Assisting abused children in Los Banos was the theme of this week's Community Resource Council meeting.
Stephen Pierce and Moy Meraz of Westside Family Services spoke to the group.
"It ebbs and flows," Pierce said of the number of child abuse cases his agency handles. "We get a lot of referrals from teachers. When school's out they're not reporting things. We're kind of bracing ourselves for next week."
Pierce said not all referrals require a child being removed from the home. He said family counseling, home visits and parenting classes can sometimes be utilized instead.
"To remove a child from the home we have to show there's immediate risk. Most of the referrals we get don't need the kid removed," he said. "Suppose a parent spanks a kid and it causes a bruise. What do you think the kid's going to remember longer, a bruise that healed in a few days or being removed from a parent by police?"
Meraz said her agency, which works closely with law enforcement, has social workers and therapists who deal with domestic violence situations and instances of sexual abuse. Westside Family Services also has an all-male support group.
Pierce, who has been working for agencies that protect children since the 1980s, said he's noticed a change in what's triggering abuse.
"A lot of it depends on drug use. Probably 90 percent of our problems involve drugs, including alcohol," Pierce said. "Back in the old days I'd be out in the field and it would be the same thing you see now, except it's worse now."
Pierce said Child Protective Services will investigate neglect if there's reasonable suspicion of a child receiving inadequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.
Reina Nino of Valley Crisis Center said immigration status can cause child abuse to go unreported. She said in many domestic violence cases the abused partner is afraid to report that child abuse is also occurring because the abuser has convinced the person they will be deported.
Pierce said Westside Family Services does not care whether someone is in the country legally.
John Carlisle, a board member of Merced County Court Appointed Special Advocates, said his group is in need of more advocates for abused children in the court system.
"We need people to be advocates for the kids," Carlisle said. "It may be something as simple as talking to the child. They will let the judge know if the child wants to go with mom or dad, but they will also, based on their knowledge of the child, recommend to the judge what they think is best."
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.