Tag Archives: trauma

Every Child Thrives

Sure, CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) was the first nonprofit in the country to dive head-first into child maltreatment prevention. And yes, the organization – which provides a wide array of direct services to treat and prevent child abuse – just turned 50.

But CALM’s CEO Alana Walczak doesn’t want to talk about the past. “I want to talk about the story of our next fifty years,” Walczak says.

Her vision is big. Building off its research-driven clinical programs and widespread trust among partners across the spectrum of agencies that touch the lives of families and children, CALM is leading a countywide strategy to end childhood trauma.

“The most important relationship in the world is between a parent or caregiver and a child,” Walczak says. “If we can keep that most precious relationship whole, we can change lives.”

Cute elementary age boy smiles while pediatrician checks his heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Childhood trauma has become a regular part of the vernacular at the highest levels of government and social change efforts. Here in California, the state’s first ever Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, MD is on a crusade to root out childhood trauma. Armed with irrefutable science that shows adverse childhood experiences – abuse, neglect, domestic violence, parental incarceration, divorce – lead to a wide array of dire health outcomes, leaders like Burke Harris and Walczak are clear-eyed about the urgent need to stop childhood trauma in its tracks.

“It is significantly cheaper to support families earlier,” Walczak says. To that end, CALM does the work even if the government doesn’t fund it. For example, the agency has counselors embedded in preschools and pediatric departments to intervene at the earliest signs of trauma. “That’s the wave of the future,” Walczak says. “We are not going to wait until Kindergarten to find out which kids need our help.”

Santa Barbara’s size poses an exciting prospect for Walczak, the team at CALM, and their 75 partner agencies spread across the county. It may just be possible to live up to CALM’s vision of building resilient communities empowered to prevent childhood trauma and heal children and families.

Roughly 5,500 babies are born in Santa Barbara County every year. Through direct services and trauma training programs across the pediatric health and education systems, CALM is building a web of support for all children and families. “If we do this right,” Walczak says, “we can build a robust continuum of care supporting children from birth with the support of an engaged pediatrician all the way through school with engaged teachers, parents and school administrators. That would be a game changer.” 

Guiding Survivors Out of the Woods

On the second day of her freshman year of college, Aspen Matis was raped. 

When “mediation” with her attacker failed, and the school inexplicably moved him into her dorm, Matis was traumatized, scared and left alone. Instead of moving him out, they moved her to a converted motel off campus, where she would sit, alone, staring at the cinder block walls. 

While there, Matis called the National Sexual Assault Hotline – created and operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

“The person I spoke with was so amazing,” Matis says. “She told me things that sound so obvious in retrospect, but at the time they were revelations to me: ‘This was not your fault. You didn’t cause this. Short shorts don’t cause rape. Weed doesn’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.’ Talking with a compassionate professional from RAINN became the first step in my healing process.”

After a handful of more calls with RAINN’s highly trained support specialists, Matis decided to leave college. Her new plan: walk the 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for RAINN.

Beyond operating the hotline and providing other victim services that have touched more than 3.2 million survivors and their loved ones since 1994, RAINN works with national media and the entertainment industry to elevate sexual violence storylines across the country. RAINN also works to expand the use of DNA in unsolved rape kits, reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, reform statute of limitations laws, broaden survivors’ access to appropriate medical care, protect young athletes, and bring perpetrators to justice. 

“We founded RAINN more than 25 years ago based on the belief that no survivor should feel alone,” says Founder and President Scott Berkowitz. “While supporting survivors will always be at the core of what we do, we have become the leading voice educating the public and fighting for survivors’ rights in Congress and the states.” 

In 2015, Matis wrote a memoir, “Girl in the Woods,” about her epic trek and painful recovery, which was propelled into the spotlight as a part of Oprah’s Book Club. As a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, Matis travels the country spreading awareness about sexual assault and rape, and its frightening frequency. Nearly one in four young women will have such an experience before leaving college.

“The reality is that sexual assault and rape are happening every day and everywhere,” Matis says. “The most convenient thing to do is to pretend that they are rare, because acknowledging this epidemic is uncomfortable and it’s sad and it’s scary. But by denying reality, averting your eyes and just willing it away, you are denying the validity of the struggles of so many people, and also denying them resources that may help them to heal and live a fulfilling life after.

RAINN is doing a wonderful and admirable service for the people who have been through the trauma of sexual assault and for anyone who knows someone or loves someone who has been raped.”