Taking the Long View on Child Abuse Prevention

"We're Helping a Cycle Stop"
Taking the Long View on Child Abuse Prevention

As Chief Probation Officer for Napa County, Mary Butler has seen firsthand the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect. “When I walk into Juvenile Hall, I see children who would rather be locked up than go home,” she said. “Adolescents tend to act out a little bit more. They get into trouble. They are brought into Juvenile Hall and they’re identified as the problem. But when you dig a little deeper, you find out their home life is very chaotic. They may or may not have a home. They may not have food for meals. They gain 20-30 pound while in Juvenile Hall because it is the first time they’ve had three meals every day. Kids have told me ‘If I’m here at Christmas, I’ll get a Christmas present. But if I leave before the Christmas party, I won’t get any presents this year.’ It breaks your heart. Kids shouldn’t be in Juvenile Hall to get a Christmas present.”

  "It isn't that they don't want to be a good parent. They truly don't know how. No one has taken the time until they get into trouble to teach them things they can do to be a good parent. If we can give them that, we have done our job for community safety. We're helping the cycle stop."

"It isn't that they don't want to be a good parent. They truly don't know how. No one has taken the time until they get into trouble to teach them things they can do to be a good parent. If we can give them that, we have done our job for community safety. We're helping the cycle stop."

In her career in social services and law enforcement, Mary has also worked with perpetrators of child abuse. “In many cases, they grew up in a home where they didn’t have that role model,” she explained. “It isn’t that they don’t want to be a good parent. They truly don’t know how. No one has taken the time until they get into trouble to teach them things they can do to be a good parent. If we can give them that, we have done our job for community safety. We’re helping a cycle stop. If a parent doesn’t know how to handle their anger and they take it out on their child and we can give them a different skill set, then we’ve done amazing things for that family.”

Cope’s parenting support services provide the guidance parents need to manage their stress so they can give their children a bright future. “The most important people in a young child’s life are their parents. Agencies like Cope help parents learn how to be the best they can be by empowering parents, giving them skills to be really good parents, to be loving and caring and to figure out how to deal with all the frustrations without taking it out on their children.”

This preventative work not only benefits children and their families, but also our community as a whole. The effects of stress and trauma in childhood can be long-lasting. An abusive home impacts a young child’s brain and how it develops. “Children who come from abusive homes have more trouble in school. They may end up getting removed. Now we’re adding cost to society. What’s happening to these children who aren’t getting an education and aren’t going on to become productive members of the community?”

“A young girl who is a victim of sexual abuse, that’s with her forever. Without a lot of support, she is at high risk for substance abuse, depression and may end up with medical conditions. We know there is a tie between medical and emotional.”

The investment in prevention programs is far less expensive than the long-term costs of abuse. “Putting people in Juvenile Halls or jails is the most expensive thing we can do. It is not cost effective; it doesn’t help the community; it doesn’t have productive members in society. What we really want to do is look at what the cost effective things are. For example, a young parent with a new baby who doesn’t know what to do that has a Family Visitor to help them through all those questions – it’ so inexpensive compared to what happens later.”

With her understanding of the long-lasting and devastating impact of abuse on children, families and the community, Mary has been a dedicated advocate for child abuse prevention for decades. She has served on the Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC) of Napa County since the mid 80s. “CAPC is the way our community can understand what child abuse prevention is all about. We would like to think it doesn’t happen in our community but it does. Our job is to help get the word out so no more children get hurt. We can’t take away something that already happened but we can prevent it from happening again. The more community members can take a role in that prevention, the better off our community is. To me, that is what CAPC’s role really is. If the whole community is watching, then we can do real prevention.”

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This story is featured in our 2017 Impact Report. You can view the full digital report to learn more about Cope's impact and read more featured stories like Mary's.