With the “Fight of the Century” between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather now over, the real fight of the century continues. There are 5200 reports of child abuse in San Francisco each year, and only a fraction of those receive the support they need with countless more going unreported. Raising a family is as personal as it gets, and not everyone shares the same beliefs or values on how that should be done making identifying abuse all the more challenging. But with further education and resources, abuse can be intervened upon and even prevented. Three organizations around San Francisco are leading the way in supporting the community in abuse education and prevention.
The San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center (SFCAPC), located in the Haight-Ashbury district, once home to the Summer of Love, helps families take the first steps to prevent emotional and physical abuse inflicted upon children. Since its inception in 1973, the SFCAPC is the largest and most prominent child abuse center in the city helping thousands of children a year. The SFCAPC educates the parents on social and emotional developments throughout a child’s life, leading to understanding versus frustration which can be a cause of abuse. Just like a fingerprint, no two children are the same, and their development varies. For some parents that reality is sometimes challenging, and can create emotional instability at home. Families can seek the support they need to have a home that is abuse free through one of the many programs and services provided.
SFCAPC also focuses on increasing other “protective factors” which are proven to prevent child abuse, in at-risk families. This focus allows SFCAPC to address many of the risk factors of child that can be prevented. By offering a social support system where families can get together and discuss the challenges they face, whether it is having an abusive spouse or confronting their own demons, they are exposed to a network of like minded individuals who suffer the same obstacles. “Talk Line” is a 24 hour phone service; anyone can call and speak to a volunteer to seek guidance through the stresses they are facing at home. The SFCPAC also offers family dinners where the families can come together and share a meal that gives them a sense of normalcy and stability in their lives.
It’s not only emotional or intellectual support SFCAPC provides: they also offer concrete solutions to real world problems. Stress that is taken out on the child often stems from the instability in the parent’s life. Furthermore, there is a high correlation between economic distress and child abuse. Parents in low-income households, struggling to provide the basic necessities, sometimes reach a breaking point and have difficulty caring for their children. SFCAPC connects families to services that provide basic needs, such as food, housing, job workshops, and employment opportunities, to help alleviate that stress. Recently, they’ve introduced “Integrated Family Services” whereby families living in San Francisco with a child of 12 years or younger can work one on one with staff members. Assistance can come from a therapist, a housing counselor, and a variety of workshops that give the family what they need to restore order in their home. This is a long term commitment, and the family graduates from the program once it is determined that they no longer need the service.
SFCAPC’s sister center, the Child Advocacy Center, located in the Bayview district of San Francisco, is where families come when children have been abused or exposed to violence. With the creation of the CAC, SFCAPC has created a strategic partnership with community members and city partners to prevent any further abuse, and to ensure that abused children and their families are supported through the investigation process with one, age-appropriate interview and connection to follow-up services. Before the CAC arrived there was a system gap, still experienced in many cities around the world. The CAC brings together the different entities that are involved in a child abuse investigation and those that address the child’s needs. The CAC houses offices for police, the District Attorney, doctors, social welfare, and forensic interviewers, which allows one streamlined interview with everyone participating, rather than multiple investigations that can be unnerving and traumatizing for a child.
The Child Advocacy Center more than 300 children come through their facility each year, though that number is a far cry from how many should be attended to. Another of the ways that SPCAC is helping families receive the support they need is not only by working with city and community partners, but also by educating the public about the signs of abuse. They have programs in schools, teaching safety education to the students and parents, and trains professionals working with children and other community members on how to recognize and report abuse. SPCAC also works with city and county agencies on policies and procedures related to child abuse.
Right in the heart of San Francisco lays the Tenderloin neighborhood, home to some of the most extreme economic disparities in the city. In 2008, a 6-year-old child heading to a neighborhood summer program was turned away and told to head to another program down the street because the program was full. The child instead went home while his parents were at work.
His disappearance for that day created panic among the parents and other adults in the neighborhood. In an area where drugs and crime are rampant, the concerned parents formed Safe Passage, a nonprofit organization that enlists community volunteers to stand on some of the toughest corners of San Francisco to ensure the safe passage of children from school to home every afternoon. The volunteers consist of parents and active community members, wearing brightly colored vests, signaling to the children and everyone else that this is a protected path. When they notice a child walking home alone, the adults will watch after the child, usually until the child arrives to their home or after-school program.
The volunteers at Safe Passage make it clear that they are not the police. The “Corner Captains” are not there to report drug deals or any other misgivings that are happening in the neighborhood. They are standing on some of the most dangerous corners of San Francisco for one reason, and one reason only: to ensure a child’s safety. Maybe surprisingly, many of the local drug traffickers are in full support of the program. Many of them are not there to harm kids, or have kids of their own, and are sympathetic to the cause. Since its inception in 2008 the program has grown to include a “yellow brick road” of painted yellow footsteps along the sidewalk giving visual markers of where the kids should walk. They have also increased the number of volunteers, averaging 6-8 daily, though still falling short of what is needed. Safe Passage is looking to provide Corner Captains three times a day five days a week, who look after the “walking school bus” where child service providers walk the kids the entire route from school to home. They are also looking to have more organizations and individuals involved on a regular basis. They are raising community awareness by providing a beacon at each corner, and creating a culture in which the safety of children comes first.
The fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather is behind us, and will soon be forgotten. What we cannot afford to forget the least vulnerable that are beside us every day. Child abuse and neglect is a problem that doesn’t just affect a single family, but an entire community. By relying on neighbors, families, and community organizations, and by educating each other on how to better protect our loved ones we can better protect our future and ourselves.
Yves-Langston Barthaud is the Founder and Executive Director of It’s Your District, a non-profit that connects non-profit organizations through communication and collaboration.