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Child abuse cases drop in San Francisco

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Families and service providers gathered at the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate a recent reduction in child abuse cases and called for a continued focus and city resources for prevention services. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Education and funding efforts focused on preventing and responding to child abuse have resulted in what service providers and city leaders on Tuesday called a “significant” decrease in verified cases in San Francisco.

Over the past 15 years, child welfare advocates have recorded an overall 67 percent reduction in substantiated cases of child abuse in The City.

“The number of kids who are victims to child abuse is actually decreasing compared to the overall population,” said Katie Albright, executive director of the children’s advocacy organization Safe & Sound, at a City Hall press conference held to draw attention to the issue.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and city leaders and services providers agreed that resources and funding must be focused on the issue to ensure a continued downward trend in child abuse cases.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Board of Education President Hydra Mendoza McDonnell announced that the voter mandated Our Children our Families Council is expected to vote on a proposal setting a new goal for The City of reducing the rate of verified child abuse cases from 5.5 to 3.0 for every 1,000 people by 2022.

“It’s a significant goal seeking a 45 percent reduction in cases of abuse in five years,” said Mendoza McDonell, adding that this is “the right goal for our city.”

“Far too many [children] continue to be neglected and hurt and lack the resources and supports they need to thrive,” she said.

Safe & Sound has a stated goal of completely ending child abuse locally within two generations — or over the next 50 years.

Albright estimated that some 159,000 children currently live in The City. According to data released this month by the California Child Welfare Indicators Project, a total of 5,114 reports of child abuse were tracked in San Francisco from January to December of 2017.

Of those reports, 509 were substantiated, down from 638 in the year before.

With the exception of slight spikes in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, verified child abuse cases have dropped overall since 2003.

A total of about 25 family-focused resource centers across The City are a large component of successful prevention efforts, according to Albright.

“They are at the front line of preventing child abuse,” she said. “We are helping families [by] ensuring they have concrete support, like [access] to food, clothing and shelter.”

Still, child abuse remains a rampant issue in many communities. Because a large number of incidents of child abuse go unreported, advocates estimate that the actual number of victims in San Francisco is closer to 14,600.

“It is not uncommon that we call Child Protective Services at least once a month,” said Heather Morado, executive director of the Mission District-based Holy Family Day Home. “It’s one time too many.”

Maroda said that much of her organization’s prevention work is centered around breaking cycles of abuse and educating parents on “how to engage with their children,” but added that resources are not sufficient to meet the need.

“It really does come from educating folks on what abuse is, but there are not enough resources in the City for that,” she said.

Sylvia Deporto, of the San Francisco Human Services Agency, said that child abuse is a “public health issue” in San Francisco, and added that some 650 children locally remain in foster care, a system that has “one of the highest rates of abuse in the Bay Area.”

Recent data has pegged the economic impact of child abuse at $226.5 million in 2017, a number that reflects the cost accrued over the victim’s lifetime.

Additional investments must be made in culture and language-sensitive services in order to prevent family violence, according to Gloria Tan, executive director of the Chinatown-based Gum Moon Asian Women’s Resource Center.

Pointing to more than a dozen families supported by Gum Moon who attended the press conference, Tan said that more than half are supported by ”grandparents caring for the young ones.”

“Immigrant families deal with a higher level of stress because of their language capacities and their financial situations,” said Tan. “Very often both parents have to work and the job of parenting is left to grandparents. They deal with not understanding the school system, and some of our families also resort to gambling [which] can lead to family violence.”

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