Ounce Of Prevention
‘Everybody can help prevent child abuse’
By Jessica Laskey
Sheila Boxley sees truth in the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” at her job as president and CEO of The Child Abuse Prevention Center.
“I strongly believe we need to give people the support they need when they need it rather than waiting for tragedy,” says Boxley, who celebrates 25 years at the helm of the center. “We’ve all had that moment where we’ve needed somebody to help us.”
The center began as the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento in 1977, a small agency serving only Sacramento County. (Every county has one child abuse prevention council.) Over the past 45 years, it has been asked to replicate and expand its programs and services locally and statewide, adopting multiple agencies along the way.
Now the center is the umbrella organization to the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento; California Family Resource Association, a statewide membership association representing more than 300 organizations; Prevent Child Abuse California, the state arm of Prevent Child Abuse America; and Child Abuse Prevention Political Action Committee, a nonprofit that advocates to stop child abuse through the legislative process.
“I’d love to tell you we had an amazing business plan, but really it’s been all about opportunities,” Boxley says. “We have a great team and a board of directors that really supports us and helps us in myriad ways you can’t even imagine.”
Boxley didn’t intend to spend 25 years in child abuse prevention, but when opportunity knocked, she answered. After earning her master’s degree in public administration from University of Arizona, she worked in the Bay Area until a job offer brought her to Sacramento.
While working for the state in an offshoot of the governor’s office on gang violence, missing children and discussions around restoring the death penalty, Boxley says, “I came to realize I was in the wrong place. I needed to step back and prevent these things from happening. Helping people get the support they need would be less expensive and better for everybody.”
Boxley turned to teaching at Sacramento State University and consulting. The Child Abuse Prevention Center was a client. When the director left, the board asked Boxley to assess the organization. After delivering her report, Boxley was told the center would only continue if she agreed to become president and CEO.
Since saying yes in 1997, Boxley has overseen growth and success. Numbers don’t lie. The Safe Sleep Baby program reduced infant sleep-related death by more than 50 percent. Last year, only one death was reported.
As the backbone for the California Family Resource Association, The Child Abuse Prevention Center and partners have reduced the likelihood of a family entering child welfare by 50 percent, thanks to in-home support and education.
Research indicates child abuse prevention is 365% less expensive than the consequences of a child entering the juvenile justice system or foster care—or dying. “That’s a pretty compelling cost-benefit,” Boxley says.
“When I first started this work, people didn’t believe you could prevent abuse and neglect,” the Midtown resident says. “It’s exciting for me to see the changes in attitudes and beliefs. Prevention is in our name, but it’s really about strengthening families and communities.”
To that end, Boxley says it’s simple to be part of the solution. “Everybody can help prevent child abuse,” she says. “If you see a stressed-out mom in the grocery store with a crying baby, go over and chat. If you have a neighbor who’s not well, take dinner over. I sincerely believe 99.999% of families want to do well by their children and want their kids to thrive. Parents just need some help, and anyone can help out a little bit.”
For information, visit thecapcenter.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.