Summit discusses youth trauma

Whether it be psychological or physical, trauma during one’s adolescent years can affect them throughout their entire life. This along with how best to help the healing process was discussed during Monday’s roundtable summit held by the Lycoming and Clinton Children and Youth Services.

Helen Ramaglia, a self-proclaimed “stage 5 trauma survivor,” endured years of abuse from her father before entering foster care.

“I was only 3 years old when my mom died and I don’t remember anything about her,” she said.

But siblings told Ramaglia stories of abuse endured by their mother that they believe eventually led to her death. One instance saw her father lock her mother in the refrigerator until a neighbor came and helped release her.

For Ramaglia and her three siblings, the abuse that once was directed at their mother now was put toward them.

They were locked in closets, sexually abused and beaten.

“That was everyday life,” she said.

The torture did stop for almost two years when her father remarried and things seemed to be “incredible.”

Her father took an active role in their childhood and their stepmother loved them, Ramaglia recalled.

“I finally knew what it was like to have a childhood at 8 years old,” she said.

But these times didn’t last as her father began drinking again and turned violent.

On at least two separate occasions, her father threatened to take her life with a shotgun. Ramaglia said she eventually stopped talking after she was repeatedly slapped because of her stuttered speech.

After one night’s beating, she even was forced to sleep outside in a dog house.

Her stepmother eventually left Ramaglia’s father, but he wouldn’t allow her to take the children.

Then, after escaping the abuse of her father, Ramaglia wound up in foster homes and married at 17. Throughout her adult life, she found that basic skills, such as decision making and goal setting, were foreign to her.

The effects that Ramaglia felt from trauma are common among abuse victims, said Dr. Joseph Benamati, a trauma expert.

He noted that those who have been abused have difficulty expressing feelings in words and would rather show someone how they feel than talk about it. Traumatized individuals also don’t set goals as their lives often are controlled.

He said in order to help them cope with the trauma and begin the healing process, one must create a safe environment for them and empower them to make choices.

And although prolonged abuse can effect the development of the brain, traumatized children are not “doomed.”

Repetitive treatment can help adapt the brain to deal with the trauma, Benamati said.

Rick Saylor, clinical director for Lycoming Children and Youth, explained that the summit allowed children and youth services staff and other community members to receive education on trauma.

He also noted that it’s important to find the “root cause” of a problem, and not simply treat the symptoms. And by treating the trauma, it hopefully can give them the healing they truly need, he said.

For Ramaglia it wasn’t until five years ago that she finally found her voice again. She has since written a book “From Foster to Fabulous,” and in “living in reality.”

“I finally love who I am,” she said. “And I don’t have to be perfect.”