● By Wendy Sipple
Photos by Dante Fontana
How could anyone harm a child? It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone hurting someone so small and vulnerable.
Children are the innocents of the world. They deserve to be cherished, loved, protected, encouraged, taught and supported. Unfortunately, even in our community child abuse happens. In 2008, nearly 32,000 cases of child abuse were reported in our region, and even though this number is high, studies show that only one-third of the cases are reported. That means almost 100,000 kids in the Sierra and Sacramento regions are suffering. That is truly unacceptable.
Abuse comes in many forms and abusers have many different faces; there are no stereotypes. Children can suffer from physical injury, pain, mental and emotional anguish, even death at the hands of a parent or guardian. The definition of abuse can range from striking a child to withholding food or medical help. However, Judee Daniels, director of development and community relations for the non-profit KidsFirst knows that child abuse does not have to happen. KidsFirst offers educational and mentoring programs, which help adults understand and recognize the signs of anger and frustration that lead to abuse. “The recession has imposed more stress on local families,” Daniels explains. “Over the past three years, the request for our services has increased by 66 percent, and doubled in the last 12 months,” she states.
“Child abuse is 100 percent preventable!” Daniels says. “Our programs help solve real-life challenges and achieve lasting results,” she continues. An astounding 96 percent of families referred to KidsFirst by Child Protective Services did not need another intervention from the agency. “Children are not little grownups,” Daniels explains. “Some adults have inappropriate expectations of behavior.” KidsFirst educational programs teach parents and caregivers that a temperamental two-year-old is not defying you...the child simply does not have the mental and emotional development to understand the adult’s needs.
The 19th Century sportsman Herbert Ward said, “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” Statistics show that an abused child can grow up to be an abuser, suffer from drug/alcohol addiction or become violent criminals. “Children model behavior,” Daniels says, “if not addressed, abuse can cycle through generations.” That is why it is imperative to stop abuse now. Luckily, today’s parents can turn to KidsFirst to get the tools to teach their children – tomorrow’s parents – that life can be lived without abuse.
KidsFirst, which has helped protect more than 50,000 kids for over 20 years, has many success stories. One mother contacted them when she knew she was near her breaking point. She and her six-year-old entered the Parent Child Interactive Therapy Program and in a matter of months, the temper-tantrum-throwing boy had turned around to an enthusiastic and pleasant child. The mom, now more confident in her parenting skills, is more than appreciative and says, “I have learned to understand my son and myself a lot better. Thank you for the tools, patience and practice.”
For more information or to get involved, visit kidsfirstnow.org.