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Feb 09th
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A Fight That’s Far From Over

news-2Child abuse is declining, but neglect and substance abuse remain problems in local families
There were 527 cases of substantiated child abuse reported in Santa Cruz County in 2009, the last year for which there is data in the 2010 Child Welfare Services Reports for California. That is nine cases of abuse per 1,000 youth.

Jarring as the number is, it is significantly less than the 872 cases reported in 2000, when the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP) began tracking the data in its annual report. The number has fluctuated over the last decade, peaking at 923 cases in 2004 and reaching its lowest at 527 cases in ’09.  Since the CAP put forth the community goal “By the year 2010, children in Santa Cruz County will live in safer families and communities” in 2005, the number has decreased by 6 percent. Substantiated cases are those where, following an investigation, it is confirmed that abuse actually did occur.

According to the Director of Santa Cruz County’s Family and Children’s Services Division, Judy Yokel, the county responded to 2,600 reports of child abuse in their last fiscal year (’09-’10). About 60 percent of those reports warranted face-to-face investigations, and less were deemed substantiated. Overall, Yokel says the numbers are unmistakably trending down.

“It definitely has gone down, there is no question about that,” she says. “We’ve had fewer referrals and fewer substantiated cases and fewer children in foster care over the years.” This has been a statewide trend, according to Yokel: the number of substantiated cases of child abuse in California has gone down by 23 percent in the last 10 years and by 28 percent in Santa Cruz County.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of families in need out there,” Yokel adds. “It just happens to be true that we are getting fewer reports, and I think a lot of that is due to the prevention programs.”

When a referral doesn’t call for opening a case in juvenile court or another of the penal measures the county has for dealing with substantiated abuse situations, Yokel and her team refer families to their differential response program, Families Together.

The program, which operates out of the Santa Cruz County Counseling Center (SCCCC), is aimed at prevention: “getting at it before it becomes an issue,” according to Cynthia Wells, director of Child and Family Development Programs at SCCCC.

“The program is voluntary,” says Wells. “It’s moving away from the idea that child welfare is always punitive. It’s truly there to help families, trying to intervene before any issues arise.” Families Together helps between 60 and 70 families a year, thoroughly screening each family to provide individualized counseling and linking them with a variety of county services they may need. Ninety-two percent of those families do not have another referral to Child Protection Services after completing the program.

SCCCC is also home to Primeros Pasos, another program working to prevent child abuse locally. Both Primeros and Families Together were launched in the latter half of the last decade, and their growth and development has correlated with the decline in substantiated cases of child abuse reported over the last several years.

Primeros Pasos began five years ago with a federal Abandoned Infant Act grant the county received to combat child abuse. The program went on to help 90 families over the first four-year grant cycle with an 80 percent success rate. SCCCC took over the second generation of Primeros Pasos in 2009 and has enrolled 40 families with 83 children since.

Also a preclusion program, Primeros concentrates on parents—especially young mothers or pregnant women—with substance abuse issues. “The focus is substance abuse treatment because moms and dads in recovery are better parents,” says Will O’Sullivan, SCCCC’s director of Community Recovery Services, matter-of-factly. Primeros aims to sow the seeds of good—and sober—parenting in families before child abuse occurs.

“Often times, unfortunately, the way substance abuse treatment happens is further down the line and people are in the ravages of substance abuse, addictions have taken their toll and families have been torn apart and there is a lot of rebuilding that has to happen,” says O’Sullivan. “A lot of that happens because of a lack of resources.”

The work Primeros Pasos has done to address parental substance abuse is particularly pertinent to Santa Cruz County, where the most common form of child abuse, by far, is neglect—a frequent byproduct of parental drug and/or alcohol abuse. (Two hundred and forty four of the 527 abuse reports in 2009 were for “general neglect” and 52 were for “severe neglect.”)

“Neglect over time has its own destructive outcomes,” explains O’Sullivan. “Not just the [presence] of abuse but the omission of good parenting takes a real toll.

“If you look at any studies on abuse and neglect you’d find that substance abuse was a huge indicator and factor in both,” he continues. “[Primeros Pasos is] focused on intervening before neglect and abuse come into play because we know that substance-abusing households are not healthy environments.”

Another leading trigger for child abuse—one that’s not specific to Santa Cruz—is the down economy.

“One of the things that we are seeing across the board is the increase of stress in families,” says Wells, from Families Together. “The father that is not working, or the family that is about to become homeless. When a family is experiencing that kind of stress, that is an environment where children could be at risk. The economy is having a huge impact on our families.”

Contrary to the numbers in the CAP, Wells says Families Together is seeing more at-risk families than usual and predicts a rise in child abuse cases in next year’s report.

“The economy is catching up with us and I think you’ll see that number spike next year,” says Wells.

This anomaly is common in statistical data: just as the 2009 figures may finally be representing the decrease in child abuse at the hands of the prevention programs implemented over the last five years, the impact the economy is having on families may take a few years to present itself in the data. As Wells puts it, “The numbers haven’t caught up with the reality.”

Wells warns against slackening the focus on the problem because of the positive downward trend in numbers. She adds that the economy is taking its toll on public services like Families Together, and a lack of funding will mean fewer families can be served.

“We’re looking at this [potential] increase of child abuse but we’re not able to expand the program to meet the need,” says Wells. “I think we’re all going to see the results of that.”

On the up side, she says Families Together is only getting stronger as it gets more established. She says, “Over the four years what we’ve seen is that it’s become increasingly more successful and I think that we have a much better idea of how to successfully support these families.”

Over at Primeros Pasos, program leaders are preparing to graduate their first round of clients from the first year of service. O’Sullivan, like Wells, believes these prevention programs are ultimately a promising response to a very ugly, persistent problem.

“We’re definitely part of the answer, there’s not doubt about that,” says O’Sullivan. “Change is possible when people are given the resources and the environment and the support.”

To report child abuse, call 1 (877) 505-3299 or (831) 454-2273. Lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Martin Madi, July 21, 2014
I am a father to my 10yr.daugter.I have been caring for her since day 1 and have never left her side. I protected her from her mother who abused was hard but I did it.on may 21,03 the principal at my daughter's school locked her up for the 2nd time that yr.held her against her will for 4hrs.inyerrogating her.the principal never liked my family since she took her position the prior year. We never had any problems until the new principal came.she [principal] called the sheriffs who interrogated my daughter for several hrs about her parents relationship. They drew their gun placing it on the table pointed at my daughters chest.I have the copy of the interrogation, and it was coerced. The sgt.who allowed this was the same one I had filed a complaint against the yr. before for misconduct and police brutality. She told me when I got to the school she was taking my daughter. And she did.Our constitutional rights have been violated in several ways. I hired an attorney who took $6000 to let them have my little girl . didn't object to one thing, sat there and kept his mouth shut. It's an outrage and they won't get away with it. We the people have no rights any more
written by beautyinbeautyout, September 30, 2013
I am involved with cps also, but because of no one else's faults but my own.I have had some rough times and some not so rough times with them. You can spend your time bashing them or jumping through the necessary hoops to get your children back home with you. It isn't going to be easy and once you admit your part in them becoming involved in your life you will thrn be able to better yourself and bring those children back home to you. They don't just go around knocking on random doors snatching kids, our actions bring them to the doors of our home.
written by determined, August 12, 2011
judy should be ashamed whats the idea of cps to help children what a joke to steal children more like.Where are the childrens right.Can someone please tell me how one child can be removed from me because of "neglect" but my other two children can stay.I dont understand
written by monike tone , April 21, 2011
So I am finding out that no matter how much effort to forget my child back will work, I want to fight CPS but the lawyers that should be working with me are definitely working with CPS, I have been in the court room as family support may times more then anyone person should has, My daughter is Native american at that she is apart of a tribe called CHUMASH the meaning of CHUMASH is SANTA CRUZ NATIVE,she is also apart of a tribe wit ha number called ALONIE, and has many othe family members who have been took by the system default i would like to call it, the Lawyer who is still my lawyer dont even know what my right are she dont do any thing for me at all at one point i was doing her job and getting all the info on ICWA am apart of this community just as much as any of them and no matter what i have done or am doing i have rights and Ill stand up for mine, I have so many different workers picking up my child from day cares and school that she dont even know and one lady told me that she cant take my daughter beacouse she don't have a car that is insured but guess what my daughter was at risk for 25 min in her car as she was taking her to visit with me,I have done so much for my friends family in this community at times, I would even get other family going through tuff time with cps to support one another its hard and we should never have to go through any thing difficult alone. I started going back to school last year and yes it got less and less that i was doing support I have a life that need further education still apart of CPS with little help but just as my CPS supperviser would say Miss Tone you are your own avacite for yourself. so know i am doing so, I want to be like the lady in Alice and wonder land and off with everyone's head but i am calm and i am doing my best, My sister would love to have her but even though she has never had a cps case or been to jail she can take her because CPS STATES SHE HAD ALAGATIONS witch came out as not true, MY Brother and his Wife stay out of state right my brother has been in the NAVY for over 17 years has let me know that him and his wife have been calling down to the CPS office in Watsonville as well as sent emails out to the workers letting them know they will take her no if ands or buts, but has CPS go back to them nope, I know that there background checks are good beacouse i did them myself, Now lets see what they have to come up with
My Perfect Karma
written by Monike Tone , April 14, 2011
My name is Monike Tone I have been fight for CPS to leave my family alone for the last 4 years. I am a mother of 2 my youngest has just been place back in a foster home do to a worker coming in to my home while I was at home miss caring a baby, I was sick and in bed doped up from the pain medication. when you are involved with CPS they ask so much of you but give you little help, I have been in many court rooms with a team i call sober support. I have seen the Judge have a bad day and rip kids from ever seeing mom or dad again,let me add my lilttle girl is well taken care of and is smart extra the day Cps came to my house to follow up they look in the frege and seen food my water lights everything was working my daughter was not in any kind of danger at all if she was the worker should of removed her that day.... I get a phone call telling me that they are going to take my baby girl from me, I need to state that the lady who is my worker seen my SPONER and just started talking to her about me I really wish I had some kid of confidentiality but i guess i have no rights.... I dont have to many family here in california other then my sister and my husband who is in prison, O yeah let me state that i am a single mother trying to keep a roof over my head. I feel my rights are being violated in so many ways but its not just my rights it my childrens rights to, My sister who has never been in jail has a good job working for PG&E and wants to have my daughter stay with her is also fighting CPS it really sad that what the courts call naglect. this story is so much bigger and i just wish some one who is willing to fight for are rights, its really hard being a single mom but i love my kids to the fooliest and I want my family to be left alone, if anyone can give me insight on who i should turn to let me know..... I am a fighter.
You r right
written by Pam, January 27, 2011
Im going throught the same that u went throw with ur daughter, with my son . Ive complied to everything CPS has asked me to do and still nothing. Nothing more nothing at all. Its really horrable on the children in the system and the parents fighting hard to get them back. What advise if any can u give me to help me fight hard and get my son back. Besides get a lawyer there to expensive and i cant afford one not a really good one. Sincerely, Pam
written by Mommytime gone, January 07, 2011
what a bunch of liars. the entire system is disgusting and corrupt and these sanctimonious selfrightious uneducated people have made a business of taking children away from their families, putting them in (abusive) foster homes, making up lies about their parents, slandering them, and take great pleasure in humiliating them in family court, where they are completely untouchable and thier actions have NO CHECKS and Balances. They are wrong most of the time and the lies they write up in their reports are just outrageous. Believe me, I know. I have had my daughter removed from me because my (bitter) ex says he "suspected drug use" in my home. It didn't matter how many negative tests I gave them, or that I complied with their "safety plan" having supervised visitation once a week for 3 hours (at a cost of $50/hr), for 6 months, that I am a fulltime
Registered NUrse in a busy Labor and Delivery of that matters. and guess what CPS says when you want to get a copy of whatever it is in their file? they say you can't see it if you don't have custody. That is illigal and a lie. I lost custody because of them, so how convenient their little rule is. It's absolutely heartless. Meanwhile the stress this has caused my baby girl is incomprehensible. It's NOT RIGHT.
written by jeffry , January 05, 2011
we all know that drugs cause child abuse and neglect, and foreign organized crime sell drugs to pay for thieir business's and living arrangments . So lets use the zero-tolerance laws and take the business's and homes of foreign oganized crime members and pay for meds and housing and support for their victims (abused children)

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