In December 2015, the Monterey County community was devastated to learn of the grisly murder of two children and the severe physical abuse of a third child. The children's caretaker and her boyfriend have since been charged with murder, torture, and child abuse. There were several child protective services and law enforcement referrals that did not have sufficient cause for foster care or court dependency prior to the tragic incident. When children die at the hands of a parent or guardian, the shared sense of outrage has deep impacts throughout the community and within our child protective services system. But, our calling is to channel that outrage and mourning to action that mobilizes the community to not only work harder to prevent fatalities, but to improve community-wide child well-being.
According to the Commission to End Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, every year between 1,500 and 3,000 children die as victims of maltreatment. The commission frames its report as "Within Our Reach." Bringing this mission of ending child abuse and neglect fatalities into reach takes dedicated community-wide action to address the well-being and standing of children in our communities as a whole. It takes the coordinated partnership between child welfare, law enforcement, heath care services, education, and our many community and faith-based partners. It takes concerted commitment to action at the local, state, and national levels.
In the immediate aftermath of a child death, such as the one mentioned, it is expected that the child welfare agency conduct a critical incident review and take every appropriate action to improve its processes; but, those inwardly focused system improvement efforts alone are not enough. Child abuse and neglect occurs in the context of a host of stressors that take a toll on child and family well-being: overcrowded housing, poverty, community violence, and unstable employment opportunities. These stressors also take a toll on public systems committed to improving community quality of life--human services, health, law enforcement, and education. A more meaningful system improvement process recognizes this broader context and works toward strengthening the overall public and community-based network that needs to work together for child safety and well-being.
In Monterey County, like so many other communities, the economy is largely based on lower paying jobs--agricultural, hospitality and retail in our case--and...