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Editor’s Note: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Shannon Kmatz, a PhD in Psychology student, has worked as an advocate for victims of child abuse both professionally and as a volunteer. Here, she shares how her desire to help child victims of abuse led her to Walden University and placed her on the path to become a psychologist.
“I’ve always been big on community service. My husband was on the police force, and I envied how he got to really make a difference hands-on, so I made the decision to leave my comfortable position at an insurance company to become a cop. I quickly went from patrol to detective in the crimes against children unit, worked my way up the ranks, and was eventually placed in charge of the unit and providing support to other officers and detectives who were involved in particularly horrific cases. I was well suited for this type of work because unlike most people, I wasn’t appalled by the stories—I was able to put aside my personal feelings to focus on the child’s needs.”
Through her work as a detective, Kmatz discovered her passion for psychology. She went back to school to earn a general psychology degree; however, during that time, she was injured on the job. “I could no longer perform active duty, so I decided to continue on the path to becoming a psychologist.” The injury limited her mobility—a brick-and-mortar school just wasn’t an option. Researching online programs, Kmatz found Walden University—and it stood out. She worked toward her degree while she recovered from major surgery. “Even when I was at my worst, I continued to advocate for children, their families, and resources.”
When it came time to select her practicum, Kmatz’s obvious choice was to work with children. She located a center in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area that serves children who are survivors of physical or sexual abuse, or neglect. The center offers day treatment for kids age 4 to 16, residential treatment for kids age 4 to 14, and outpatient treatment for kids up to age 18, and families are encouraged to participate. “Although I only need 20 hours a week for my practicum, I spend about 40 hours a week there. I’m retired from the police force, so I can give back.”
Kmatz notes that the children she works with at the center come from the same cases she investigated as a detective. “It was hard to let go of a case once it was closed, and my interaction was restricted. Before, I could only deal with the criminal side, but now I can follow up with these children and make sure they stay off drugs and graduate from school.
“When kids tell me their stories, I can see it. I understand their fear of cops and can relate to them because I’ve seen these cases. They’ve been let down so many times, but they know that they can trust me.”
As a Walden student, Kmatz joined the Golden Key International Honour Society chapter, which gave her new ways to advocate for children. “The leadership training helped me write a proposal for Beyond Borders, a group trying to establish a residency center for adolescent victims of sex trafficking. Beyond Borders will provide a place where victims can get support, therapy, and education.
“After I complete my PhD, I plan to work with children and consult for programs like Beyond Borders that benefit children. I want to work primarily with child victims of abuse and kids on the autism spectrum.”
Kmatz says that National Child Abuse Prevention Month is an excellent way to raise awareness about the issue. “May is the biggest month for child abuse reporting, partly because of the awareness month in April. Cases in the national media are also shedding light on how serious the child abuse epidemic is—it isn’t just a poverty problem. Knowledge is power, and the more people that become aware of it, the easier it is to fight.”
To learn more about Walden’s Psychology programs, visit www.waldenu.edu/colleges-schools/school-of-psychology.