Opinion: With Compassion and Proven Solutions, We Can Stop Child Abuse

Children place pinwheels in recognition of Child Abuse Awareness Month at a preschool facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara. Air Force photo

Every year, we recognize April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. While the observance may have ended, our journey to take a stand for this cause has not. No matter the time of year, it is essential for us to acknowledge community programs that help prevent child maltreatment.

At Home Start, we see the effects of family violence firsthand each day. In the United States, a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. It is not just a national issue. During the 2021 fiscal year, San Diego County reported ​​that 26,270 children were referred with allegations of abuse or neglect.

Home Start is dedicated to preventing child abuse one family at a time by addressing individual self-sufficiency and emotional needs. Our vision is for every child to have a safe, stable, and nurturing home. This should not be a hard feat, .however, there are too many statistics in our county that tell us otherwise.

In San Diego, 36,042 abuse and neglect reports were made to the Health and Human Services hotline during the last fiscal year, a number that represents about 62,000 children. Fifty-nine percent of these children were 10 years old or younger.

When children are devastated by such trauma, so is the future of our world. Immediate effects may be low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, poor grades, and premature aging.

Long-term effects can include psychological problems, physical health concerns, and higher rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence.

Domestic violence also makes it difficult for children to build relationships and trust those who are close to them. Additionally, it can affect future generations through intergenerational trauma. With over 16,552 families reporting domestic violence in San Diego, it is possible that some of these cases could be a result of a cycle of abuse.

Often, the roots of child trauma stem from other social situations — poverty, parental substance abuse, lack of affordable housing and unemployment. Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau reports continue to show that poverty disproportionately affects women and single mothers.

Many of these women are survivors of domestic violence, often forced to flee these relationships by leaving home and being met with unaffordable or unsafe housing options. The intersection of poverty and domestic violence is a high-risk factor for child abuse, and must remain part of a much bigger conversation and fight.

This does not suggest that keeping children away from crisis is unattainable.  Last year, Home Start served more than 17,000 San Diegans in need of services. Our home-based, community-based, and tele-health programs connect parents with professionals to ensure that families have knowledge and education to ensure child safety and well-being.

Each of us can participate in the effort to prevent child abuse. It can be difficult to get involved in a situation where you see a child get physically hurt or witness their well-being threatened. You can help prevent childhood trauma by stepping in when you find it safe and necessary, or by reporting the incident to authorities. Promoting healthy and positive parenting starts in our neighborhoods.

The many statistics and stories only stress the importance of neighborly vigilance and professional support. This year, Home Start reached the 50-year milestone of services to the community. Through our dedication to strengthening families and their communities, we can ensure the safety and resiliency of children.

The well-being of our children is essential for the future of our community. We all have a role in making sure our neighbors, friends, and families are safe and have the opportunity to thrive. The more we work together to protect them and set them up for success, the closer we get to a healthy future for local children.

Together, with compassion and proven solutions, we can help them break free from the cycles of poverty, abuse, homelessness and neglect.

Laura Tancredi-Baese is chief executive officer of Home Start, a nonprofit child abuse prevention, and treatment agency has strengthened San Diego’s families and communities since 1972.