Mandatory reporting of child abuse/neglect:California just got serious
November 6, 2012: PennState's lasting legacy to the world will not be football victories: it will be a heightened sensitivity to the responsibilities adults have to protect children they oversee in the course of their work.
In San Jose yesterday,a jury found an elementary school principal, Lyn Vijayendran, at left, guilty of the "extremely rare charge of failing to report suspected sexual abuse to authorities," according to a story in today's San Jose MercuryNews. The only other case brought before a California judge in twenty years "involved allegations....that the head of Hillbrook School in Los Gatos failed to report a bruise on the face of a student. A judge ultimately dismissed the case...." Vijayendran was the principal of O.B. Whaley Elementary School in San Jose's Evergreen School District in October 2011, when an 8-year-old girl reported explicitly on an alleged sexual act performed on her by a teacher. The principal, who took extensive notes on the student's report, consulted the district director of human resources, who told her to question the teacher. The teacher told her "he called the girl into the classroom to prepare a lesson on Helen Keller..." Vijayendran took the matter no further. Three months later, a second child reported being molested in a similar fashion by the same teacher. (The teacher is now in jail, charged with five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14; if convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 75 years to life.)
In the end, the strongest evidence against the principal were her own notes from interviewing the child. The girl told the principal that Chandler blindfolded her in a room with no one else there, made her lie down on the classroom floor [and forced her to perform oral sex].
The implications of this verdict (the principal received two years probation and was ordered to do 100 hours of community service) are "a relief to child-abuse experts...Margaret Petros, a commissioner on the Child Abuse Council of Santa Clara County, [sald] "This verdict is important for all mandated reporters to heed. There are so many who don't take it seriously."
clear definitions of "mandated reporters" -- there are 40 specific categories (including clergy and people who are "custodian[s] of records of a clergy member) -- are listed in Section 11165.7, which includes the following warning:
School districts that do not train their employees specified in subdivision
- In the duties of mandated reporters under the child abuse reporting laws shall report to the State Department of Education the reasons why this training is not provided.
- Unless otherwise specifically provided, the absence of training shall not excuse a mandated reporter from the duties imposed by this article.
Spanking Linked to Mental Illness, Says StudySarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger | Parenting – Mon, Jul 2, 2012 1:59 PM EDTSpanking and mental illnessAlthough the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages spanking, at least half of parents admit to physically punishing their children. Some research suggests that as many as 70-90 percent of mothers have resorted to spanking at one time or another. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics may cause parents to think more carefully before laying a hand on their little ones.
Researchers examined data from more than 34,000 adults and found that being spanked significantly increased the risk of developing mental health issues as adults. According to their results, corporal punishment is associated with mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, as well as personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse. They estimate that as much as 7 percent of adult mental illness may be attributable to childhood physical punishment, including slapping, shoving, grabbing, and hitting. The study reports that spanking ups the risk of major depression by 41 percent, alcohol and drug abuse by 59 percent, and mania by 93 percent, among other findings.
"We're not talking about just a tap on the bum," study author Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, explained in a statement. "We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children." However, the analysis excluded individuals who reported more severe maltreatment such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence.
"It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age," said Afifi. Researchers concluded, "It is important for pediatricians and other healthcare providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders."
The physical punishment of children is legal in the United States, although it is banned in at least 24 other countries. It's worth noting that 19 states also allow corporal punishment in schools. Earlier studies have linked spanking toddlers to increased aggression in older children. Spare the rod, spare the child?
Despite the research, do you think spanking is okay? Please let us know in the comments below.
Moraga School District secret: Principal failed to report student abuse letter
Posted: 05/25/2012 01:17:38 PM PDT
Updated: 05/26/2012 04:17:41 AM PDT
In Walnut Creek, Calif., on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, a written entry in Kristen Cunnane's year...
For 16 years, the Moraga School District has kept a terrible secret: the truth about its role in a sensational teacher sex abuse scandal.
The scandal led to the suicide of a popular teacher in 1996 as allegations about his abuse of students emerged. Now an investigation by this newspaper reveals that school administrators knew of some allegations against teacher Dan Witters at least two years earlier, and that Witters' principal at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School repeatedly violated his legal obligations to inform law enforcement authorities.
District officials learned of Principal Bill Walters' failure to report in two internal memos, but he is a principal in the district to this day, working at Los Perales Elementary School. He announced his retirement two months ago, just weeks after the district turned over to reporters the records of that internal investigation.
While declining to address the Walters situation, current district Superintendent Bruce Burns said reporting procedures have been significantly strengthened.
But Kristen Cunnane, who was sexually abused by another teacher at Joaquin Moraga in the mid- to late 1990s, said the district's inaction at the time cannot be excused. Cunnane's abuser, Julie Correa, knew early on of the allegations against Witters and was aware that administrators were looking the other way, Cunnane said.
"I feel like they were creating an environment that was allowing for (the abuse), and
Julie was testing the waters and seeing what she could get away with," Cunnane said. "Witters was the first step in everything."
It was June 1994 when Walters received a high school girl's letter saying Witters had molested her four years earlier at Joaquin Moraga. The girl wanted Walters to take action "to prevent such an incident from occurring again," according to the letter. But Walters moved gingerly.
In a Nov. 24, 1996, memo to then-Superintendent John Cooley, Walters explained that he tried to call Witters at home, but did not reach him. Because the school year had just ended, he decided to take up the matter with Witters after summer vacation. When that conversation finally took place, Witters denied the allegation.
"As (the student) stated that she was uncertain what she wanted to be a result of her letter, I did not pursue the issue," Walters wrote. He also said he gave Witters a copy of the letter, with the student's name on it.
Under California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in such a setting must be reported to law enforcement. One youth law expert said Walters broke two misdemeanor laws, first by failing to disclose a "cut-and-dried case" of child abuse and second by revealing the accuser's identity to Witters.
William Grimm, senior attorney with the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, said that because pedophiles rarely strike only once, reporting suspected molestations immediately is vital. But "mandated reporters" are rarely prosecuted for not doing so, he added.
"I wonder if Mr. Walters thinks back and considers how many other victims may have been victimized in the meantime since he didn't report it," Grimm said.
The 1994 letter was the first of at least eight complaints lodged by students and a parent over a two-year period regarding Witters' behavior, ranging from sexual molestation to making racist comments and degrading students with profanity, this newspaper's investigation found. Despite the warnings, Witters continued to instruct at the school until 1996, allegedly molesting at least two other students.
Particularly painful for Cunnane was a March 16, 1995, letter Correa, her abuser, wrote to Walters, detailing inappropriate behavior by Witters. Correa reported witnessing Witters kissing a Joaquin Moraga student on the cheek, and another girl told Correa that Witters whispered in her ear, licked it, and kissed her cheek. A third told Correa that Witters patted her on the butt.
In a second memo to the superintendent, Walters said he could not remember doing anything in response.
"I cannot remember if I spoke to (Witters) about this, and I have no documentation regarding this incident other than the note from (Correa)," Walters wrote.
Though Correa's note was not as sexually explicit as the 1994 letter, Grimm said its allegations also should have been reported to police, by both Correa and Walters. The investigative files do not indicate if the district took action against Walters for his failures.
By fall 1996, at least six girls had come forward, two with accusations of significant sexual abuse. A short time later, Witters' car was found at the bottom of a cliff. Walters was teaching at Joaquin Moraga by then on a voluntary leave of absence from his principal's duties, but the principal and assistant principal quickly reported the new allegations to Child Protective Services. Moraga police did not pursue an investigation because Witters had killed himself.
The allegations against Witters and his suicide whipped Moraga into a frenzy, with parents demanding change. The school board posthumously fired Witters, and "minor revisions" to policies on sexual harassment, handling of district records and other internal controls were announced in March 1997. By November 1997, the district sent Moraga police a detailed summary and timeline of the Witters abuse allegations; however, there was no mention of the 1994 or 1995 abuse claims.
Burns said policies have gotten stronger and training more intense and frequent since then. Every new employee is fingerprinted and must sign a document acknowledging their obligations as a mandated reporter. However, Grimm said, those requirements are "not at all unusual."
The district has had no reported molesters since Correa, Burns said.
Burns wouldn't say whether Walters' failures at Joaquin Moraga played a part in his pending departure. "It's a confidential personnel matter, but I can tell you that he's devoted 45 years of service to education."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684.
Frequently asked questions
WHAT IS THE LAW?
The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, which is part of the California Penal Code, is a set of laws passed in 1974. Over the years, numerous amendments have expanded the definition of child abuse and who must report.
WHAT IS A MANDATED REPORTER?
A mandated reporter is someone who encounters children through their employment. He or she is required by the state to report any known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the county child welfare department or a law enforcement agency.
HOW MUCH PROOF IS NEEDED TO REPORT?
No proof of abuse or neglect is needed, only "reasonable suspicion" that child abuse or neglect may have occurred. Reporters should not investigate; that is the job of law enforcement and/or the county child welfare department. A report must be sent within 36 hours and delayed reporting may hinder investigation by the appropriate agencies.
IS INFORMING A SUPERVISOR SUFFICIENT?
No. Telling a supervisor does not meet the mandated reporting requirement.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A REPORT IS NOT MADE?
Legally mandated reporters can be criminally liable for failing to report suspected abuse or neglect. The penalty for this misdemeanor is up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. Mandated reporters can also be subject to a lawsuit and found liable for damages, especially if the child-victim or another child is further victimized because of the failure to report.
Source: California Department of Social Services
Case Shined First Light on Abuse of Children
HOWARD MARKEL, M.D. Published: December 14, 2009
“Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day,” the little girl testified. “She used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide.
“I have now on my head two black-and-blue marks which were made by Mamma with the whip, and a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors in Mamma’s hand; she struck me with the scissors and cut me. ... I never dared speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped.”
If the words sound depressingly familiar, it is because they could have come from any number of recent news accounts — or, for that matter, popular entertainment, like the recently opened movie “Precious,” which depicts the emotional and sexual abuse of a Harlem girl.
In fact, though, the quotation is from the 1874 case of Mary Ellen McCormack, below, a self-possessed 10-year-old who lived on West 41st Street, in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. It was Mary Ellen who finally put a human face on child abuse — and prompted a reformers’ crusade to prevent it and to protect its victims, an effort that continues to this day.
Tellingly, the case was brought by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1874, there were no laws protecting children from physical abuse from their parents. It was an era of “spare the rod and spoil the child,” and parents routinely meted out painful and damaging punishment without comment or penalty.
Mary Ellen had been orphaned as a baby. Her father, Thomas Wilson, was a Union soldier who died in the Second Battle of Cold Harbor, in Virginia. Her mother, Frances, boarded the baby with a woman living on Mulberry Bend, on the Lower East Side, while working double shifts as a laundress at the St. Nicholas Hotel.
This arrangement cost $2 a week, consuming her entire widow’s pension. When she lost her job, she could no longer afford to care for her daughter and was forced to send her to the city orphanage on Blackwells Island.
A few years later, Mary Ellen was adopted by a Manhattan couple, Thomas and Mary McCormack. But Thomas died soon after the adoption, and his widow married Francis Connolly. Unhappy and overburdened, the adoptive mother took to physically abusing Mary Ellen.
Sometime in late 1873, the severely battered and neglected child attracted the attention of her neighbors. They complained to the Department of Public Charities and Correction, which administered the city’s almshouse, workhouse, insane asylums, orphanages, jails and public hospitals. Even the hard-boiled investigator assigned to Mary Ellen’s case, Etta Angell Wheeler, was shocked and became inspired to do something.
Frustrated by the lack of child-protection laws, Wheeler approached the A.S.P.C.A. It proved to be a shrewd move. Mary Ellen’s plight captured the imagination of the society’s founder, Henry Bergh, who saw the girl — like the horses he routinely saved from violent stable owners — as a vulnerable member of the animal kingdom needing the protection of the state.
Bergh recruited a prominent lawyer, Elbridge Gerry (grandson of the politician who gave his name to gerrymandering), who took the case to the New York State Supreme Court. Applying a novel use of habeas corpus, Gerry argued there was good reason to believe that Mary Ellen would be subjected to irreparable harm unless she was removed from her home.
Judge Abraham R. Lawrence ordered the child brought into the courtroom. Her heart-wrenching testimony was featured in The New York Times the next day, April 10, 1874, under the subheading “Inhuman Treatment of a Little Waif.”
“She is a bright little girl,” the article said, “with features indicating unusual mental capacity, but with a careworn, stunted and prematurely old look. Her apparent condition of health, as well as her scanty wardrobe, indicated that no change of custody or condition could be much for the worse.”
Ms. Connolly was charged and found guilty of several counts of assault and battery. Mary Ellen never returned to her adoptive home, but her temporary placement in a home for delinquent teenagers was not much of an improvement. In a lifesaving act of kindness, Etta Wheeler, her mother and her sister volunteered to raise Mary Ellen in bucolic North Chili, N.Y., outside Rochester.
At 24, Mary Ellen married Louis Schutt. The couple had two children of their own, along with three children of Schutt’s from a previous marriage, and Mary Ellen passed on her good fortune by adopting an orphan girl. By all accounts, she was a superb and caring mother. She died in 1956, at 92.
Mary Ellen’s case led Bergh, Gerry and the philanthropist John D. Wright to found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in December 1874. It was believed to be the first child protective agency in the world.
In the years since, the society has helped rescue thousands of battered children, created shelters to care for them and, working with similar groups and agencies in cities across the nation, instituted laws that punish abusive parents.
Gone are the days when beasts of burden enjoyed more legal protection than children. In recent years, a broad spectrum of programs, diagnostic and reporting protocols, safe houses and legal protections have been developed to protect physically or sexually abused children.
But every day, at least three children die in the United States as a result of parental mistreatment. Many more remain out of sight and in harm’s way. Mary Ellen’s story reminds us of a simple equation: How much our society values its children can be measured by how well they are treated and protected.
Dr. Howard Markel is a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and the history of medicine at the University of Michigan.
Share the Spirit: Concord agency takes pain out of being a kid
Posted: 12/31/2011 08:10:15 PM PST
Updated: 01/02/2012 09:57:09 PM PST
Rose Marie Wallace, right, a staff member at the Child Abuse Prevention Council, visits
In the worst times, Claudia Gonzalez's bedroom doubled as a cave. Not much bigger than four office cubicles pushed together, the small space in the Concord apartment served as Gonzalez's sanctuary, her living quarters and her escape.
She left Jalisco, Mexico, in 2000, with her boyfriend, "because I wanted a better life," and they settled in Concord. By 2001, she was pregnant with her first daughter. She didn't speak English. She didn't know her neighbors. She barely saw her boyfriend.
So the bedroom became home. For two years, she said, she never left it.
"And without support," she said, "I'd still be in there."
That support came largely from the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, part of Bay Area News Group's annual Share the Spirit campaign.
Today, Gonzalez, 29, is a student at Diablo Valley College, studying childhood development. Her English is not as steady as she'd like it to be, but she is fluent enough to hold a steady conversation with someone not well-versed in Spanish.
Gonzalez is raising three children -- daughters Ariadna, 10, and Amber, 6 months; and son, Jordy, 4 -- with their father, and she says her relationships with all of them are stronger than ever.
She also said that without the Child Abuse Prevention Council, her story would be a far darker tale.
"Mainly, I just have to say thank you because the program has helped change me as a person, as a mother and as a spouse," she
said. "They gave me support and taught me skills, and that's one of the reasons why I'm in school now, so that I can teach those skills to others."
The Concord-based agency provides safety net programs for at-risk families in a bid to reduce neglect and abuse, and executive director Carol Carrillo said more than 700 children and their families were educated last year.
"Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'Today, I'm going to abuse my kid. Today, I'm going to be a bad parent,' " Carrillo said. "But what you have are patterns of behavior that are established and sometimes can last generations, and those are the cycles that need to be broken.
"You show people another way and give them the skills and the support they need."
The Child Abuse Prevention Council provided 6,000 pieces of parenting and resources information to families last year, Carrillo said, from fliers to pamphlets to poster contests at public schools. The agency uses 2,588 teachers, child care providers, social workers and health care providers to work with children and parents, Carrillo said.
The goal, Carrillo said, is to equip families with the skills to see what child abuse is, the courage to speak up about it when they see it and the power to tackle it elsewhere.
"Our program teaches parents alternative ways of dealing with things," said Maggie Velasco, the agency's program director. "The goal is that through educational tools, we strengthen the whole family."
Gonzalez will vouch for it. She said she no longer engages in battles with Ariadna over how to deal with the pressures Ariadna says she feels to excel in school. Nor does Gonzalez feel as overwhelmed about the addition of Amber, whose arrival in June meant more demands and less sleep for mom.
"Happier" is how Ariadna puts the family dynamic, while smiling. "Better."
"The goal is to build mutual respect between parent and child," said Rose Marie Wallace, a family support specialist. "As parents, we often think that because we know what's best, that we also know their feelings. We try to develop empathy between the children and adults. Quite often, we don't treat them as our equals, and that's where the communication barrier occurs."
And when the barrier is removed, she said, the result can be drastic.
"Mainly," Gonzalez said, "my behavior is different than before. Because my behavior is different, the behavior for my kids is different. This is what the program has taught us. There are other ways than you learned or are used to. Again, all I can say to them is thank you."
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4780 and follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/3rdERH.
share the spirit
The Share the Spirit campaign, sponsored by Bay Area News Group, benefits nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Readers who wish to help can clip the coupon accompanying this story and send it to the address printed on it. The Volunteer Center of the East Bay administers the fund. Readers with questions and corporations interested in making large contributions may contact the Volunteer Center at 925-472-5760.
CoCo social worker: Penn State child abuse allegations shed light on difficult issue
By Jonathan Morales
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 12/01/2011 10:37:22 AM PST
Updated: 12/01/2011 10:37:23 AM PST
For Carol Carrillo, if there's a silver lining to the horrifying allegations of child abuse at Pennsylvania State University, it's that people are now talking about a difficult issue.
"It raised the awareness of child sexual abuse, and that's pretty important awareness," said Carrillo, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County. "With child abuse, most people think that it doesn't happen in their communities, it doesn't happen in their families, it happens out there somewhere else, when indeed it crosses all cultural, racial, economic boundaries."
The Child Abuse Prevention Council, which gets funding from the county and state and through private donations, works with schools and other organizations throughout the county to provide educational outreach, child safety information and training for those state law designates as required to report suspected child abuse.
"Pretty much where parents gather, that's where we like to be," Carrillo said. She hopes the Penn State situation will shine light on the issue of child abuse and make people aware of local resources to help prevent and respond to it.
More than 11,000 children were affected by child abuse in 2010, according to data from Contra Costa Children and Family Services. Of those, 1,063 were victims of sexual abuse. Carrillo says the numbers are likely higher in reality because much abuse goes unreported.
California state law requires anyone who comes into contact with children during the course of their job to report suspected abuse to Child Protection Services or the police. That group includes teachers and school employees, law enforcement officials, social workers, physicians and clergy.
"I don't go to my supervisor and say, 'Johnny came to school today and I suspect that something might be happening at home and I'm suspecting that he might not be safe and I'm going to report it,'" Carrillo said. "That principal cannot say, 'don't worry about it, I'll take care of it.' "
Pennsylvania, however, allows those who work with children who suspect abuse to report it to their supervisor, upon whom the obligation to contact authorities then falls. That's what former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno did in 2002 when he was told former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had molested a boy on campus. Paterno has not been charged with a crime, but two administrators have been charged with lying to a grand jury.
Sandusky has been charged with molesting eight boys over several years but maintains his innocence. Penn State officials have drawn fire for not doing more to stop the alleged abuse.
"It was, 'We'll deal with it within our own community,' " Carrillo said. "They were protecting the adults in that situation and not the children, and they were protecting the reputation of the college."
A pair of California state lawmakers introduced legislation last week aimed at preventing another Penn State-like situation. One bill would hold public and private university coaches responsible for reporting sexual abuse; the other would strip nonprofit organizations -- Sandusky founded a nonprofit, Second Mile Foundation, for at-risk youths -- of their tax-exempt status if they are caught hiding, fostering or failing to report child sexual abuse.
Carrillo favors broadening California laws to require more people to report suspected abuse.
"Why not? Why can't we all protect children?" she said. "Why can't we all be required to protect children and to be involved in children's' lives."
"It's important that we raise healthy, emotionally, physically healthy children, because they are our future. I know I want healthy children growing up to be healthy, productive adults in our society."
To learn more about the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, visit www.capc-coco.org.
Child Death Review Team Year End Report
Political Blotter: Boxer bills would require everyone to report child abuse
Posted: 11/21/2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Updated: 11/21/2011 06:29:31 AM PST
This is a sampling from Bay Area News Group's Political Blotter blog. Read more and post comments at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.
This means you, Mike McQueary.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., says she'll introduce a pair of bills tomorrow that will protect children from abuse by strengthening federal and state reporting requirements so abuse is reported to local law enforcement or a child protective agency.
"To protect our children from violence and abuse, anyone who sees or knows about a crime against a child must report it to local authorities. Right now, the federal government and 32 states have no such requirement in law," Boxer said in her news release.
Boxer's bills -- the State Child Protection Act and the Federal Child Protection Act -- require that anyone who witnesses or has reasonable suspicion of a crime against a child must report it to local law enforcement or a child protective agency. Under the State Child Protection Act, states that fail to comply would lose some of their federal justice assistance grants. The Federal Child Protection Act would require all persons on federal property to report child abuse.
California does not have comprehensive reporting requirements for child abuse, Boxer noted.
McQueary, a Penn State assistant football coach, apparently did not contact police after witnessing
the alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in an athletic facility shower in 2002.
: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., today introduced a similar bill requiring all states to pass and enforce a law requiring all adults to report instances of known or suspected child abuse; Boxer is the bill's co-sponsor. The main difference between Boxer's bill and Casey's bill is the specific funding the federal government would withhold from states that don't comply: Boxer's threatens to revoke part of a state's Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding from the Justice Department, while Casey's would hold back funding through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act administered by the Health and Human Services Department.
-- Josh Richman
By BESSEL A. van der KOLK
Published: May 10, 2011
AS a young psychiatrist, I worked with Vietnam War combat veterans and confronted the astonishing lack of resources to help these men and women who had sacrificed so much for their country. Three decades later, that situation has greatly improved. First, we named the problem — post-traumatic stress disorder — and then in 1989 Congress created the National Center for PTSD to help suffering veterans.
Their plight has also led to a greater recognition of the impact of violence on children. For every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of depression or PTSD, there are around 10 children in the United States who are traumatized by exposure to family violence, sexual abuse, neglect and assault, with consequences comparable to those of adult exposure to war-zone violence. We have made progress in treating these children, but that progress is threatened by a drastic budget cut proposed by the White House.
Rather than being subjected to bullets and bombs, children are victimized by those who are meant to care for them. These are children like a 3-year-old girl in Anchorage who was found by a police officer in her crib, hungry, underweight and covered in her own feces; an 11-year-old boy in New York City who has had violent outbursts since he was sexually molested, and whose terror of being alone makes him a subject of ridicule by his classmates; or a 14-year-old girl in Boston who set fire to a church and repeatedly attempted suicide after being beaten at home. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that the annual cost of childhood maltreatment like this is $103.8 billion.
Inspired by the work of the National Center for PTSD, Congress authorized the establishment of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in 2001 to evaluate and develop treatments for traumatized children nationwide, with a budget that is now $40 million — about the cost of keeping 40 soldiers fighting in Afghanistan for one year.
President Obama’s 2012 budget has proposed a 70 percent reduction in financing for the network. That would be devastating for these children. The network has knitted together 130 clinics and universities in 38 states that specialize in helping traumatized children and adolescents. It has allowed the members to develop treatment programs and to hire and educate the staff to run them, enabling 322,000 children nationwide to get treatment from July 2002 to September 2009.
According to the latest figures available, 2.9 million children were mistreated in 2006, many of whom manifested serious behavioral and psychological problems. The network has started to document how trauma affects developing brains differently from those of adults exposed to wartime violence.
It has also been evaluating what interventions are most effective for different groups of children. Two have been most thoroughly studied and found to be effective: cognitive behavioral therapy and treatments to help children regulate their emotions. Children who receive these treatments were shown to function substantially better afterward.
Most traumatized children now do not even receive a proper mental health assessment. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of them are numbed by powerful drugs that help control their “bad behavior,” but that don’t deal with the imprint of terror and helplessness on their minds and brains. Drugs can sedate, but they do not help children deal with trauma — in fact, they may prevent recovery by interfering with learning and the formation of relationships, essential preconditions for becoming functioning adults.
The proposed budget cut for the network would mean that it no longer can develop and test effective treatments for these children. This is unfortunate since we are just beginning to look at what treatments can produce the best outcomes, and to learn from the cases in which these treatments do not work.
Untreated, traumatized children become failing adults who populate our jails and overwhelm our human services agencies. Cutting the development of effective treatments will produce many years of increasing costs and unquantifiable human misery.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 11, 2011, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Post-Traumatic Childhood.
January 2008 Contra Costa Times article: County programs assist parents
The Orinda News Nov-2010 Conor News2
February 8, 2011
Assembly Member Susan Bonilla
State Capitol, Room 2188
Sacramento, Ca 94249-0011
Re: Opposition to Governor’s Use of First 5 State and Local Reserves
Dear Assembly Member Bonilla:
As a board member of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County I am writing to ask to reconsider the Governor’s proposal to using one billion in First 5 state and local reserves to fill gaps in the MediCal budget and 50% of future Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenues to fund state health programs. These reserves are monies saved by local First 5 commissions in anticipation of revenue declines. Most of these funds are encumbered for multi-year funding commitments while the remainder is committed to sustaining programs. By sweeping these reserves you are punishing the First 5 commissions for their strategic budgetary planning. You will also annihilate the ability of local First 5 commissions to support community-based organizations.
In Contra Costa County alone this would equate to a loss in its budget of over $12 million dollars with no reserves. Currently 80 percent of First 5 Contra Costa program contracts go to community-based organizations. Our First 5 families would see reductions or eliminations of programs including: preschool and early education, home visiting, literacy support, parent education, support of children with special needs, prenatal care, homeless services, substance recovery, early mental health, teen parent support and vital information on child abuse prevention and more. These are families that are already suffering as the result of continued cuts in social services over the last few years. With these proposed loss of services many families will no longer be able to sustain themselves.
This will be the fourth time Proposition 10 has faced the voters. Proposition 1D, in 2009, called for the diversion of 50% of the Proposition 10 funds into the state general fund for 5 years. It was defeated by an overwhelming 60% of voters. A special election to again divert these funds will again be a cost burden to the voters, one that is unlikely to be successful given the Governor’s proposal to seek 50% of the First 5 funds indefinitely. A one-year fix for MediCal will take funds that have been pegged for sustaining local programs for several years. This is not the answer.
A Concerned Community member
For information about current and upcoming news, please contact: Carol Carrillo, MSW
Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa
2120 Diamond Blvd., Suite 120 Concord, CA 94520
Fax (925) 798-0756