide scope of testing methods and lasted for more than a decade.

Within year the orphanage closed, my twin brother and me were reunited with our mother and stepfather on leaving the orphanage. By all accounts life with our mother and stepfather was a troubled one. Our mother was mentally ill and our family was physically, mentally and sexually dysfunctional. Our mother and stepfather were openly promiscuous.

Allegations and reports of abuse and privation in our family home were sent to the government authorities by various sources in the local community. These sources included family members, neighbors and school personnel.

Our mother frequently moved my twin brother and me throughout the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in an attempt to evade the authorities. As a result I attended 14 or 15 different schools.

Many sources expressed deep concerns that the child protection measures by the government authorities were poor, affecting the safety of my twin brother and me. As a result, my twin brother and I became wards of the court systems in the provinces of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

A note from my grades One, Two and Four Class Teacher, Mrs.Mary MacDonald, paints a disturbing picture:

“ …Roch had poor hygiene and appeared neglected. He drank out of puddles and ate out of garbage cans. As a result the children teased him and did not associate with him. I can still see him hanging around the fenced in yard by himself.”

Further on in the same report, government authorities commented on a visit to our family home. The report reads:


Upon arrival at the home, the children were found sitting primly on chairs. Both Roch and Kelwin were bruised extensively about the face. They appeared subdued and withdrawn and no real contact was established with them.

A prescription pad note on my twin brother and me, dated June 8th, 1976, reads:

“ Ted Redmond phones. He is told by by(sic) Albert Arsenault that the place the twins stay with their m. is terrible. The twins are tied up in the back yard”.

At the age of six, my twin brother was taken in care and I forced to return to a prison of violence. Then at the age of fifteen, and on my final day at home, I was lucky enough to escape with my life, after a violent exchange with my stepfather, shortly after I was placed in care.

My childhood was chaotic and abusive marked by inconsistent caregivers, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, social maladjustment, and educational underachievement.

The institutions, which should have been protected me against this abuse, brutalized me further. My childhood was a continuum of painful and unhappy experiences. The jump from childhood to adulthood became particularly imperative for me as I sought to escape the pain I had been constantly subjected to. Yet ironically, I did not react by withdrawing and hating humanity. My response to what I have been subjected to has made me determined to do all I can to make sure others would not suffer my fate.

And I am only one of many stories of which I will be brief about. One first of all taken from the New York Times, section 2, December 16, 1945 the cover on the order of service is the picture from this section, beneath it the story of Jean l, case #103... ... Jean L, at 17 is alone except for her fears and her hopes. Her fears lie in the shadow of her mother's illness. Her mother became ill when Jean was born; she is still a patient in a mental institution. For the circumstance, Jean's father has never forgiven his daughter; an irresponsible, he has never given her any love or kindness and he can give her no support.

She was reared in an institution until she was 14 and now she is in a boarding home; there she recalls his outbursts of anger and his remark that she would become like her mother. So much for her fears. Her hopes are built around the wish to become a trained nurse, and she takes courage in the psychiatrist's persuasions that her mother's illness is not inherited.

Over five decades later after this article was written we are still faced with the same problems. In fact research shows issues of child abuse as far back as 2000 BC. One has to ask if we are humans evolving or revolving. From writings of Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death; he writes:

But sometimes in the middle of the night their wound would open afresh. And suddenly awakened, they would finger its painful edges, they would recover their suffering anew and with it the stricken face of their love.

Smiling despair. No solution, but constantly exercising an authority over myself that I know is useless. The essential thing is not to lose oneself, and not to lose that part of oneself that lies sleeping in the world.

We are faced with evil. I feel rather like Augustine did before becoming a Christian when he said, "I tried to find the source of evil and I got nowhere.

"But it is also true that I and few others know what must be done... perhaps we cannot prevent this in being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you believers won't help us, then who will?

 
© Copyright 2003 Internations' Justice Federation