April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. According to the 2017 Children’s Scorecard published by the Department of Social Services of Santa Barbara, our county’s Child Welfare Service (CWS) receives around 5,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect each year. CWS investigates approximately 3,200 of those cases; the rate of investigations is similar throughout regions of our large county. The good news is that since 2008, the percentage of reports that have met the legal definition of abuse or neglect has dropped from 25 percent to 11 percent, or from 933 children in 2008 to 541 children in 2015.

The statistics are unsettling to say the least. Abuse and neglect are more frequent for our youngest children. The most frequently substantiated cases are infants under 12 months. Children with disabilities are also abused or neglected more frequently. Of the types of child abuse and neglect found, general neglect is consistently the most common. Neglect is the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision. Locally, over half of substantiated cases are general or severe neglect, followed by caretaker absence or incapacity. Child neglect often reflects the needs of the parent—it is often rooted in substance abuse, domestic violence or mental illness, and is best addressed by working with the parent. Most of the families CWS works with receive support with parenting skills, mental health and substance abuse treatment.

CWS still removes children from their custodial parents when necessary, but much more often the family has an opportunity to learn, get stronger and healthier, and provide a better home and upbringing for their children. Since 2005, Santa Barbara County CWS began referring families whose cases did not result in substantiated claims to community agencies. Families are referred to CALM and Family Resource Centers like the one at the Carpinteria Children’s Project. This program is called Front Porch. Over 1,000 families are referred to Front Porch every year and the program is credited for reducing repeated reports and a reduction in substantiated child maltreatment cases overall.

It does take a village to raise a child, and sometimes the most important thing villagers can do is raise concerns about how a child is being treated. The Social Services Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Hotline can be reached at 1-800-367-0166, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours, on weekends or holidays, and whenever a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

Families are different and will experience what shows up in their lives in different ways. Still, we know that caring relationships and the basics—healthy food, quality sleep and exercise—are essential to a child’s healthy development. All of us parents are learning, particularly because just as soon as we adjust to one stage in a child’s development, they are on to the next. Parents from all walks of life find parenting classes held by several providers at the Carpinteria Children’s Project to be helpful. Please reach out to us about classes and other confidential supports by calling (805) 566-1619, or email info@carpchildren.org. Other great resources in Santa Barbara are CALM, (805) 965-2376 and Family Service Agency, (805) 965-1001. Caregivers, you have what it takes to manage whatever comes your way and to get the support you need. Whether it’s to us or a friend or family member, reach out to connect, learn and take care of yourself so you can care for others.

Maria Chesley, PhD is an educator and leader who believes in the power of communities to change lives. She is the executive director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP). CCP provides early childhood education, family support services and leadership of the Thrive Carpinteria Partner Network of early education and social service providers. Learn more at CarpChildren.org. Maria can be reached at mfisk@carpchildren.org or (805) 566-1600.

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