This column is not uplifting, not light-hearted; but I need to say some things. We have to look at the hard stuff sometimes. We must not be silent; we must not turn the other way and pretend it’s not happening when we are worried for a child. Children didn’t choose to be brought into the world, and they shouldn’t be punished for decisions their parents made or didn’t make. As a loving and affluent community and nation, we should support children who are at risk. And we must call it out and do something when children are being harmed.

In Carpinteria, staff at Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP), employees at all licensed childcare providers, school district employees, medical care providers and others are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. We engage in regular training and know what to do. And it’s hard—sometimes really, really hard—to believe children are being harmed and to take action. We want to believe it’s not true.

Child maltreatment happens in Carpinteria. CALM, an organization that works here and throughout our county to help children heal, writes that “failure of caretakers to provide for a child’s fundamental needs” is child neglect. “Although neglect can include children’s necessary emotional needs, neglect typically concerns adequate food, housing, clothing, medical care and education.” Neglect is more prevalent than physical abuse. Physical abuse “frequently includes shaking, slapping, punching, beating, biting or burning.” Individuals, whether mandated reporters or not, can call 1-800-367-0166 to report child neglect or abuse to a Santa Barbara Child Welfare Service representative. You can call and share your experience and the representative will help you decide what to do—a report may not be warranted.

We must also not look away from national policies that are harming children, that are in effect calling for maltreatment of children. The high commissioner’s office of the United Nations condemned the practice of separating children from their parents, calling it a serious violation of children’s rights and international law. Our country is violating children’s rights and international law. Thank you to the protesters who every Friday afternoon stand at the corner of Linden and Carpinteria avenues and remind us—remind me—to speak up. Immigration is a complicated issue but separating children from their parents is inhumane and likely to cause trauma that, particularly if untreated, will haunt these children and affect their ability to be contributing members of society their whole lives. It’s really, really hard to watch the news some days, but on this too, we shouldn’t turn away and pretend it’s not happening.    

Children need security, food and medical care, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. We have to figure out how to help when families ask. I’m proud to work at a place where every staff member does their best to help. All families are welcome at the Carpinteria Children’s Project.

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 mchesley@carpchildren.org or (805) 566-1600.

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