Why is it we believe we can end child abuse?

About a month ago at our annual Blue Ribbon Luncheon, I shared our vision with the 600+ supporters and advocates who filled Grand Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Together, we not only raised more funds than ever ($750,000+) to support the work of the Prevention Center, but the energy around our mission of preventing child abuse and our goal of ending it in our city was palpable. It was a truly special day.

To all who joined us on May 12, thank you. To our chairs Wayne Osborne and Jill Woodman, and to our auction hosts David Glickman and Richard Pio Roda, thank you. To our keynote, Wes Moore your words will forever inspire me and call me to not just compassion but action — thank you. To each and every one of you, thank you for joining us in this work.

For those who were not able to be in the room with us, I would like to share with you my remarks — why it is I believe we can end child abuse. You can read them right here.

***

Why is it we believe we can end child abuse?  Not simply prevent it. We believe we can actually end it. And, we can do it in two generations — that’s fifty years.

Over these past several luncheons, I’ve shared with you the what and the how of our work: the programs we run, the hours we put in. But, it’s this belief — that we can end child abuse — that sets us apart. This is why we do our work.

We believe that child abuse is not an intractable problem. It’s not inevitable. It is a problem yes, a serious one, with devastating consequences. But, it’s a problem we know how to solve.

At the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, we know that strong families, supported by a strong and caring community, will not abuse their children. We strengthen families, first and foremost, by listening, by teaching, and by partnering with others to provide a continuous community of support.

We are always here. We will never turn away.

***

About eight months ago, I started volunteering on our TALK Line. I wanted to connect more closely with the families we serve. It’s been an incredible and profound experience. I’d like to share just one story from my time on the Line: one that gives me hope and conviction that we are making progress towards the audacious goal of ending child abuse.

Several weeks ago, I got a call from a man named Adam. He was crying and distraught, I could hear his voice trembling. I had known of Adam. He was receiving services in our family support center. Adam’s father struggled with alcohol addiction, and would often become violent. He would take out his anger on Adam and his older sister Stephanie when they were both younger.

When Adam grew up, he promised himself to be a better dad than his own. Almost immediately after Adam’s own son was born, he asked his pediatrician for help and got our number. Adam has been coming to our parenting classes and getting support ever since.

He doesn’t want to be his father. He desperately wants to create a world for his own son that is safe and sound — Adam’s sister Stephanie has taken a different path.

Just a few weeks before my conversation with Adam, he was hanging out with Stephanie and her little boy. Adam watched his sister push the little boy too hard, squeeze his arm and pinch him, calling him “ugly.”

Seeing his nephew break down crying, brought back painful memories of his own childhood. Adam had this feeling this wasn’t the first time. Adam tried talking to Stephanie, but that blew up. He tried talking with their mom, but she said to let it go. Adam couldn’t. His sister was acting just like their father, and he needed to protect his nephew.

Adam called child protective services. He didn’t want to report on his sister. But, he couldn’t just do nothing. Child protective services visited Stephanie’s family and determined that her little boy was safe, but the family was under so much stress and really needed support so it wouldn’t escalate. They referred Stephanie’s family directly to our resource center for help.

Adam called the TALK Line the day that I answered, to tell this story. He called for reassurance that everything was going to be okay; that he did the right thing. I listened and I recognized for him the courage it took to protect his nephew, and, ultimately, his sister.

We need more Adam’s in this world. When people like him speak up, children are safer, and generational cycles of violence are disrupted. My time on the TALK Line has taught me to be a better listener; a better mom; a better friend; a better leader in our organization.

Every time, I’m on the TALK Line I understand more deeply that parenting is hard. Every time, I understand that we, as parents — parents are doing their very best to keep kids safe. Far too many parents and caregivers are facing enormous obstacles and the injustices of past trauma, domestic violence, poverty, and discrimination. And, every time, my conviction that we can end child abuse grows stronger.

***

Far too many children in our community, in our country, are victims. In the Bay Area alone, there were more than 61,000 reports of child abuse last year.  That’s one report every 10 minutes.

Gabriella is one of those children. She is 12 and lives here in San Francisco. As early as her sixth birthday, both her parents were sexually molesting her. Her father told her it was their family secret. Her mother said her never to tell.

About a year ago, however, our safety educator Ms. Brianna visited Gabriella’s class. Gabriella learned about safe and unsafe touching. She learned about the six essential words we teach in our lessons to keep kids safe: say no, get away, and tell someone.

After class, Gabriella told Ms. Brianna what had been happening at home. Ms. Brianna listened and, most importantly, told Gabriella that it wasn’t her fault. She did nothing wrong. Ms. Brianna then worked with the school’s social worker and called child protective services so that Gabriella would be safe and cared for.

When kids are hurt — when Gabriella is hurt — we all are hurt. Child abuse — to Gabriella and the thousands of victims who were hurt last year alone — will cost the Bay Area more than $2.2 billion dollars through their lives for child welfare, special education, incarceration, health care, and loss of productivity. That same amount could send more than 20,000 kids to college.

As the result of her abuse, Gabriella is more likely to fail in school or need extra support; she’s more likely to lead a risky life and be arrested; she’s more likely to become homeless; she is more likely to struggle in holding down a job and be a less productive member of our society. Her life expectancy is shorter than the other kids in her class.

And, while we know about Gabriella, the sad truth is, there are so many victims we don’t know about — victims we’ll never know about.

***

So, why is it that we know that we can end child abuse?

Because, every day, we do. Every day, we get one step closer. Every day, we empower kids, like Gabriella, by going into schools and teaching them how to reach out for help. Every day, we teach adults like Ms. Brianna and the school’s social worker to listen, identify the signs of abuse, and report it. Every day, we help families like Adam’s grow stronger, ensuring that they have the emotional tools, basic resources, parenting knowledge, and support networks to build a safer future.

And, every day, we are getting better at what we do. We use data as our guide, reviewing consistently our progress, understanding and replicating our successes, and holding ourselves accountable to always improve. We know we must do more.

That’s why we partner with others — including the City and County of San Francisco — to support our schools, create safe and stable housing, foster an effective child abuse response system, and advocate for policies that truly put kids first.

Every day. We are Strengthening Families. And, Ending Child Abuse.

Thank you for being here, being with us, and joining in this goal.

***

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