"We try to support families before child abuse occurs in their lives, before they become at risk," said Carol Carrillo, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County.
Child abuse crosses all cultural, socioeconomic and racial boundaries, she said. The council trains people who work with children on how to identify and report suspected child abuse because they are mandated to report their suspicions. This includes teachers, childcare providers, preschool teachers, law enforcement, social workers and parks and recreation employees.
"There may be a difference in a child's behavior, bruises or marks that are unexplained, or a story that changes or doesn't seem right," Carrillo said.
A person only has to suspect abuse to report it; Contra Costa County Children and Family Services will determine whether abuse is occurring. In 2007, CFS received 24,000 phone calls; of these, 5,290 cases required action, affecting 9,823 children.
Carrillo said abuse may go unreported because people think the child will be removed from the family.
"That's the last resort," she said. "We want the children to be protected, we want the families to be supported. If a report is made early on, it gives families a chance to get help. If they wait, the children may be too much at risk and have to be removed."
Reports often peak in October, after teachers have had the chance to observe and assess the children in their classroom. Teachers are the main reporters.
"There are lots of indicators that things are happening in families," said Carrillo. "Substance abuse, stress in families' lives, isolation, a lack of resources, families feeling overwhelmed. Parents many times parent the way they were parented."
"Economically it's a tough time - that creates a lot of stress in families," she added.
Her group has a variety of support programs for families, including a Community Education Program, Newborn Connections Program and the Nurturing Parenting Programs.
"The majority of families find us through hospitals, public health nurses and social service agencies," she said. "They might need parenting classes, or they might ask us to do home visits."
Its Newborn Connection Program has volunteers visiting homes to provide the family with parenting skills and other resources. The council trains volunteers in community education, and the group also needs help with office work as well as board members and committee members to help with fundraisers. In May, they will be training volunteers to provide workshops on child abuse prevention and mandated reporting as well as positive parenting techniques.
"I think all our programs make an impact," said Carrillo. "They're all very different and meet families' needs at different times in different circumstances. That's what is unique and creative in what we do."
The Child Abuse Prevention Council is busy with educational programs this month since April is National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. Its fundraiser, "When I Grow Up," is a gala dinner at the San Ramon Marriott to raise money so it can continue to offer its services for free.
"Parenting is the most difficult and most important work we do," said Carrillo. "Parents need supportive partners in their childrearing efforts. The Child Abuse Prevention Council can be that important partner for families, neighborhoods and all communities of Contra Costa County."
Help stop child abuse
If you feel that a child is in immediate danger, telephone your local law enforcement agency or Contra Costa County Children and Family Services at 646-1680.
* To volunteer with the Child Abuse Council of Contra Costa County, visit www.capc-coco.org or call 798-0546
Fun for a good cause
What: 'When I Grow Up' 2008 Gala: dinner, wine-tasting, auctions, music and dancing
Who: Child Abuse Council of Contra Costa County
Where: San Ramon Marriott
When: 6-11 p.m., Saturday, May 3
Dress: Black-tie optional
Tickets: www.capc-coco.org or call 798-0546