Bent Not Broken
Anastasia – Kentucky


Four homes. Count them. FOUR! From the age of two, when my birthmother dropped me off at Child Protective Services begging for someone to take me off of her hands to give me a better life, until the age of six, when I was finally adopted by forever family, I lived in FOUR. Different. Homes. Young, terrified and determined not to ever love again, I transitioned from home to home with the grace of a giraffe on ice skates.

The first home was an adventure. It was closed down because my foster mother punished me through extreme tactics including sitting me in a bathtub of near boiling water when I misbehaved. Home two consisted of the “boyfriend” of my birthmother who volunteered to “raise me”. This, too, ended quickly - this time with my “dad” dropping me off at Child Protective Services claiming that he tried everything he could, but simply didn’t have the skills to take care of me. Enter home number three. This family looked like they would be the perfect fit. They had two older children, who tormented me mercilessly by the way, and two twin boys younger than me that they were also fostering. They had money. They had a beautiful home. Everything appeared perfect until they chose to adopt the twins, but not me. Home after home I vowed not to let down my guard, but when I got to home number four, I knew this was where I was meant to be. Here I found an older brother, also adopted from foster care, and my mom and dad. They were in love with me from day one, and were fearlessly committed to my physical ad mental healing and well-being. When I think back, I can’t remember much, but people always seem to think I must be somehow scarred or damaged. With the help of my forever family, I have learned a new term that represents my journey – I call myself “bent not broken.”

How does my story link to the here and now? Kentucky Youth Advocates, a non-profit organization that advocates for policies giving children the best opportunities for a bright future, released their "2018 County Data Book" in March of 2019. Their 28th annual report looked at state and county data on child well-being. One of the biggest stats that spoke to me was the fact that, in Kentucky alone, there are 10,000+ children living in foster care. That adds up to 10,000+ children each year who are thrown into a broken system and who, like me, are “bent not broken”. So where does all of this place me and thousands of children like me on the spectrum of mental illness? Simply put, I, and all of those children like me, are children of trauma, and childhood trauma is rapidly becoming a national public health epidemic!

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the CDC-Kaiser ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. Research tells us that ACEs change the architecture of a child’s brain and set it up for negative mental and physical outcomes down the road. In research reported by authors Sacks and Murphey of in February of 2018, just under half (45 percent) of children in the United States have experienced at least one ACE, and one in ten children nationally has experienced three or more ACEs, placing them in a category of especially high risk. In five states—Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, and Ohio—as many as one in seven children had experienced three or more ACEs. Something must be done IMMEDIATELY at the local, state and national level, to not only understand the result of childhood trauma, but to identify and support children of trauma, in turn breaking the never-ending cycle of ACEs passing from generation to generation.

How do we combat this rampantly growing national crisis? I have a vision and am confident it can make a difference. In my mind, it all begins at the one place we can count on children being on a regular basis – school. First, we must prioritize students’ access to mental health services. No longer can our schools operate over the recommended student to counselor ratio of 250:1. Federal and state dollars must be earmarked to ensure public school districts as well as private and charter schools have the funding necessary to staff counselors at the 250:1 ratio. Second, I believe that all school personnel should receive up to 12 professional learning hours each year related to trauma invested school practices. Everyone from bus drivers, to cafeteria staff, to secretaries and teachers MUST be well-versed in the area of childhood trauma and be armed with the necessary strategies to reach students where they are in order to engage in a positive school relationship. Next, I believe we must focus on identification of children suffering from trauma. Beginning in pre-school, I recommend staff surveying parents/guardians and recording data related to past childhood experiences and possible adverse childhood experiences. Once a child is old enough to self-report, I believe each school’s mental health staff should administer a trauma screener, something like the Life Event Checklist, to all students in order to identify students in need of trauma support.

Once children of trauma are identified, school mental health staff must work hand in hand with teaching staff to create a support plan for each student that may include, but not be limited to:

Small group counseling a minimum of one hour per week, community mentors trained in the “Bent Not Broken Philosophy” as well Youth Mental Health First Aid to work one on one with these students on a weekly basis, creating a common library collection for every school in the nation consisting of books centered on trauma using bibliotherapy as a tool to reach these students, parent training for understanding the impact of trauma on a child’s brain and on strategies for healing the trauma experienced by children, community forums that engage community stakeholders in the agenda of understanding and combating childhood trauma, engaging the health community to understand the signs of and how to report symptoms of childhood trauma, and finally, creating a national “Bent Not Broken” public awareness campaign where all of us are speaking and understanding the common language of childhood trauma and the means to stop it.

I may just be one “bent not broken” voice, but I confident my voice can start a national conversation on childhood trauma. I have lived it; I have learned from it and I am surviving it. I believe others who are “bent not broken” like me can, too!