BY SAM WATERSTONE | LEER EN ESPAÑOL
Over the past several years, there have been roughly 5,000 reports of child abuse and neglect each year in Santa Barbara County. A majority of those reports are made in Northern Santa Barbara County, mostly in Lompoc and Santa Maria. On top of this, studies show that the vast majority of child abuse cases go unreported, meaning that thousands more children are likely dealing with traumatic home lives.
Luckily, inspiring work is being done by organizations like Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) to address these issues. CALM is a local nonprofit that has served children and their families in Santa Barbara County for nearly 50 years. They focus on ensuring that children are safe from abuse and treat children that have already endured traumatic experiences. The organization originated in Santa Barbara, and in recent years they have thoughtfully expanded to cover the entire county. In the past decade they added offices in Santa Maria and Lompoc, and last year they introduced four individuals from North County to their board.
CALM was a recipient of the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Core Support for Basic Needs grant in 2017 and Early Care and Education grant in 2018, and they have utilized this funding to increase and improve behavioral health services in North County. CALM currently has 40 staff members based out of the Lompoc and Santa Maria offices, serving all of North County, including the cities of Santa Ynez, Guadalupe, and Cuyama. While the organization has made great strides in North County, they aspire to be doing much more. For instance, CALM has behavioral health professionals embedded in 22 preschool and afterschool sites in Santa Barbara County, but only one of those sites – the Santa Maria Valley YMCA – is located in North County.
“The Santa Barbara Foundation has been really helpful in getting the preschool and afterschool programs going in North County,” said CALM Development Manager Sandra Fuhring, who has worked in their Santa Maria office since 2012. “We’ve been doing this work in South County for years, and we’re just starting to look at it up here. The Foundation’s grant was actually the first funding we received to be able to start developing these programs in North County.”
CALM has several departments that provide services countywide. Their Great Beginnings Department provides prevention and intervention services for families with young children that show risk factors relating to potential trauma. This department also helps mothers experiencing (or at risk of) postpartum depression, as well as families that need extra parenting support, such as young parents without a great understanding of youth development or how to appropriately discipline their children.
CALM’s Childhood Trauma Treatment Department treats children who have already experienced trauma. Therapists typically meet with children and parents once a week to treat trauma and help families heal. Within this department, CALM has several contracts with the county’s Department of Social Services to handle more intensive cases, including many involving domestic abuse.
“One of the most common things we see, especially in North County, is kids who have witnessed domestic violence or violence that is ongoing. We also see quite a few neglect cases, and we serve children that have suffered physical or sexual abuse,” said Fuhring.
The area where CALM is experiencing the most growth, particularly in North County, is their Community Strengthening Collaborations Department, which focuses on developing partnerships with other agencies, schools, and healthcare systems. This includes the CALM staff embedded in preschools and afterschool sites.
“CALM understands that with the sheer number of children who likely need our services, there is no way that our staff can see each child and family individually,” Alana Walczak, CALM’s CEO, explained. “Our goal is to increase our presence in the community in order to support professionals that work with children every day – teachers, childcare providers, pediatricians.”
CALM has developed programs to help teachers become more trauma-informed so that they can more appropriately support their students. In Santa Barbara, CALM staff are embedded into pediatric clinics where they conduct trauma screenings for children at their well-baby checkups. CALM hopes to expand this service into North County in the near future.
“We recognize that preventing and treating early childhood trauma is essential to building healthier communities, especially in areas of North County that have high rates of child poverty,” said Kathy Simas, the Santa Barbara Foundation’s North County Director. “Through the Foundation’s new Behavioral Health Grant Program, we support agencies that provide quality behavioral health services for people in need.”
The Santa Barbara Foundation is committed to investing in community-based agencies that provide critical services for behavioral health care in Santa Barbara County. By empowering local experts in the field to utilize evidence-based practices that support our most vulnerable populations, we are helping our communities grow stronger and healthier.
To learn more about CALM and how they help our communities thrive, visit calm4kids.org.