Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist

Youth Wellness Series- Child Abuse

FIRST PLACE WINNER, CALIFORNIA JOURNALISM AWARDS 2022- Coverage of Youth and Education, Weeklies, 4300 & Under

It takes a community: How do we keep kids safe and families supported?

Marie-Elena Schembri, Calaveras Enterprise, May 5, 2022

In recent issues, we covered concerns over student absenteeism and a growing mental health crisis among Calaveras County youth. In the third installment of this series exploring youth wellness, we’ll examine rates of child abuse in the county rivals that of more populous areas, with a county rate of substantiated allegations higher than surrounding counties.

Child abuse in Calaveras County

An estimated one in four American children experience abuse or neglect, and a recent article in the New York Times reported just over 55% of high school students surveyed reported emotional abuse of some kind in the home.

In California, 43.5 out of every 1,000 children were reported to have been abused or neglected in 2020, according to data from Fresno State’s Social Welfare Evaluation, Research, and Training Center (SWERT). In the same year, Calaveras County’s child abuse rate was more than double that of the state at 13.7% or 964 abused children per every thousand.

For 2021, data from UC Berkeley's California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP) shows a child maltreatment substantiation rate of 13%, with a child maltreatment allegation rate of 117.2 per 1,000 kids. Rates are determined by dividing the number of children who had a maltreatment allegation that year by the population of children in the county. That number is then multiplied by 1,000.

While the population of Calaveras is small—around 46,000 at the time of the 2020 U.S. Census—reported child abuse rates are much higher than larger population areas like Los Angeles County, which had a 2021 maltreatment allegation rate of 42.8, and San Francisco with a rate of 33.5 substantiated abuse reports per 1,000 children. Calaveras’ rate for 2021 was 117.2.

Nearby San Joaquin County had a score of 47.4, while Tuolomne rated high but still lower than Calaveras at 93.2, with neighboring Amador County at 91.4. According to CCWIP data, Calaveras County received 823 child maltreatment allegations in 2021, with 375 of those being allegations of neglect, 193 allegations of emotional abuse, followed by 130 physical abuse reports, 92 sexual abuse reports, and 19 reports of severe neglect. For 2020, the report shows 682 allegations. Meanwhile, neighboring Amador County saw a similar year-over-year increase from 494 to 513 allegations, although Amador’s rate is much lower than Calaveras, with 45.5 substantiated abuse cases per every 1,000 kids.

Calaveras County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) Agency Director Cori Allen says abuse rates may seem higher in 2021 as a result of the gap in services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools shutting their doors may have had a significant impact on child abuse reports in the county. One study demonstrates that child abuse reports drop sharply when school is not in session, giving credence to the fact that child neglect or abuse reports often begin with school teachers, counselors, and administrators.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, child abuse reports in California dropped by 17%, according to data from While case numbers went down across the country, some say that the severity of cases went up.

A study from researchers at the University of California Irvine found that while reported abuse incidents went down during the pandemic, those that required medical care increased. This indicates a possible increase in the severity of child abuse cases or “maltreatment serious enough to warrant medical evaluations.”

As Calaveras children have (mostly) returned to school, daycare and aftercare programs, as well as other in-person services, it is possible that they are now getting the support they needed during the lapse caused by being kept home, according to Allen.

Calaveras County Child Welfare Deputy Director Mayle Johnson confirmed this, telling the enterprise, “Calaveras County Child Welfare has experienced an increase in reports of child abuse or neglect from 2020 to 2021. Reports of abuse were lower throughout 2020 due to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.”

Johnson also reported that while the number of reports were up, “the number of children found to be abused or neglected has decreased slightly.” That’s because not every allegation of abuse or maltreatment actually warrants a Child Welfare Services (CWS) case. Some allegations or situations may warrant a referral to a service or resources, but not an in-person response from an agent or first responder.

Johnson told the enterprise, “65% of all referrals received do not meet the threshold for in-person response. Of these referrals, 12% were referred to the Family Strengthening Program.”

Johnson says the Family Strengthening Program (FSP), which began in November 2021, “offers a prevention-focused response to the community.” According to Allen, FSP is an “alternative response to formal child welfare services intervention” that focuses on families with children from newborns through the age of five. FSP received twenty referrals (17 from CWS) from January through March of 2022.


Child abuse is a complex issue, with many contributing factors. Fara Roberts of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Family Wellness Coalition, and the Prevent Child Abuse Calaveras (PCAC) council, says that the biggest factors are deemed “social determinants of health,” which include economic stability, neighborhood and physical environments, education, access to food, community and social context, and health systems. According to Roberts, key issues in this county include “deep poverty,” housing shortages, lack of access to healthcare, food insecurity, and a shortage of childcare. Also of concern is a lack of secondary education options within the county.

Parents who are struggling with meeting their own basic needs are likely not meeting the needs of their children. Getting families connected to resources is crucial to keeping kids healthy and safe.

Big problems like child abuse can be overwhelming, but there are ways to help. A parent, grandparent or just a concerned community member, everyone can have a role in preventing these issues, according to Calaveras County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Director Cori Allen.

“Being a good neighbor….I think so often for new parents or parents that are struggling through some difficult times, knowing that they're not alone (helps)...That their neighbor looks out for them. I think that makes a huge difference in creating community, creating a network of safety for people.”

Allen continued, “I think it makes a really big difference in the lives of those children who might be looking for additional support. Sometimes, it gets almost too easy to see it as either a government problem or a school problem, but that can really impose change on a prevention level.”

In addition to being a good neighbor, there are programs that can be utilized for help. If you know of a family or a child in crisis, encourage them to get help from one of the resources below.

Government resources

At the county level, there are several programs dedicated to the wellness of children, in addition to CalFresh (food stamps) and financial assistance programs that can help parents feed their kids.

An obvious one is Child Welfare Services, which investigates abuse and neglect cases and works to rehabilitate struggling families. The Family Strengthening Program is another, and can actually prevent the need for involvement of CWS.

The Care Team “has been an integral part of the prevention strategy,” according to Johnson. Johnson described The Care Team as a “collaboration between multiple agencies” which connects families “to resources to best help meet basic needs, mental health and education needs.” Referrals for students or families are made through school sites “when they are in need of supports very early on, says Johnson.”

Johnson reports, “The Care Team served 26 families in 2021 and connected them to an average of three supportive services each.”

The county also offers help to children with qualifying medical conditions, nutritional and physical fitness education, resources and healthcare for children in foster care, and other educational programs, like First 5 Calaveras.

First 5 Calaveras, which is funded under the Behavioral Health Services: Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) is the county’s lead agency for education and resources to promote “strong families,” through what they call the “Five Protective Factors.” The Five Protective Factors include resilience, relationships, knowledge, communication, and support. According to the First 5 website, these factors “have been shown to increase family strengths, enhance child development, and reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect.”

First 5 Calaveras supports families and parents by providing resources like parental education guides and classes, as well as offering families creative activity kits and educational materials, literacy programs, and safety education.

The Prevent Child Abuse Council, which falls under the First 5 umbrella, is dedicated to promoting “strong families through community awareness,” founded under the vision that “every child should grow up safe, protected, and loved,” according to its website.

Calaveras Youth Mentoring, offered through the Calaveras County Office of Education, offers an array of mentoring programs and an independent living program, encouraging youth through safe adult volunteers “who provide consistent, one-to-one support to Calaveras youth in achieving their goals and reaching their potential.”

Also through the CCOE, the county has recently opened wellness centers in all of its elementary schools, which offer resources, therapy, and support to students on campus.

With a positive support system and referrals to important services, the wellness centers could be a primary source of prevention for elementary students in the county.

Other incentives raise public awareness, like the “Be the One” campaign. “Be the One” is an awareness campaign that seeks to increase child abuse prevention by encouraging every adult to be a source of “unconditional support and care” for a child.

At a meeting in late March, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors declared April 2022 to be Child Abuse Prevention "BE THE ONE" Month. The proclamation read, “Whereas Calaveras County agencies, schools, and organizations are working…to implement trauma-informed strategies to support families…families are strengthened through positive relationships, resiliency tools, knowledge of child development, and concrete supports such as income, shelter, food and childcare…child abuse is preventable when children have at least one caring, supportive adult in their life who believes in their potential and provides then unconditional support and care….Whereas caring relationships have the power to build resilience, inspire, comfort, and transform us—and we have the power to BE THE ONE today.”

Community resources

Community agencies and nonprofits like The Resource Connection, which operates the Calaveras Crisis Center and Calaveras Children's Advocacy Center, are working from the ground up to educate, prevent, and help families recover from crises.

CASA, a program of Nexus Youth and Family Services, works to help kids in foster care or abuse/neglect cases navigate the judicial system with judge-appointed trained volunteers who act as their advocates. Nexus Youth and Family Services also operate community centers in Amador County, which offer classes, access to case management services, and other resources “to support personal growth, mental health stability, wellness, and resiliency,” according to their website.

There are also resources for kids of all ages through community-based programs in the county, like the non-profit Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families (BMCYF) in West point. BMCYF offers art classes and education, after-school programs, free meals, a community garden, and teen outreach at its community center. The Mountain Ranch Youth Alliance is another community resource with classes for adults and youth. Other community groups, churches, and agencies can also connect parents and kids to the help they need, if they know who to ask.

Building resiliency

Perhaps none of these efforts are more crucial to preventing child abuse than Calaveras’ newest endeavor—the first inaugural Building Bridges To Resiliency Summit, a Calaveras County multi-agency child abuse summit that occurred at Ironstone Vineyards on April 28.

The summit began as an idea brought forth by Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook, who envisioned an opportunity to bring together disparate agencies and departments after Covid forced everyone to work more remotely.

The summit was created in partnership with HHSA and CASA Calaveras, to address the growing concern over “the latest research and the issues our kids are having these days.”

At the summit, Yook told the 80-plus government and social workers in the room, “I think we're holding our breaths and  hoping it doesn't get any worse. Perhaps being here all together and learning from each other and rebuilding some of those key partnerships and learning what each other does, that’ll help us have a spirit of renewed energy...and deeper knowledge of what we can continue on with our mission of protecting the children in our community. ”

District 3 supervisor Merita Callaway, who attended the summit, called the event “impressive,” saying it was evident “how dedicated each of the participants were individually and collectively to the common goal.” Callaway said she is proud of the people doing the work in Calaveras.

“Yet with all that they do,” said Callaway, “they realized that there is more to do and more children and families to reach out to.”

Next week, we’ll cover the Building Bridges to Resiliency Summit in more depth and learn about adverse childhood experiences and how they can lead to generational trauma.

To report child or elder abuse to the CPS Emergency Response hotline, call (209) 754-6677 or 1-844-690-5137. If a situation warrants immediate emergency intervention, call 911.