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One adult can stop child abuse

Josh Shipp spoke at Seneca Valley Intermediate High School Tuesday about how a child's life can be changed with the support of just one interested and caring adult. He showed a photo of himself at 14 years old. Eddie Trizzino/Butler Eagle

A sound heard throughout the Seneca Valley Intermediate High School’s auditorium Tuesday evening was laughter, which erupted between segments of Josh Shipp’s talk.

While Shipp included stories of trauma he experienced as a child in the 1980s and 1990s in the Oklahoma foster care system, he added humor to help tackle topics parents and adults might face when interacting with a troubled child.

“Growing up as a kid, I trusted no one, particularly adults,” Shipp said. “On the day my biological mother gave birth to me, several hours later she packed up her belongings and slipped out the side door of that hospital, abandoning me as a baby.

Shipp, a former at-risk foster child, is a youth advocate who speaks at schools and organizations around the country about helping children in tough situations. He gave his “The Power of One Caring Adult” speech in person at Seneca Valley, and his talk was streamed live to Butler Intermediate High School and Slippery Rock Area High School.

“Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult,” he said.

Turning his life around

As a kid, Shipp said, he would act out and be aggressive toward all adults. He said children can use aggression as an outlet for their feelings and energy but also as a defense mechanism when uncomfortable, which can be hard to deal with for adults.

Shipp encouraged adults and youths in attendance to be tough and tender, to change someone’s life for the better. While interacting with youths can be frustrating when they are not receptive to adult help, Shipp said one caring foster family changed his life.

It was his foster parent, Rodney, who turned Shipp’s life around.

“Every kid is one choice away from being a statistic,” Shipp said. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

Shipp also gave tips to adults on how to handle awkward talks or situations with children. He suggests adults take the initiative to address the elephant in the room and tell the child how long an awkward conversation may take. He also said consistency of time is more important than quality when it comes to building trust with a young person.

Jeff Roberts, director of student services at the Seneca Valley School District, said parents and faculty members have had questions about handling difficult talks and how to appropriately communicate with children about their emotions.

Having heard Shipp speak at a Butler County event years ago, Roberts said he thought his story and storytelling style would be a good way to educate other adults.

“Oftentimes elementary parents are involved with their kids, but they take a step back when they get older,” Roberts said. “Kids often retreat into themselves, and some teachers wanted to know how to help with that.”

Roberts also said anyone was invited to attend the talk, because one of Shipp’s main points is that anyone can begin to change a child’s life.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Roberts said it was a good time to collaborate with organizations that serve youths in the county. Early Learning Connections, Butler County Early Care & Education Council and the Butler County Alliance for Children also were involved in the event.

Adults and youths alike attended Shipp’s talk, and Roberts said getting that type of attendance was a positive for everyone.

“We need to think of ways to help kids now,” Roberts said.

The presentation ended with a question-and-answer session with the audience, but not before Shipp said adults should take advantage of even small moments with children to make a difference.

“All of us are qualified,” Shipp said. “The point isn’t how much time you’ve got. The point is even if you have only one moment ... what will you do with it?”