Connect with us


Shoes paint picture of child abuse’s daily toll in Massachusetts



Jenn Valenzuela, executive director of the Children's Trust, said resources like home visiting programs can curb the cycle of child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts. [Alison Kuznitz/SHNS]

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 25, 2023…..Eighty-five pairs of children’s shoes dotted the steps of the State House’s Grand Staircase Tuesday, providing a sobering visual of child abuse and neglect that advocates hope to one day eliminate through a range of programs aimed at supporting young families.

Based on the average number of newly confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect every day in Massachusetts, each pair represented a child who will be harmed daily, which can prompt a cascade of physical and mental health problems, including delayed brain development.

Child abuse also translates into a more than $2.6 billion annual price tag for the state in health care, substance abuse, homelessness, criminal justice and education expenses, among other costs, said Jenn Valenzuela, executive director of the Children’s Trust, a nonprofit that works with groups across the state to prevent child abuse. The organization received about $20 million in state funding last year, she said.

“Our dream is that one day there will be an entire generation of children that never experienced the traumas of child abuse and neglect,” said Valenzuela, who spoke from a podium decorated with baby booties. “Let’s just hold that vision and make that a reality.”

Throughout the event, lawmakers and advocates called for a time when the Grand Staircase would be free of children’s shoes.

They have a long way to reach that point. The average daily caseload is based on more than 31,000 annual confirmed abuse and neglect cases. In 2007, during a push for stronger child protection laws, lawmakers cited 36,214 confirmed cases in 2006, a sum that reps said at the time could fill Fenway Park.

Sen. Joan Lovely read a proclamation from Gov. Maura Healey that declared April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse transcends cultural, ethnic, economic and social lines, Healey noted in her proclamation, as the Democratic leader also affirmed parents must be “empowered with the skills, information and resources they need to protect their children.”

Healthy Families is a major program from the Children’s Trust, as first-time parents ages 23 and younger receive support through home visits that span pregnancy and the child’s first three years.

Zena Murray, of Springfield, recalled feeling scared more than two decades ago as a teenage mother.

Murray knew she couldn’t rely on her own mother, who struggled with substance abuse problems, for support. Murray, who at one point had to be removed from her home by the Department of Children and Families, realized she lacked a role model for healthy parenting.

Yet as Murray was connected to a home visitor through Healthy Families, she learned how to ask for help and find parenting resources.

“That meant giving my daughter stability and making sure I was always there for her, no matter what,” Murray said. “My home visitor helped me with so much, from learning what a new baby needs to supporting my own mental health. Having her in my life helped me to not repeat my mom’s behavior so that my daughter never had to experience being removed — that was the most traumatizing experience of my life.”

Murray is now a home visitor supervisor, performing what she sees as “essential work” in breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect.

Jaylynn Hernandez, of Roxbury, began participating in the Healthy Families Boston program when she was five months pregnant. Her son, Royal, is now 2 and a half years old.

Hernandez said she grew up in an abusive, misogynistic home, and she wanted to raise her son to be a “respectable young man.” With the help of her home visitor, Hernandez has learned about how to be a parent — including about potty-training — all while attending college to earn a degree in criminal justice.

“Child abuse has to stop,” Hernandez said. “In order for people to really complete this goal and do this work, you have to come to talk to the youth.”

The Children’s Trust has requested about $17.6 million for the Healthy Families program in fiscal 2024, an increase of about $36,000 compared to to the current state budget, according to the nonprofit.

According to the trust, its programs have been proven to reduce the use of corporal punishment; curb drug and alcohol use among parents; reduce parenting stress, a factor in child abuse and neglect; promote better co-parenting that actively involves fathers; decrease maternal depression and homelessness; and increase educational achievement for parents.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Copyright © 2017 Fall River Reporter

Translate »