Rural Response for Healthy Children (RRHC) invited former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy to speak at the Knight’s of Columbus Centre last Friday.
Abused by a coach as a minor hockey player, Kennedy has been through therapy, treatments and dealt with his demons while on the road to recovery.
Kennedy has since become an advocate for children in Calgary and the nation, partnering with local organizations and the government to change legislator.
Working as an advocate for the Calgary and area child advocacy centre, Kennedy shared with Goderich that education is important in making social changes pertaining to tools needed in order to prevent abuse or support sexual abuse victims.
The Calgary and area child advocacy centre is a model of collaboration. Every case that the hospital receives gets triaged with each member of that advocacy organization to look at the entire picture.
Kennedy stressed the importance of sharing information between organizations and advocacy groups, in order to reach out to sexual abuse survivors early enough to make a positive difference in their lives.
“We know better today,” said Kennedy.
“The sooner we reach kids, the better chance we have of turning their life around and giving them a chance to follow their dreams.”
In five years, the advocacy group in Calgary investigated 7,900 cases, where 15 percent of these cases were from children services and 95 percent of these cases the children knew their abuser.
An even more devastating statistic showed that 45 percent of those kids were abused right at home.
Kennedy told the crowd last Friday that sexual abuse is one of the leading contributors to early childhood mental health issues and addiction.
Kennedy discussed the trauma he experienced as well as the work he has done including the creation of the Respect Group and how that evolved into the ‘Safe Places Project’.
‘Safe Places’ began in Swift Current, Saskatchewan and has since spread across Canada.
At a previous Goderich Town Council meeting Executive Director of RRHC, Selena Hazlitt introduced the ‘Safe Places’ initiative. Huron County is one of the first regions to implement the program.
Hazlitt shared with the Signal Star that research results on the impacts of abuse are staggering.
“We know that when abuse occurs, it increases the risk for long-term physical and mental health issues. If the victim seeks help and is not listened to, that risk level soars,” said Hazlitt.
“We know that when children and youth have a trusted adult in their life who responds and supports them in seeking help, the outcome for a healthier life is improved.”
In addition to emotional and mental impacts from abuse, financial impacts on adults who experienced abuse in their younger years can be monumental in regards to the cost of intervention or crisis level mental health and addiction treatments.
“By investing in prevention strategies, we can alleviate that financial pressure and more importantly give children and youth who are victimized a greater opportunity to thrive in their adult lives, contribute to their community and be loving parents,” added Hazlitt.
Hazlitt concluded that the community has an opportunity to utilize ‘Safe Places’ to become a well-informed place with adults who know how to listen and respond.
‘Safe Places Huron County’ increases public awareness and knowledge in order to effectively listen and respond to youth.
“It’s not about blame but it’s about responsibility to look out for one another and have the confidence to deal with issues properly if we suspect something going on,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy spoke on his childhood trauma, inflicted on him by a coach he trusted.
He stressed that the incident was sexual abuse but the impact was depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addiction and at times, self harm.
Shortly after Kennedy was abused, he began using in order to distance himself from the trauma.
It was only until he spoke out and accepted professional help that Sheldon began his road to recovery.
“We can’t fix people, but people support and invite them to get help and sadly there are many who don’t accept that invitation and we have lost a lot of people,” said Kennedy. MORE