Last year, CFJ was proud to be able to welcome its first Child Clinician, Melissa Martinez, LPC, to offer therapeutic counseling services to our youngest clients: Children impacted by the trauma of sexual or domestic abuse and violence.
Since joining our team, Melissa has been able to provide one-on-one counseling sessions to a growing number of children and teens, as well as their parents and caregivers.
Melissa’s services are provided to clients for free, with support of grants from the Petit Family Foundation and the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA.)
Melissa works as part of CFJ’s nationally-accredited Child Advocacy Center, which coordinates the Multi-Disciplinary Team of Greater Bridgeport. This team works collaboratively to address serious cases of child abuse in our region.
We chatted with Melissa about what her therapeutic work means for our clients in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
CFJ: You work closely with children who have been impacted by abuse. What are they coping with because of that?
Melissa Martinez: My clients have all been victims of a serious crime. In most cases they are the primary victims of abuse. In some cases, they are secondary victims, but either way they’ve experienced significant trauma. And what you see in almost every case is the absolute crumbling of their family dynamic. The disclosure of abuse tends to tear the family apart and for that reason, they’re also dealing with a loss of stability.
The cases are all incredibly complex. If their parents believe them, the family may have to leave where they live, if their abuser is a family member. If they family doesn’t believe them, they may continue to be exposed to abuse and have to deal with the trauma of not being supported and being re-victimized.
It can be very disconcerting for them if they are not seeing cousins, siblings, family members, classmates who have been part of their daily life, because they’ve been taken out of an abusive dynamic. While that’s the right thing to do for their safety, the changes in their life can be as difficult as the trauma. It’s all very confusing. And there’s often tremendous guilt and shame.
CFJ: Learning your child has been abused is traumatic too. Do you also work with parents?
MM: Absolutely. It’s a big part of this work. Because the parent also needs a lot of help. And the thing I often end up doing is exploring the multi-generational aspects of abuse. You will often find that the parent has had this happen in their life too. It’s often devastating for the parent, if they’ve been abused, to find their child has experienced this too.
One thing I often do is spend an entire hour, sometimes longer, with the parent doing an extensive family tree that reflects on the multi-generational aspects of the trauma in the family.
And what happens during that session is astounding. I would say 100 percent of the parents have experienced abuse, neglect, domestic violence or sexual violence. It’s different in each family, but there are definitely patterns. And you’ll will see in many instances it goes back for generations. We’re trying to intervene, when kids are young, so these patterns don’t continue.
CFJ: You’ve created a beautiful treatment office, which you decorated yourself. Why was it so important to create such a cozy, welcoming environment?
MM: These kids deserve to come into a safe space where they can feel good while they’re talking about some incredibly difficult things. Many of the children we serve are at-risk and live in poverty, so I wanted to make sure the therapeutic setting is a reflection of the therapeutic and loving setting they deserve. I want them to feel really comfortable. They love the room and sometimes I will just sit here for a while and give them a chance to settle in and enjoy it.
The other thing I love about working here is because these kids come here for free, I am able to give them all the time they need. In a typical therapy session, you have to end after sixty minutes. That’s just the way it works because of how insurance works. Here, there are no co-pays, no billing. If a child needs 90 minutes, if mom needs a few hours, I can give them that. It’s a gift to be able to offer service this way.