Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Response to Guest Letter

In response to our guest letter that was posted on September 5 on my blog, I appreciate the views, opinions, and concerns of our donors, friends, and supporters, including those who differ from Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger. My blog is not meant to advocate for one political party, but rather to highlight issues that affect the children and families we serve at Hillsides.

We live in a nation where we can be respectful of opinions and perspectives that differ from each other. We live in a nation where society can be heard, legislation can be signed into law, and justice can prevail. Equally, we live in a nation where some children experience horrific situations and I’m afraid the trauma will be with them for the rest of their lives. I am only hopeful that the men and women who commit these horrific crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

When a child such as ten-year-old Maria finds herself 16-weeks pregnant and struggling to get through this terrible experience, I am comforted by the fact that she will survive because of a legal medical option available to her. I personally would prefer that we live in a nation where abortions do not occur. However, I also feel this procedure has been going on since the beginning of humanity and legislating against them is not going to stop individuals from having one. Taking in the pros and cons I come down on the side of a woman’s right to choose (believe me this is not an easy decision for them) and sanctioning medically supervised abortions with regulations.

But for children like Maria what is at stake is their survival, their sanity, their healing, their hope for a better childhood, their courage to move forward. As a service provider for children and families in crisis, we must highlight the difficulties and complications of social services that will arise for our clients. And in our 95 years of existence, Hillsides has been creating safe places for children and families who are in crisis. We have been able to serve 35,000 children and their families, providing mental health treatment, giving the tools for a stable home, educating parents on how to better communicate with their children, and finding ways together to preserve the families that will lead to creating safer places for everyone.

We are fortunate to have professional staff with the expertise and knowledge to give this mental health support to our children and families. We are also fortunate to have donors, friends, and supporters who care for the mission of Hillsides—creating safe places for children and families—by giving their time, talent, and treasure to enrich the lives of our foster care children who have been physically, sexually, or mentally abused, to expand services, to empower others and spread awareness of the good work we do in the community, and to join us in the numerous opportunities to make a difference.

With this in mind, I thank you for your time, compassion, and understanding of the many views that make up the fabric of our nation.

John M. Hitchcock, LCSW

Friday, September 5, 2008

Guest Letter: Disgrace and Discouraged

Dear John,

Maria had driven to Tijuana with her mom, sister and little brother to buy a special dress for her aunt's wedding. This was the most beautiful dress she had ever owned--no the most beautiful thing she had ever seen--and she hung it on a nail pounded into the wall of a garage in Bell Gardens that they called home. Every Sunday she tried on the dress--anxious for the time to pass when she could wear it to be in the wedding. But one Sunday the dress had become too small, her mother could not fasten the small white buttons. Her mother rushed her to the emergency room fearing the worst--cancer.

I was summoned to the Emergency room to evaluate Maria--She was sitting in the corner of the windowless exam room with tears running down her face. Her mother had fled the room leaving her to fend for herself. A tiny 10 year old she looked much younger than her age, and now dressed in a too-big dress handed down to her and wearing black Mary-Jane shoes and bright white socks she looked translucent--a shadow of the girl that might have been.

At age 10 she had just been told that she was pregnant. Pregnant by her father who had been raping her for over two years. We spoke and I comforted her--on examination we found her to be 16 weeks pregnant, and because she was so small her womb was now pushing down her vagina making intercourse impossible so her father had been raping her anally. Her sister when asked about whether the little brother had been sexually abused--said "No, he still laughs."

So last night when the Republicans welcomed with thundering applause, a woman who believes that all abortions must be outlawed--my heart stopped in my chest at the very idea that we as a Nation would ever consider taking away the rights of women and children--my patients--raped, abused and violated in the most horrific ways. How careless we are with the lives and souls of those who are less fortunate.

I am moved to tears at the thought of the precipice that we are approaching. I could spend hours on poverty, loss of the middle class, no health care etc etc etc.--but sitting there that day in that stark, cold clinic room with a little girl whose only hope for survival was an abortion--I was glad to have that option. Of course, I would love to see a time come when everyone knew to practice abstinence, or even birth control, or a time when rape and incest were words we did not understand and women had the right to say no and have someone hear her--but apparently none of these words---abstinence, birth control, rape or incest has penetrated the isolated, cold world of Gov. Palin.

Tell me where we go to be heard--I cannot believe that women, and men, across this country who understand what violence against women and children really means--will not stand up to be counted.

Astrid Heppenstall Heger, M.D.
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
Keck School of Medicine
Executive Director
Violence Intervention Program
Los Angeles, CA