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Meet Trailblazer Lori Poland

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lori Poland.

Lori, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am happy to, my story began when I was 3 years old, playing in my front yard on a hot August day in Denver, Colorado. While I was playing outside around lunch time, a car drove up with the passenger door opened and the driver asked if I liked candy, telling me that if I’d gone with him, he would give me some. I, like any sugar-loving three year old, got into the car and off we went.This man, a survivor himself and sex offender, drove me to the mountains west of my home where after physically and sexually assaulting me, left me in the pit of a 15-foot outhouse to die. 3.5 days later, bird watchers happened to be using the facilities and heard me crying. I was reunited with my family and the journey to transcendence began.

I knew at a very young age that I never wanted anyone else to experience the level of pain and disconnect I (and everyone affected by my kidnapping) went through on a daily basis. I have spent my life feeling like an outsider, like I was different because of what I’d gone through and hurting from not being able to trust the world after such an attachment disruption and exposure to the possibility of an unsafe world at a young age. So, I was determined to be the change I wanted to see in the world.

I put my head down and trudged forward with one focus, how to help the world feel better in it’s pain. Knowing that a common message is “hurt people hurt others” and that if we increase compassion, empathy, and support for each other we will be less inclined to reject and hurt one another. Every human in their core, wants to matter. Every human at their birth, wants to belong and feel loved. When people are abused and neglected, they often adopt a belief system thatthey feel as though they don’t matter. In fact, with early trauma exposure, the sensation of secure attachment and trusting one matters is robbed from them.

So, it has been my mission, first as a motivational speaker, then I began to work in non-profits with at-risk populations, later to become a therapist working privately with individuals and families who’d experienced trauma and attachment disruption in their lives. My mentor, the then Dean of CU Medical School-Dr. Richard Krugman, decided to launch The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. Dr. Krugman and I spent 7 months touring the country to identify if anyone was working on child abuse and neglect to improve the field as a whole in Research AND Prevention AND Education and Training AND Advocacy. We learned that no one was doing this. We learned that there is a national organization doing exactly this for nearly every form of cancer and disease, every body part and 20 different genes, focusing on improving that issue and helping all of the agencies and programs in which it is focused do better work by funding them to do that work. This approach has led to significant improvement in thousands of areas of focus, ranging from heart disease to diabetes, premature birth, to polio, teen pregnancy, anti-smoking and drunk driving. Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) has had no such support, nor focus, and little improvement statistically in the last 50 years and it is behind the times. Five children die each day from CAN, and this is the same number of children who died in the early ’60s from CAN. To me, this is not OK and we have to do something VERY different in order to create and see the change necessary to end abuse in our lifetime.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has been a bumpy road, not smooth and not terrible, just bumpy. I will not give up and believe in my soul that we can do things better.

There are tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who had no involvement with social services and/or who’ve never spoken up about it. Most of them have found a way to survive, thrive, or transcend in the world and we know nothing about what they got to make this happen versus the small percentage of destructive abuse survivors who go on to repeat the cycle and cause more harm. We know that most survivors do not grow up to offend. We also know that nearly all offenders were once abused. What we DON’T know is what is the difference between the two populations. This is because we have not allowed a safe and shame free place for people to openly talk about their abuse. What if we could cure cancer simply by talking about it? We would, I know we would, and yet we don’t and this is an obstacle that I have to find a way to help our culture overcome.

The other obstacle is the improvement needed in a field who have spent many many years doing the best they can to help and not making the needed traction and improvement that would end abuse and neglect. We have to do things a bit differently, we have to put our personal focuses aside, attend to the broken bridge upstream and TOGETHER be the change we wish to see in the world.

We’d love to hear more about The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect.Our conception began after understanding that there is a national foundation helping to improve research, prevention, education, and advocacy for nearly every disease, every body part, every form of cancer, and 20 different genes, however, there is nothing of the like for child abuse and neglect. Our child welfare system in the US is not able to focus on these areas as their primary role is to support families (oftentimes after abuse occurs) and specifically is designed to only address intra-familial abuse. One thing we have learned in the last few years is that so much abuse happens outside of the family (coaches, leaders, teachers, older mentors, etc). We know that there are millions of adult survivors of various forms of abuse who are surviving, thriving and even transcending in their worlds and we don’t know much about them. We also know that the majority of abused victims do not go on to abuse, nor repeat any type of the cycle. We also know that most abusers were once abused, but what we don’t know is what the difference is between these types of victims. What did one get that the other did not? What worked? What didn’t work? Our child welfare systems do not have the ability to monitor outcomes, nor do our mental health workers, and we don’t know if what we are doing is helping or even working for that matter. Statistics indicate that sexual abuse and physical abuse has decreased in the last 20 years. This is great news. The problem is that we don’t know what caused the decrease? And how do we replicate it?

At EndCAN, it is our duty and mission to end child abuse and neglect in our lifetime, which means we have our work cut out for us, AND there are thousands of agencies across this country doing wonderful things, but also feeling siloed and financially starved given the imminent needs. So, we have to do something different and EndCAN hopes to be the catalyst to this change. With fundraising and grassroots efforts, we intend to provide funding for the field helping to advance it, understand it and take an upstream approach on how to address it differently. We intended to provide a safe community for survivors to share their story and unite their voices, and for parents and caregivers to find positive parenting support and resources  It will take a lot of voices and collaboration, which the field is hungry for, survivors are hungry for, and we believe with an army of all of us together, we can do it.  We invite you to join us!

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
Know your heart, know your passion, and use your voice. Beginning a career in any field can be highly stressful, and terrifying. However, when we speak our truths, know our value, and follow our instinct we can rarely go wrong. What we say is important however HOW we say it will allow us to create the outcomes that we want. We don’t have to be passive, we don’t have to be bull-headed. We have to have integrity and be honest with kindness and confidence in who WE are, and as women, we can create magnificent change in a world that needs honesty, kindness, and authenticity.

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Image Credit:
fractured frame photography, Kasey Grim

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