My journey to Safe & Sound has been unorthodox, to say the least. Before Safe & Sound hired me in August of 2017, I worked in the jails for 14 years. My career began in Bay Area juvenile halls conducting writing workshops with incarcerated young people. We would take their writing and create a weekly, in-house publication called The Beat Within. After 10 years, I decided to shift my focus and work with incarcerated parents in the San Francisco County Jail. Through One Family, a program of Community Works West, I was able to teach parenting classes to incarcerated mothers and fathers. On the weekends, we brought their children into the jail for visits, giving incarcerated parents an opportunity to practice what they learned in the parenting class.
Implementing new parenting strategies was often difficult for the parents I worked with because of the palpable shame at not having received such strategies from their own parents. For example, when we tried to encourage positive reinforcement and encouraging behaviors, as opposed to punishing and discouraging behaviors, the incarcerated parents with whom I worked often needed to process feelings of shame and grief about their upbringing before they were able to implement these strategies with their own children.
Nevertheless, the parents I worked with remained willing to grow and exhibited constant progress, using their love for their children as motivation. With persistent courage, these parents were able to break intergenerational cycles of abuse. A father myself, I felt honored to witness such a critical process.
As I began to witness this process more frequently, I often wondered how the lives of the incarcerated parents I worked with may have been different had they felt safe, supported, and loved as children. I also wondered about the evolution of parenting and the culture shift of child-rearing over time. My curiosity became overwhelming, and I began to consider preventative work as a form of relief. If I could join efforts to prevent abuse from happening, then the weight of “what could have been” might dissipate. I suddenly had an urge to shift career paths and focus on the prevention of child abuse. Safe & Sound (formerly the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center) was the perfect fit.
Before working for Safe & Sound, I had no idea about the wide range of efforts necessary to prevent child abuse. Intuitively, prevention (to keep something that has not happened from happening) should require a plethora of approaches in order to be effective. What amazes me most about our work at Safe & Sound is how these many different approaches collaborate effectively towards the common goal of ending child abuse in 50 years.
This became most clear to me on April 3, 2018 at our Child Abuse Prevention Month Kick-Off Rally on the steps of City Hall that I helped to plan. Representatives from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Human Services Agency, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Department on the Status of Women, the healthcare profession, family resource centers across San Francisco, and many different community organizations that work with children and families joined together to take a stand against child abuse. There were people from many different departments with many different approaches and perspectives. It was at this moment that I realized my career path had come full circle.
I understood I had dedicated my life to healing wounds and had a front row seat to the resulting trauma of child abuse. I understood that all of these amazing people stood together so that children would not have to experience abuse in the future. What I understood most at this moment was what the other 100 people in attendance at Safe & Sound’s rally also understood — the power of prevention. The ripple effects of abuse have such an impact and are so prevalent that healing from such experiences can take generations, even lifetimes. The process of healing from such experiences is definitely worthwhile, and imagine the exponential growth of individuals and the exponential growth of communities that could occur from the absence of child abuse. Please stand with us not just each April but every month as we build the power of prevention and end child abuse in 50 years.