Tag Archives: child welfare

CALM & Adverse Childhood Experiences Response

Thanks to national pioneers like California’s Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, CALM’s work to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and heal individuals from childhood trauma remains at the forefront of public health efforts. 

The term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) comes from the 1998 landmark study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente. It describes 10 categories of adversities experienced by age 18 years: abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect (physical, emotional), and household challenges (incarceration of household members, or growing up in a household with mental illness, substance dependence, parental absence due to separation or divorce, or intimate partner violence). 

The ACE study is considered one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being, with data gathered from over 17,000 participants over a two-year period. Data from this study indicated that ACEs were prevalent, with about two-thirds of the participants indicating they had experienced at least one ACE. If one ACE was experienced, there was 87% likelihood of at least one additional ACE. The outcome? The higher the number of ACEs someone endorsed, the higher the risk of experiencing poor behavioral and physical health outcomes in adulthood.  

Cute elementary age boy smiles while pediatrician checks his heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Dr. Harris, a pediatrician by trade, has been integral in providing medical professionals across California with the tools and knowledge to integrate ACE science into their practice. Specifically, she has spearheaded efforts to incorporate ACE screenings into all pediatric settings. Screening, as well as prevention and early intervention, are key to begin the healing process and to reduce the prevalence of negative health impacts for those who have experienced a significant level of trauma. While this knowledge has been primarily useful for healthcare providers, its core philosophy is important to a broader audience. So, Dr. Harris has developed, along with numberstory.org, an awareness and outreach campaign to educate the general public about the importance of understanding ACEs, as well as understanding ways one can mitigate possible effects of toxic stress often caused by ACEs. 

Guided by the evidence from the landmark ACE study and Dr. Harris’ groundbreaking work, CALM has augmented services and implemented strategic partnerships to address ACEs and develop resiliency for the entire community in recent years. In partnership with Cottage Health, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC), and others, CALM is pioneering trauma-informed interventions in healthcare settings across the county. This includes efforts to screen for ACEs as part of Well Baby pediatric visits Countywide, a multi-year research project to provide therapeutic support for NICU families, and extensive trauma-informed training for community partners.

“When we talk about trauma and early prevention, CALM’s trained therapeutic staff are experts at supporting children and families to change the trajectory of early trauma and toxic stress. Reaching families and intervening to disrupt the long-term negative impacts on health outcomes takes a coordinated approach across multiple sectors and partners. CALM’s interventions are a crucial part of this response” stated Katy Bazylewicz, Cottage Health Vice President Marketing and Population Health.

Through these collaborative efforts, CALM is transforming the community through a system change approach. CALM is reaching beyond its walls to implement therapeutic practices and embed clinicians in various settings to meet families where they are. 

The next wave of the pandemic will require a tremendous investment in mental health response as we fully address the impacts of this collective trauma. This past year, the community’s resiliency has been tested. CALM’s client base has faced economic and financial stressors, increased anxiety, depression, and intimate partner violence. These stressors contribute to the growing mental health needs of individuals, children, and families in the region. CALM is prepared to meet the needs of the community head on and will continue to be the vital resource for ACEs awareness and prevention for as long as it takes. 

About CALM

When a child experiences trauma, our entire community is impacted. To combat the effects of childhood trauma, CALM is here to support families in need of strength and healing. CALM’s evidence-based programs represent a continuum of care that addresses the safety and wellbeing of children and families across Santa Barbara County. Approximately 2,000 clients receive individual and group therapy through CALM’s clinics in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc and thousands more receive community-based education and mental health supports. With a 50-year history of serving families in our region, a staff of exceptionally qualified clinicians, and meaningful partnerships with complementary agencies and organizations, CALM is committed to preventing childhood trauma, healing children and families, and building resilient communities throughout Santa Barbara County. To learn more, visit calm4kids.org.

For more information about all of CALM’s services, please call 805-965-2376, or visit http://calm4kids.org.

‘A Caseload of One’: CASA Puts the Focus on Individualized Attention for Children

The mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County is to assure a safe, permanent, and nurturing home for all abused and/or neglected children by providing a highly trained volunteer to advocate for them in the court system. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, they are faced with something no youngster should ever have to go through: Navigating a confusing world of court proceedings amid competing interests with their future hanging in the balance.

The children are provided a lawyer, but their attorney likely has hundreds of other cases to handle simultaneously. The child’s social worker is also burdened with a full caseload that prevents much focused attention, and even the judge — whose goal is to issue ruling that is best for the child — sees the child too infrequently and only in a courtroom setting.

That’s where CASA volunteers come in. The advocates — who are paired with just one child at a time, or perhaps a couple of siblings — have one simple goal, which is to make sure the child is getting everything they need to survive and thrive during the transition period after being removed from the home, whether they eventually end up back in their biological parents’ home or elsewhere.

It’s a system that fills a hole in children’s lives right when they are most vulnerable, having had to be removed from the home in order to be protected after all other efforts had failed.

“The volunteer advocates develop the type of trusting relationship that comes from spending time with and getting to know the child. They really become the expert on the case,” explained Kim Colby Davis, CASA’s executive director. “The beauty of CASA is that our volunteers have a caseload of one.”

They work with child welfare and the child’s attorney to collect information and make sure that the court knows everything that might be helpful to determine what’s in the best interest of the child to keep them safe and help them thrive. The child might need anything from tutoring to clothes while they’re in care — “the things we advocate for just runs the gamut.”

The county’s CASA has done a remarkable job in caring for the kids as they endure the tough time that comes after already undergoing abuse or neglect. Indeed, in the decade between 2009-19, the nonprofit tripled in size in both volunteers and children served. But even before the pandemic hit, the need had outgrown CASA’s current capabilities, leaving up to 200 kids without a court-appointed advocate.

“There’s been a real increase in the number of children in need,” Colby Davis said. “We are serving more children than ever, but we still have far too many on a waiting list because there aren’t enough volunteers.”

Not surprisingly, the pandemic provided even more challenges as increases in both domestic violence situations and drug abuse among parents coincided with closures of schools, churches, and other places that would normally report abuse situations before they escalate, Colby Davis said. At the same time, CASA volunteers were hesitating to take on new cases to protect their own health.

“The kids lost their safety net, so the cases that were coming in were really the scary ones, the worst-case scenarios,” she said. “We didn’t stop operations, but given the uptick in cases, we just couldn’t keep up with the pace. We kept working all the way through the pandemic, but we had to slow the pace of training new volunteers. It was like a perfect storm — an increase in the number of children we needed to serve while we had a temporary decrease in the number of volunteers.”

CASA, like everyone, did its best to adapt, pivoting to an online platform for the majority of volunteer training — a protocol that might continue in part even after the pandemic comes to a close.

“It’s actually been such an improvement in our overall training efficieancy that we’re keeping it,” Colby Davis explained. “But we still have to do some in-person training because you just can’t bring a person who you don’t know and never met and place them so deeply into the life of a fragile child. So, we decided to simply do whatever size class we can safely handle through the pandemic, which meant we had to cut down on the numbers, maybe just six as an average.”

More funds and more volunteers are needed as CASA anticipates expanding to training 12 volunteers at a time in June, putting it on the path to pre-pandemic size classes.

The numbers don’t lie: The average CASA volunteer spends about 52 months working with the nonprofit — which translates to more than four years. 

“What that means is that most volunteers stay and take at least a second or third case,” Colby Davis said. “That’s been part of our success on our strategic plan for growth. And it’s not surprising, because it is just so dramatic to see the difference it makes on a case when they’ve got this person who’s deeply invested in this one child’s wellbeing.”

But lest she lose any potential volunteers, Colby Davis wanted to bust a couple of myths about serving as an advocate to make sure nobody unnecessarily disqualifies themselves from participating in the program. First is that just because the number on CASA’s website of children in need of an advocate in Santa Barbara is often at zero, it doesn’t mean that every local kid has an advocate. It’s more that the children are being housed in Lompoc or Santa Maria, which means the advocate has to be willing to make the drive.

“But you can take the 101, put your car on cruise control, and listen to a book on tape while you drive,” Colby Davis said, noting that CASA is expanding its Lompoc office to create a kids hangout room with crafts and games or simply a quiet place to do homework in a really nice environment as well as an upstairs “coffee bar” for the older kids to meet with their advocate.

Another misnomer is the belief that you need to speak Spanish to get assigned as an advocate.

“We always appreciate our bilingual volunteers because there are certainly cases in which that’s helpful, but the majority of our cases are for English-speaking kids and usually even their parents speak English, too,” Colby Davis said. “That’s definitely not a barrier to serving as a volunteer.”

Also inaccurate is the thought that it’s better to wait until retirement to serve as an advocate because of the time commitment. While training does take some focused attention over a six-week span, the average amount of volunteer time is 10-12 hours per month, maybe 15 at the most, Colby Davis said.

“It’s a very doable role for a community member who works full time — so you don’t have to wait until you’re not working. I think half or even more of our volunteers work full time. We’re always willing to give people the information and show how it could work within your schedule.”

Perhaps the biggest fear among potential volunteers is the idea that they aren’t up to the task, the executive director said. 

“It is a very complicated system to work through, but the important thing is that you’re not in it alone,” Colby Davis stressed. “That is what our professional staff is for. They come alongside you, as your assistant in a sense as you work with that child.”

In other words, the desire and willingness to be of service is the most important thing. Which also holds true even if a commitment to volunteering isn’t in the cards, especially through CASA’s Sponsor a Child program that asks for a donation commensurate with CASA’s cost of a single case — including keeping donors connected with the progress of an individual case as it works its way through the system.

“We’re up to about 75 people who aren’t quite ready to volunteer, but they’re thrilled to be sponsoring a child,” Colby Davis said, who added the program provides frequent updates and regular conversations with staff “where they can actually learn how their donation works in real time and hear about everything that’s going on with the child.

The myriad ways to support CASA include helping to arrange corporate support, donating gift cards to retail outlets that can help provide birthday gifts for the kids, or simply spreading the word about CASA at your place of business, church, club, or organization as well as on social media. Whatever the method, it seems it could hardly be more rewarding than to be a part of a program that serves abused or neglected kids whose ages range from newborn to 21.

“They’re just kids and they haven’t done anything wrong,” Colby Davis emphasized. “The babies who come from addicted mothers are so innocent, and even most of the older kids are just so normal. They just want to be a normal kid. We try to help that happen.”

What could be more important than that?

Storyteller Children’s Center (Literally) Delivers On Their 7th Annual Lunch With Love Event

Raising funds on behalf of the therapeutic school for homeless toddlers and preschoolers, Storyteller staff, board and volunteers delivered 140 lunches (serving 560 people) to the doorsteps of would-be event guests.

Storyteller Children’s Center held its 7th annual Lunchbox Luncheon this week. As a result of pandemic circumstances, this is the second time the non-profit pivoted from an in-person event to deliver lunch to patrons and donors over a four day period. 

Participants received a delicious lunch by Duo and Mission Rose Pasta, which included a choice between homemade vegan soup, chicken noodle soups or fresh pasta. All lunches served a family of four and included freshly baked bread and a bottle of Grenache from Babcock winery.

“Storyteller’s Lunch with Love has been a great success due to incredible community involvement,” noted Storyteller Development Director, Adrienne DeGuevara.”With the support of volunteers, board members and sponsors, we’ve been able to engage long-standing donors and engage new ones. “

As a special bonus, each lunch purchase included an automatic raffle entry to win an original piece of artwork from Pedro De La Cruz, who created the celebrated Montecito Strong bear and whose artwork famously drew a $100,000 auction bid at the Storyteller Children’s Center Gala in 2018.

“While we’re eager to gather again, we are happy to partake in this effort for a second year,” noted Storyteller board member Erinn Lynch. “It offers a much-needed touchpoint with the people who support our Storyteller children and families. These ‘soul food’ lunches are delivered with gratitude and an acknowledged bond as we work together to take care of our community, despite pandemic circumstances.” 

About Storyteller: Founded in 1988, Storyteller is a full-time, therapeutic school program that supports children ages 18 months to 5 years in achieving kindergarten readiness. In addition to the approximate 80 students served per year, Storyteller also provides assistance to the entire family unit, with an emphasis on breaking the cycle of poverty for the working poor while preparing children to successfully enter kindergarten.

CASA seeks “Purses for a Purpose” to benefit advocacy for child victims of abuse

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Santa Barbara County plans to hold its first ever online auction of designer handbags, Purses for a Purpose, due to an increased need for volunteer advocates.

COVID-19 has not only impacted the non-profit’s ability to fundraise and recruit volunteers, but there has been an increase in the number of children experiencing abuse and/or neglect in the Santa Barbara County community. All resulting in a waiting list of more than 200 children in need of a CASA volunteer – a drastic rise compared to previous years.

With a need to find additional volunteers for the children waiting and support the 185 CASA volunteers working on behalf of 311 children, CASA plans to launch Purses for a Purpose, an online auction to take place April 21 – 27. The event was kickstarted by a generous CASA supporter, donating more than 15 designer bags to the program. 

“These kids can’t wait until we hold our next big gala event, they need our immediate help. Everyone has that purse in the back of the closet that just doesn’t get out enough, especially now! Why not give it a new purpose?” asks Associate Director of Donor Engagement, Kira Cosio. The organization hopes to collect an additional 10-12 new or slightly used purses, valued at or over $200, to help fund the next training class of CASA volunteers. 

Those wanting to contribute a handbag can reach out to Kira at kira@sbcasa.org or call 805-739-9102 ext 2595 to set up a contactless pick up. All donations received are tax-deductible. To learn more about CASA of Santa Barbara County, visit sbcasa.org.

CALM is for Kids

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, so naturally our very own Child Abuse Listening Mediation has some special activities planned. CALM is half-a-century old and the only nonprofit in Santa Barbara County that specializes in the prevention and treatment of childhood trauma. This organization, just like every other nonprofit, has had to forgo its typical fundraising events in the wake of our global coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, it’s had to postpone November’s 50th anniversary gala, “Lighting the Way;” its seafood soirée “Crabfest for CALM;” the CALM Auxiliary’s quarterly Antiques, Decorative Arts & Vintage Show and Sale at the Earl Warren Showgrounds; and even its special event, “Courage & Resilience: An Afternoon with Elizabeth Smart,” with the victim of one of the more notorious child abduction cases. Smart’s ongoing recovery stands as an inspiration for human perseverance in the wake of horrific trauma.

Instead, while Ladies Get Loud 2021 will still happen as a virtual “Night In” at the end of April, that month’s events will focus less on fundraising and more on CALM’s ambitious agenda to lead. It plans on developing and implementing trauma-informed, evidence-based programs and services that treat child abuse and promote healing as well as programs that have proven successful in preventing childhood trauma through strengthening and supporting the family. 

So “Inside CALM” has transitioned from open houses into a series of short virtual presentations held on Facebook Live. Here, it broadcasts information about therapy modalities and innovative programs that are open to anyone, and it hosts a Q&A. These will be open to the public. CALM’s Facebook and Instagram sites will also host a month-long social media campaign focused on building resilience and strengthening families; these feature a daily dose of practical tips. And its online Community Conversation Series resumes late April with a webinar about the bell curve of trauma that our community will face as it moves into the post-pandemic phase. Fortunately, CALM will focus on what the next few years of mental-health awareness will look like, and how the organization anticipates treating our community’s needs.

In truth, imagining a better future is nothing new to CALM; the nonprofit has always envisioned a time when childhood trauma becomes a thing of the past. Under the five-year-long stewardship of President and CEO Alana Walczak, the organization has continued to evolve from its origins as a volunteer-staffed “warm line” for stressed parents in Santa Barbara, to a well-trained therapeutic staff of more than 100 specialists across the county. CALM’s prevention and positive-parenting programs have doubled in size since 2003; they take up more than half of its budget and staff’s time. Its approach stems from understanding that strengthening the entire family is the best way to prevent the abuse of a child.

“A lot of people don’t realize that CALM has really shifted its focus,” Walczak said. “We will always be here for kids and families in Santa Barbara County, we will always provide clinical therapy sessions. But now, 50% of our work is prevention, and working with families that have risk factors for trauma before the trauma occurs. We want to load up those families with support and education and resources to prevent harm from happening.” 

Such an ambitious endeavor doesn’t come easily, even for a seasoned organization, Walczak said.

“When you’re trying to move the needle on such a complex issue as preventing and treating childhood trauma, no one organization can do that on its own. If we want to see long-lasting change – the third part of our mission is to build resilient communities – we have to work in partnership with other organizations that serve children and families. That’s why we’re starting to see ourselves as a social service agency that will absolutely serve every single child that comes to us for clinical services. But we’ll also work within systems to really anchor permanent changes.” 

CALM has created partnerships with preschools, universities, medical centers, social sector agencies, and local governments

CALM has created partnerships with preschools, universities, medical centers, social sector agencies, and local governments. The organization has a presence in pediatric clinics and in 33 learning centers. It acts as the preferred mental health provider for Santa Barbara Unified School District and has a presence in every school in that district, from pre-K through sixth grade, Walczak said.

It’s all about helping other systems become “trauma-informed environments,” said Ashlyn McCague, CALM’s Director of Development. That means helping teachers and administrators at our schools understand what motivates the behaviors of “difficult” students in classrooms.

“They’re probably not kids just who are trying to ruin their teacher’s day,” she explained. It might be that Bobby just left home where daddy was beating up mommy or where mom was so depressed, that she hasn’t gotten out of bed for three days, leaving the young boy to feed his younger siblings. Then the child comes to morning circle and he’s unable to sit still or he’s hitting his friends. Maybe he’s demonstrating signs of a trauma but doesn’t have the words to explain it.

Similarly, CALM knows how important it is for pediatricians to know about the trauma history of a baby’s parents so that they can discern where the family’s challenges and vulnerabilities might be. In those cases, CALM can provide parenting or therapeutic support to help the family develop a new, healthy path.

“It’s kind of blowing the frameworks of those professionals up a bit,” Walczak said. “It’s about helping to educate everyone. Teachers are teachers, not mental health professionals, but they’re dealing with mental health issues all the time. For example, some of it is just helping them understand a bit about the brain chemistry of trauma.”

Nowadays, CALM is blowing up outdated ideas in the general population by putting effort into letting the community know that it serves everyone, all kids and families who are at risk for trauma. 

“There’s the stereotype that we only work with families from the lower east side of Santa Barbara,” Walczak said. “Yes, the majority of our clients are Latinx, and most of our clinicians are bilingual to make sure that no matter what language you speak, we can provide quality trauma treatment. But there are a lot of other communities that need support, too. One of the pediatric clinics we’re embedded in now is Sansum, and everybody seems to go there. For upper-middle-income families, it’s sometimes even harder to access services because nobody expects them to be really struggling. Who do they tell? There’s so much secrecy and our culture doesn’t create space for folks of all economic classes or races to have needs. We’re trying to debunk that myth, and to make sure that everybody has access to the help that they need.”

CALM has also been quick to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, pivoting to virtual services in the course of just three days last March, and taking a look at its own protocols in the wake of last summer’s protests about racial justice. 

“Like many organizations over the last year, we’ve been really looking at diversity equity and inclusion,” explained McCague. “A lot of clinical work comes from the field of psychology, which has been historically a very white, upper-echelon group. There are new modalities that are coming out of communities of color. We’re exploring them so that we can serve our own diverse community in the county. Having modalities that reflect the people with whom we’re working is really important to us.”

What it all adds up to for CALM is that every month is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The nonprofit’s mission to eradicate childhood trauma is an ongoing effort that never ebbs, and one that has economic as well as health and societal benefits.

“Identifying, treating and healing trauma as early as possible saves everyone a lot of pain and money in the end,” McCague said. 

To learn more about CALM, visit CALM4kids.org or call (805) 965-2376.

New Leadership Team Implements Bold and Enduring Vision for Storyteller Children’s Center… Through the Pandemic and Beyond

New Executive Director, Development Director, and ECE Program Manager are bolstering support, partnerships, and programs for vulnerable toddlers and preschoolers.

Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year

In the midst of the COVID-19-related protocols and lockdowns, Storyteller Children’s Center hasn’t stopped their momentum in serving the social, emotional, and scholastic needs of Santa Barbara’s homeless preschoolers. In the six months since Susan Cass took over in the role of Executive Director, the organization has brought on Adrienne De Guevara as Development Director and Maria Cervantes as ECE Program Manager. They have also remained open for the large majority of the year and achieved accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). 

“As one would expect, it has been particularly challenging for this leadership team to step into our roles during the pandemic,” noted Cass. “The economic hardships and needs of our families and students are greater than ever, so we need to remain focused on the opportunities rather than the obstacles. While new health and safety protocols have impacted our program delivery and revenue from fundraising events has steeply declined, we are committed to finding creative and strategic ways to continue to support our children, families, and staff during this time.”

Storyteller Children’s Center Executive Director Susan Cass
Storyteller Children’s Center Development Director Adrienne De Guevara

Adrienne De Guevara, previously with the Lobero Theatre Foundation, brings her combined experience in fundraising, sales, and event organizing to support Storyteller Children’s operation and program costs. As a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, she serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access committee while also staying informed on the latest trends in philanthropy both locally and nationally. This year she also served on the selection committee for the 2020 National Philanthropy Day Honorees. 

For De Guevara, finding revenue has been all about reaching out and reactivating relationships. She has been identifying and applying for grants, upgrading the website to support online contributions, while managing the second virtual event to replace Storyteller’s annual lunchbox luncheon, “Lunch with Love,” which includes home-delivered meals to donors for a touch-base and connection. 

Storyteller Children’s Center ECE Program Manager Maria Cervantes

“This has been a challenging year for everyone,” said De Guevara. “It’s understandable that we are not necessarily top of mind with donors and funders, because we are all distracted and a bit overwhelmed. My approach is really applying the old fashion method of picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ It’s incredible to me how responsive this community has been to our expressed needs.”

Maria Cervantes comes to Storyteller with 23 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Maria believes that every child deserves a high-quality early learning program and that ECE educators should be recognized for their research-based approach to development. A graduate of National University in San Diego, Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and will enter into a master’s degree program later this year. In 2016 Maria was awarded Preschool Teacher of the Year by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Maria will be overseeing programs at both Storyteller locations.

Cervantes’ primary focus is on supporting the foundation of the Storyteller’s therapeutic-based education: the teachers and staff.

“All teachers are carrying a great deal of added responsibilities and workload this year, and that’s threefold for Storyteller’s educators,” said Cervantes. “Not only do they have the curriculum and COVID protocols to navigate, but they are also trained to provide emotional support to students who have or are experiencing a great deal of trauma. Our students benefit when our teachers are supported with resources, technology, training, compensation, and… empathy.”

Operating out of two campuses on State Street and De La Vina Street, Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year. Beyond their year-round educational program, they provide behavioral health services, two nutritious meals and one snack per day, medical screenings and home visits. Parents and guardians must be working or enrolled in a vocational program for students to qualify. The primary objectives for Storyteller are to foster social and emotional resiliency and kindergarten readiness, the most critical markers in the scholastic success of a child.

Every Child Thrives

Sure, CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) was the first nonprofit in the country to dive head-first into child maltreatment prevention. And yes, the organization – which provides a wide array of direct services to treat and prevent child abuse – just turned 50.

But CALM’s CEO Alana Walczak doesn’t want to talk about the past. “I want to talk about the story of our next fifty years,” Walczak says.

Her vision is big. Building off its research-driven clinical programs and widespread trust among partners across the spectrum of agencies that touch the lives of families and children, CALM is leading a countywide strategy to end childhood trauma.

“The most important relationship in the world is between a parent or caregiver and a child,” Walczak says. “If we can keep that most precious relationship whole, we can change lives.”

Cute elementary age boy smiles while pediatrician checks his heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Childhood trauma has become a regular part of the vernacular at the highest levels of government and social change efforts. Here in California, the state’s first ever Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, MD is on a crusade to root out childhood trauma. Armed with irrefutable science that shows adverse childhood experiences – abuse, neglect, domestic violence, parental incarceration, divorce – lead to a wide array of dire health outcomes, leaders like Burke Harris and Walczak are clear-eyed about the urgent need to stop childhood trauma in its tracks.

“It is significantly cheaper to support families earlier,” Walczak says. To that end, CALM does the work even if the government doesn’t fund it. For example, the agency has counselors embedded in preschools and pediatric departments to intervene at the earliest signs of trauma. “That’s the wave of the future,” Walczak says. “We are not going to wait until Kindergarten to find out which kids need our help.”

Santa Barbara’s size poses an exciting prospect for Walczak, the team at CALM, and their 75 partner agencies spread across the county. It may just be possible to live up to CALM’s vision of building resilient communities empowered to prevent childhood trauma and heal children and families.

Roughly 5,500 babies are born in Santa Barbara County every year. Through direct services and trauma training programs across the pediatric health and education systems, CALM is building a web of support for all children and families. “If we do this right,” Walczak says, “we can build a robust continuum of care supporting children from birth with the support of an engaged pediatrician all the way through school with engaged teachers, parents and school administrators. That would be a game changer.” 

A Child’s Voice

America’s child welfare court system is imbued with incredible power. Judges routinely make decisions that indelibly alter the course of the lives of children and families. Will a child be reunified with his or her parents? Or will that child be separated from his or her family forever. 

Imagine how bewildering this is for the parents. Now imagine trying to navigate this befuddling system as a child who has endured abuse or neglect. 

The stakes are no less high in Santa Barbara County where four children’s attorneys are charged with managing the cases of some 750 clients – whether in foster care or under court supervision with their families. These lawyers simply can’t keep up. 

Thankfully, the county is home to one of the strongest Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs in the country. CASA trains volunteers to be the voice of the children they are paired with – writing court reports and ensuring that all the adults in the courtroom know what the child needs. 

“They are absolutely critical, fundamental,” says Carol Hubner, a Santa Barbara County children’s attorney. “There aren’t enough hands on deck. If you were to take [the CASA Volunteers] away, I feel like it would be the last straw.” 

In 2009, CASA had 100 volunteers and served 135 children. This year – thanks to an aggressive expansion plan pushed by the agency’s can-do board – CASA is serving 532 children with 297 volunteers. 

For Montecito resident Kerrilee Gore, a donor to the nonprofit, volunteering as a CASA herself was a chance to do more. Gore took on the case of a 14-year-old girl who had been in and out of group homes. Gore immediately found the juvenile dependency system overburdened, with both attorneys and caseworkers barely able to keep up with the sheer volume of children who needed their attention. With one client, Gore could focus in and slow things down so that 14-year-old girl could be seen and heard. 

“The judge really relies on you, because you are the voice of the child,” Gore says. “The CASA is sometimes the only stable person in these children’s lives. They are the most vulnerable and they don’t have a voice, but you are providing a voice for this child and it changes their entire lives.”