Chris, 3 months.
Isabella, 5 months.
In Orange County last year, nine children died from physical abuse.
On Wednesday, March 27, two units of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were among eight honorees at the Blue Ribbon Kick-Off Ceremony for National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
The 25th-annual event, held in the courtyard of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, is sponsored by the Orange County Child Abuse Prevention Council, the Raise Foundation, and numerous partners.
It serves as a call to action for the Orange County community to come together to “Keep Kids Safe, Healthy, and Happy!” as this year’s theme put it.
A bell was rung and a dove was released when the name of each of the nine children was read.
The eight honorees, which included the OCSD’s School Mobile Assessment Resource Team (SMART) and Special Victims Detail, were selected from a record number of nominees, said Eldon Baber, executive director of the Raise Foundation.
Also honored was the Garden Grove PD School Resource Officers (SRO) Youth Services Unit.
“This is an opportunity for us to come together to become even more mindful about the wellness of children,” said Eldon Baber, executive director of the Raise Foundation. “It’s our shared responsibility to the community and also our children.”
There are some 725,000 children in Orange County. Last year, there were 49,000 calls for service for suspected child abuse, a number that has been on a steady increase since 2013, said Anne Bloxom, division director, Orange County Social Services Agency Children & Family Services Division.
“Child abuse or neglect is a complex issue and it is one that takes a community to be successful,” said Bloxom, who noted that less than 3 percent of such calls for service require intervention.
In the last fiscal year, the county was able to provide services to more than 6,300 families at 15 family centers – and statewide, systemic changes are under way to improve outcomes for foster youth, Bloxom noted.
“I urge all residents to take part in serving children and families to work together to build healthy safe and strong families and communities for our children so they can thrive,” Bloxom said.
Undersheriff Bob Petersen led the flag salute to kick off the ceremony, which was emceed by Emmy-winning Michele Gile, a news reporter at CBS2/KCAL9 and a mother of two daughters.
“I have seen the plight of many at-risk families and children who are struggling, and I have also seen the joy and the increased self-esteem of children who benefit from the services and loving support that many of you provide” Gile said.
“This month-long campaign is focused on keeping kids safe, healthy, and happy,” she said. “Since child abuse and neglect is nearly always preventable, raising awareness can literally save children’s lives.”
Members of the Child Abuse Prevention Council as well as members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, whose members include Gail Krause, public affairs manager at the OCSD, stood beside the honorees as Gile explained why they were being singled out.
Artwork of children was on display in the courtyard. The art will be part of a traveling exhibition in April, as will more than 80 gardens of blue and silver pinwheels, which have become a symbol for Child Abuse Prevention Month.
2019 Blue Ribbon Award Honorees
Dr. Altaf Mohammed Kazi, Dr. Liza Eshilian, Dr. Lin Yao
Orange County Kaiser Permanente
Southern California Child Abuse Prevention Group
Southern California Family Violence Prevention Group
Kazi, Eshilian, and Yao train doctors and nurses, hold awareness fairs, educate providers, and review all child abuse cases in the Kaiser health care system to see what further steps and follow-up needs to be taken.
They are passionate about keeping children safe and providing them with a future that is promising without the fear of violence in any form.
Dr. Daphne Wong
Wong, who serves as medical director of CHOC Children’s Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Team, specializes in children who’ve been abused or neglected, including babies withdrawn for prenatal drug exposure. She has worked at CHOC Children for 17 years.
2019 Shining Light Award Honorees
OCSD School Mobile Assessment Resource Team (SMART)
This behind-the-scenes team works to protect the county’s largest school districts of Capistrano and Saddleback, as well as portions of many North Orange County school districts.
SMART is at the frontline of fielding any potential school threats and investigating until they can ensure that students are safe.
The unit responds to all incidents related to violence, possession and or abusive weapons, unstable behaviors, and suicidal actions or tendencies that pose a threat.
Over the last two years, SMART has fielded 469 such calls for service.
SMART also collaborates to get at-risk students some much-needed mentorship and structure to redirect the course they are on.
SMART is passionate about safety for children because team members know that children who feel safe in their schools look forward to being in an encouraging environment, promoting social and creative learning. They also know that children who feel unsafe at school perform worse academically and are more at risk for getting involved in drugs and delinquency.
OCSD Special Victims Detail (SVD)
This detail is made up of a sergeant, seven investigators, and two investigate assistants who work tirelessly to protect young victims of physical and sexual abuse.
The team handles about 850 reports a year, many of which either directly involve children or indirectly impact a child.
Bringing these victims closure relies on tenacious investigative work and deep empathy.
The SVD creates a safe place for children to discuss their worst day and empowers them to step forward, knowing that an arrest and subsequent conviction of their abuser is the pathway for that child to start to heal.
Garden Grove PD School Resource Officers (SRO) Youth Services Unit
SROs have served the Garden Grove Police Department for over 25 years. The youth services unit, comprised of four SROs, provides support to students in the Garden Grove School District. The safety of the city’s 20,000 students is the unit’s No. 1 priority.
For many years, SROs have partnered closely with community programs such as the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove to connect families with counseling services, youth diversion programs, and truancy reduction resources and support.
Col. Varner and Chief Sonza
Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy
The Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy is a residential high school run through the California National Guard in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education. Its mission is to intervene and reclaim the lives of 16- to 18-year-old at-risk high school students.
State Farm Insurance
Starkman volunteers numerous hours annually to help at-risk youth. He’s rallied colleagues and friends to join him at food distribution centers for struggling families, and also during the holidays to donate gifts to children.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Continuum
Ocean View School District
Hurd focuses on supporting the mental health needs of all students. The program is staffed with one school counselor, 12 school psychologists, and two licensed clinical social workers who support the physiological and social emotional needs of students and families district wide.
Miguel Alcantara, a foster parent (or “resource” parent), was a featured speaker.
“I’m really proud to be among them,” said Alcantara, who since 2014 has, with his wife, fostered seven children – two of whom they’ve adopted.
Alcantara is a foster care advocate and volunteer who has helped strengthen many families, which includes mentoring biological parents working to unify with their own children, Gile noted.
Alcantara said the O.C. Social Services Agency has been a great support to his family.
“Our faith community and people all around the community also have stepped forward and helped us,” Alcantara said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Gile urged all Orange County residents to take action to make National Child Abuse Prevention Month a success. She mentioned the following options
Become a resource (foster) parent
Slow down and really listen to a child
Send a note of gratitude to a parent
Report suspected child abuse and neglect
Plant a pinwheel garden
Refer struggling families to their local family resource center
Volunteer at a food distribution center
Greg HardestyCommunity events, a roaming Blue Ribbon youth art exhibit, media outreach, preventing presentations and more than 80 Pinwheels for Prevention gardens will be planted through Orange County to help raise awareness in April. To help share Blue Ribbon month materials, download them from theraisefoundation.org
If your business or organization would like to schedule a presentation, please contact info@theraisefoundation.