Monday, March 24, 2014

Where I've been and where I am going

A lot has happened in my life in the past few months.   About the time of the last post (five months ago!)  I was finalizing my decision to run in the next civic election, hoping to win a seat as a School Board trustee.  Instead of blogging I’ve been learning;  Learning more about the schools in my division, learning about the needs of students and families in the communities of that division, and learning how a School Board works and what it does. I’ve been having coffee with local politicians and learning how to introduce myself to strangers at the bus stop.   In every way I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and enjoying this new adventure. 

After almost 25 years working in social services, 22 of those providing counselling services to youth and more recently to adults, I am ready for something new. I don’t plan to resign from my position working in an eating disorder treatment program... but I do plan to decrease my hours while I grow into this new (part time) role, assuming I am elected and have the opportunity to serve my community in this way. 

On this blog I have mostly written about how we, as women, can love ourselves, appreciate our own worth and model that for our daughters. I’ve written about teaching girls to love themselves and feel good in their bodies. But I’ve been writing from a place of assumption that people reading my blog have the basics down. I’ve assumed that you love your children and want the best for them. I’ve assumed that you and I both want our children of all genders to grow up strong, proud, comfortable in their own skin and safe in the world.  I've assumed that you had choices and resources. 

Over the past few months I have written a few posts that are still waiting to be published.. one on bra shopping with your pre-teen, something on the pressures of Grad night (or Prom night depending on your region of the country) and another on the difference between low self-esteem and depression. 

I haven't published these posts yet because I have been trying to sort out where blogging fits into my life now that I am trying to figure out how to be a public figure in a new way.  I’ve wondered if my passionate positioning might turn voters off and questioned the optics of giving advice to other parents while hoping to assume an important role in municipal governance.  I’m not there yet...  I haven’t fully decided what my campaign means for the future of this blog but I do know that there is something I really do need to write about and it is too important to worry about if my comments will be well received.

This is the topic of sexually exploited children. Early in my career when I first worked with pre-teen and teenage girls - almost all of them had experienced some degree of trauma – some form of physical or sexual abuse.  Some had been street involved and others had traded sex for clothes, food, shelter and sometimes drugs.  Nearly 100% of the adolescents I encountered had been victimized in some way.  This gave me a skewed perspective; I was almost consumed by the rage and the passion that I felt in those years.  

Since moving across the country 15 years ago, I have worked much less with sexually exploited youth and instead have worked with a broader cross section of adolescents with a vast array of experiences.  I’ve worked with the very privileged and the very impoverished.  I’ve worked with girls from incredibly supportive and protective families and occasionally girls who were casually exploited by the ones who are supposed to love them best.  My counselling work became very generalized.  I still knew how to help a client cope with a traumatic event like a sexual assault or a death in the family but I could also help a girl who had boyfriend troubles, body image worries or generalized anxiety that made it difficult for her to focus at school or make friends.  I have since moved on to working almost exclusively with adults who experience eating disorders. 

The interesting thing is that in this pursuit of the role of  Trustee, I have recently found myself back at my roots and my early passion.  Recently I attended All Children Matter: Protecting Sacred Lives Forum which was focused on the sexual exploitation of youth in our city and in particular the experiences of Aboriginal children and youth.  

Sexual exploitation is a world wide problem, rooted in an inherent lack of equality for women and children.  I've been told that in Canada, the average age that children first enter the so-called sex trade is 12 or 13.  At that forum I heard stories from youth who had managed to leave the trade as young adults, after much of their childhood was lost to exploitation - these were perhaps two of the bravest youth I have ever had the privilege to listen to.   In my city, it is primarily Aboriginal children and women  who are impacted by sexual exploitation and these reasons are deeply embedded in our country’s history of colonization and it’s subsequent cycles of generational poverty and hopelessness.  

I’m learning all I can about my responsibility to the children of this city and I am certain there is an even stronger role that schools can play in reducing victimization and promoting self-esteem, self-worth and pride in children of all backgrounds and in particular the children of this country’s First Nations. 

The words that stay with me most from the Sacred Lives Forum was a simple statement spoken by one of the hosts of the event: 
If your life has never been touched by sexual exploitation - be grateful; For you are privileged.
In her world, a life free of sexual exploitation is rare. I am passionate about changing this outcome and helping create a world in which all children, truly, DO matter.