By VALERIA GONZÁLEZ | June 4, 2020 at 12:00 pm
In recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and May as National Foster Care Month, Canal Alliance spoke to Leslie Fields and Paul Booth from Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS) and Lucia Martel-Dow, Director of Immigration and Social Services at Canal Alliance about the work each agency does individually and in partnership to ensure the safety and protection of children in Marin.
Through this series of articles, we aim to bring more awareness to the issues of child abuse and neglect, foster care, and our collective work to ensure that Latino children and families have the resources they need to succeed and thrive. Information is also included about the need for Spanish-speaking foster parents/resource families and other ways that people can volunteer with CFS to support children and youth in our community.
Like many of the crucial services that Canal Alliance provides, child abuse and neglect prevention is a key aspect of our work with clients. As part of our mission to help Latino immigrants and their families break the generational cycle of poverty, we see first-hand how this issue can undermine the well-being of Latino families. Our child abuse and neglect prevention services, which are culturally and linguistically suitable for Latino children, youth, and their families, are a unique and much-needed resource in the community. Our main goal is to provide community-based, supportive services for children, and families with children, who are at risk of abuse or neglect.
Under Lucia’s leadership, case managers and behavioral health specialists on our Social Services team help individuals and families access resources to support their safety, health and wellness, and financial stability. Lucia also oversees our Immigration Legal Services team, which also supports the health and well-being of children and youth by focusing on offering representation and outreach to the immigrant community in Marin County.
Below, Lucia describes the specific programs and services that Canal Alliance offers to prevent child abuse and our efforts to help unaccompanied youth who live in our community.
At Canal Alliance, we like to work with families to identify and address issues early and in a preventative way so that the circumstances don’t get worse. Much of the work done by our Social Services department is preventative work. That includes things such as providing rental assistance, because if a family is not able to provide food and shelter, their children are being neglected. The overall goal is to create better socio-economic conditions so that children are not experiencing abuse or neglect. This is just one of the many ways we help Latino families in Marin.
The child abuse and neglect prevention services provided by our case managers include:
- Raising awareness among business leaders, educators, service providers, and decision-makers about the scope and problems associated with child maltreatment and the conditions that might contribute to the issue and working collaboratively with these groups to improve conditions for overall child well-being.
- Providing direct services and access to resources that strengthen individuals and families by helping them build protective factors, which are conditions or attributes in individuals, families and communities that mitigate or eliminate risk of harm.
- Initiating prevention strategies with families and making referrals to provide behavioral support to children and families. One of the ways that we are able to provide behavioral health services is through our partnership with the University of California San Francisco’s renowned Child Trauma Research Program.
- Enrolling families in programs that build protective factors, such as intensive family preservation services, mentoring programs for parents, and support groups and mental health services for children.
One way we address this prevention work is by collaborating with Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS). This collaboration is sometimes necessary when people in the community – such as teachers or social workers – contact CFS with concerns about an individual or a family that is a client of Canal Alliance. Additionally, our case managers may also reach out directly to CFS if they believe a child’s health and safety is at risk.
Although many parents have concerns that when our case managers get in touch with CFS it will result in the child being removed from their home, that’s not necessarily the case. Typically, CFS first conducts an investigation, during which time Canal Alliance case managers continue to provide support for the family. Our goal is to make sure that whatever is happening for the family, for instance financial hardships that may increase family stress, are also addressed so that children are in a protected environment.
Support for unaccompanied immigrant children and youth
In addition to child abuse and neglect prevention, the Canal Alliance Legal and Social Services teams are also dedicated to helping unaccompanied minors. The term unaccompanied minors is used to “generally refer to immigrants who are under the age of 18 and are not under the care of a parent or legal guardian. This includes children fleeing violence or unrest, seeking work, or who are victims of trafficking.” (Migration Policy, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: A Growing Phenomenon with Few Easy Solutions).
In 2014, a humanitarian crisis arose at the United States border with a surge of roughly 70,000 unaccompanied children seeking refuge from poverty, natural disasters and gang violence primarily from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The crisis continues as more unaccompanied minors arrive annually, including record numbers arriving in Marin County over the past several years.
Beyond the many services provided by the Social Services team, the Immigration Legal Services team also works directly with CFS because some of the clients we assist are unaccompanied minors who are also in the foster care system. It’s important that we help these young people transition and provide them with unique services based on their needs and regardless of their immigration status.
Impact of the COVID-19 health crisis and Shelter in Place on Services
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place order, many of the issues related to child abuse and neglect have become more difficult to address with our clients. While our community and clients are resilient, we are worried about the clients that are not able to leave their homes and come to Canal Alliance for assistance. There may be children and adults who are stuck at home with people who abuse them, and as a result, may be less likely to reach out to someone or to make a report to CFS.
The CDC reports that some of the risk factors that tend to lead to child abuse and neglect have a tendency to increase during times of family stress and financial hardships. (CDC, Risk and Protective Factors). Throughout the U.S., teachers, social workers and other professionals are concerned by the decrease in reporting due to the COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing social isolation and the increasing financial and emotional stressors for parents.
According to The Washington Post, all across the U.S. “child abuse reports have plummeted since the virus arrived. Year after year, most referrals to child protective services come from professionals — police officers, lawyers, doctors and anyone else who comes into contact with a child as part of their job. But no group reports more than educators, who were responsible for 21 percent of the 4.3 million referrals made in 2018, according to federal data.” (Washington Post, With kids stuck at home, ER doctors see more severe cases of child abuse).
In order to address one of the community’s most pressing needs, Canal Alliance established a Client Support Fund to provide direct cash assistance to individuals and families who have experienced job loss or loss of wages. All funds are being directly distributed to families to help pay for urgent expenses, such groceries, diapers, medications, rent or utilities. This financial assistance is in addition to our ongoing strategies for prevention, as it alleviates some financial stressors and in turn also helps children in need during this health crisis.
Q&A with Marin County Children and Family Services
Lupita nominated for the 2020 Outstanding Child Abuse Prevention Award
Any incident of alleged or suspected child abuse, or a reasonable suspicion of abuse, which comes to your attention should immediately be reported to the Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS) Reporting Hotline. CFS Emergency Response is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to receive and assess allegations of child abuse, neglect or exploitation. Please call: (415) 473-7153. Children and Family Services (CFS) Emergency Response.