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Alana Walczak: Here’s How We Can Start Preventing Child Abuse

Ding! I’m attuned to the sound of Facebook messenger. When my phone chimes, I am drawn to check it. “Who is messaging me now?” I wonder.

Since I began working at CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), I have received many private messages from people in my life asking for help.

Sometimes, it’s a friend who was abused as a child and is talking about it for the first time. Or, it’s a colleague who is fostering a child who is dealing with poor attachment and challenging behaviors. Sometimes, it’s a teacher who has just become aware of how many children in her classroom are witnessing violence at home.

Every time, it’s someone new.

My experience is not unique to me. Everyone who works at CALM hears from friends about their childhood trauma. Everyone is asked for help from someone who never received it growing up.

The commonality of this experience has brought home to me just how prevalent “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs, are.

I’ve learned that only one in four children who experience early trauma — things like abuse, neglect, exposure to violence in the home, parental substance abuse or mental illness — receive help along the way. That means 75 percent of children who need support are invisible. They are often unknown to anyone.

While the scope of this problem can seem overwhelming, I am heartened to know that child abuse is an issue we can address. CALM is partnering with many local organizations to identify childhood trauma early and to prevent it even before it starts. I’m so proud of our groundbreaking efforts.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time when we engage our community to raise awareness about the importance of providing safe, stable and loving environments for growing children.

It is a time to reflect on the urgency of this issue, and the reality that we absolutely know how to prevent child abuse. I invite you to take a moment to learn how CALM and our many partners are working together to interrupt the cycle of violence.

From 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, CALM is hosting an open house at our Santa Barbara office at 1236 Chapala St. Please join me and others in our community to learn more about the ways that CALM prevents child abuse.

Of course, we’ll feed you delicious treats and welcome you warmly into our space. We will also provide you the opportunity to experience a simulated therapy session and a “typical” educational presentation done in our local elementary schools. It will definitely give you a glimpse of the real-world work we do in our communities every day.

And, if you’d like to know more about ACEs, I’d encourage you to attend a free screening of the film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope. The documentary delves into the science of early childhood trauma and gives us hopeful strategies — as parents, as grandparents, as teachers and as interested community members — to treat and prevent toxic stress.

I am really excited about this documentary because it shares the research about toxic stress and its direct connection to negative health outcomes throughout the life span. It also speaks directly to the work CALM is doing in collaboration with so many partners throughout Santa Barbara County.

The Child Abuse Prevention Council is offering free screenings of Resilience throughout the month of April:

» April 4, 3:30 p.m. at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, 2975 Highway 246 in Santa Ynez

» April 6, 3 p.m. at Santa Maria Public Library Central Branch, 421 S. McClelland St. in Santa Maria

» April 20, 6:30 p.m. at La Cumbre Junior High School, 2255 Modoc Road in Santa Barbara

» April 24, 6 p.m. at Dick DeWees Community Center, 1120 W. Ocean Ave. in Lompoc

Early childhood adversity is being called the one of the biggest public health crises in our country. My experience of receiving calls and Facebook messages from friends and acquaintances supports the idea that a majority of adults have experienced some level of childhood trauma.

I hope you can take some time in April to reflect on how this issue affects you and your family, and to learn about the issues facing children and families throughout our county. Together, we can prevent child abuse.

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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