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GUEST OPINION: We can all help keep kids safe

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to violence and other stresses in the lives of children.

Reading through The Press Democrat on June 9, I read a heart-rending story concerning a case of suspected child abuse in our county involving an infant who had suffered numerous injuries and fractures ("Penngrove couple face charges of abusing baby"). This story made me stop and think about what we do as a community to support families and ensure that children are first and foremost protected from harm.

The work of raising our children stands among our greatest responsibilities and our most profound blessings. When a tragic story like this ends up in the news, it highlights a much bigger and more devastating picture of child abuse that exists in our very own county.

According to Sonoma County Child Protective Services, each year there are more than 10,000 calls to the child abuse hotline with questions and reports of child abuse. In 2011, 2,228 reports of child abuse were serious enough to require a face-to-face investigation to determine if allegations of abuse were substantiated, and 259 children were removed from unsafe and abusive homes.

Reading through this article, I was very grateful for the doctor who was conducting the "well-baby" checkup and immediately reported the case to the authorities. Mandatory reporters — people who are required by law to report child abuse — are a crucial link in our child protection system. Oftentimes these mandatory reporters are the only people outside the immediate family who see abused or neglected babies or young children. This is certainly the case for the family and infant in Penngrove. It is important to remember that all of us have a responsibility to prevent child abuse and protect children.

Therefore, if you suspect any type of child abuse and neglect, you should immediately call our Child Abuse Reporting Hotline, 565-4304.

The California Parenting Institute founded in 1978 served 3,000 Sonoma County families last year with parent education and mental health services to both prevent and treat child abuse. CPI provides leadership in community education and advocacy for children by coordinating Prevent Child Abuse-Sonoma County. Every April, Prevent Child Abuse-Sonoma County launches the Blue Ribbon Campaign focused on creating awareness around the issue of child abuse.

Although child abuse happens regardless of family income, the stress and sense of hopelessness related to poverty, unemployment and other socioeconomic disadvantages place a child at high risk for abuse. Research also suggests that parents who have unrealistic expectations about their own children, have poor parenting skills and/or have a history of being abused as children are more likely to abuse their children.

Studies show that children who suffer abuse are at greater risk for experiencing low self-esteem, a lack of self-control, higher levels of aggression and violence, academic and vocational problems, depression, alcoholism, interpersonal problems and increased likelihood of abusing their own children.

It is important to note, however, that large bodies of research clearly demonstrate that parent education is effective in preventing and intervening with child abuse and neglect.

We see inspiring examples every day of parents who, with education, support and resources, go from having marginal parenting skills to adopting more positive parenting skills that allow their children to grow and thrive. It is the reason our tag line at California Parenting Institute states, "Happy childhoods last a lifetime." It is because of the ability to protect our children, strengthen our families and create healthier communities that I look forward to coming to work each and every day.

Robin Bowen is executive director of the California Parenting Institute.


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