Panel Discussion on Child Welfare: Lutheran Ethicists’ Gathering 2024

[1] The Lutheran Ethicists’ Network invited a panel of three practitioners to share their insights on the issue of children’s welfare at the Lutheran Ethicists Gathering.

[2] Cheryl Collins, CEO of Holy Family Ministries, Principal of Holy Family School in Chicago, gave a report titled: “The Maltreatment of Children:  Protecting our Future Leaders Is Everyone’s Responsibility.”  In her talk, she discussed the effects on children of living in communities with violence and her work with Holy Family Ministries to provide educational opportunities for children and youth in Chicago’s under-resourced neighborhoods in order they can excel academically and grow spiritually.  She explained that Holy Family School initially grew out of Holy Family Lutheran Church but now has its own building.  The school which serves students pre-K through 8th grade is ELCA affiliated.  It currently also includes a preschool, an afterschool and summer school program, and a Peace leadership training camp for students in grade 4-8.

[3] Collins explained at the Lutheran Ethicists Gathering that rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for children who live in poverty.  All the teachers at Holy Family School are trained in trauma-informed practices as well as in signs of neglect and abuse in children. Collins explained that while she and teachers at her school advocate against all corporal punishment, they are trained how to distinguish between spanking and stern language as a form of discipline and the maltreatment that causes physical harm, leaves bruises, or damages self-esteem.

[4] Ginger Meyer, Clinical Director of the Children’s Medical and Mental Health Resource Network at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, spoke specifically about the effect of trauma on the brains of children and the long-term health effects of chronic abuse, toxic stress, and unhealed trauma. The chemical effects of experiences of abuse and trauma are a neural toxin in children’s brains. Teachers and administrators need to understand the way high levels of cortisol affect children’s ability to concentrate, study, and control their behavior in school settings.  Physicians need to be aware of the adverse childhood experiences of their patients in order to treat later manifestations such as auto-immune diseases, anxiety, depression, and chronic illness.

[5] Most importantly, according to Meyer, the entire community needs to be aware of the need for children to be loved and to feel safe so that their brains create the wiring necessary for social connection and healthy well-being.  “The way we nurture our children decides the templates they use for all their relationships,” Meyer explained. She stressed that slowing down and doing regular activities with great love, teaches children to act also with great love.  This is especially key in helping children heal from abuse. She also explained the importance of adult caretakers being self-aware and understanding the effects of their own past traumas.

[6] Sharif Walker, the CEO of Bethel New Life, Chicago Illinois,  explained the need to find ways to engage children in enriching activities and influence parents’ well being as well.  His work includes creating centers that foster holistic health and education, creating structures that promote Black culture and art as well as civic wellness, and working to promote a culture of healing love for children.  He stressed that people need to heal themselves in order to take better care of children.  His work also helps parents learn new ways of interacting with their children.

[7] The knowledge of these three practitioners was extremely helpful to all of us in attendance.  Their theories about child and community wellness helped us understand the way communities can support children and the effects of child abuse and trauma on children and their communities.  The work they are doing deserves all our support.



Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.