CONCORD – Last year Manuel Contreras found himself in a situation that can often be the end of a path for parents or the start of an unpleasant cycle: the loss of custody of his young son as a result an incident of domestic violence.
But Contreras did not give up on himself or his child. After completing a court-mandated program, he did some soul-searching and decided he had more learning to do.
“I wanted more,” he said.
So East Bay’s dad made a decision that surprised even seasoned social work specialists. He double-registered for six-month immersive parenting courses at the Contra Costa County Child Abuse Prevention Council. Sometimes he would arrive hungry, in work clothes, after crossing the county by bus. But those around him say he’s always been engaged and never missed a class.
As he progressed he started having his son again in his life. One day, he showed up to class beaming, his 4-year-old son in his arms.
“It was such a positive moment,” said Maggie Velasco, program director at PACE.
The Contra Costa CAPC was founded 33 years ago, with the stimulating mission of an approach of prevention and not intervention. It offers free classes for parents and children that help children report abuse and teach parents effective ways to interact with families without bringing negativity into the household.
“I learned to correct his behavior without scolding him, to make him proud and, when I am stressed, to try to do everything not to reflect on him,” Contreras said. “I learned that children can feel stress; it can be the way we talk to them or even the way we look at them.
CAPC received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign that serves needy residents of the East Bay. The grant is administered by the Contra Costa Crisis Center and the donations support the programs of more than 40 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
“This is a stressful time for families, and if we can reduce that stress, it will be a healthier, safer vacation for everyone,” said Executive Director Carol Carrillo.
Last year CAPC opened a new classroom for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Classes are offered in Richmond and Concord, with plans to expand to the eastern part of Contra Costa County. Classes filled up quickly, which shows how necessary these services are.
“Looking at child abuse prevention as a whole, we are trying to identify the gaps in services, and this is the one that has reached the top,” Carillo said.
PACE is best known for its parenting education program, which is carried out in collaboration with Child and Family Services and the First 5 Center. Like all CAPC courses, it is optional, free for parents, and offered in English and Spanish. But that comes with a massive six-month time commitment, with weekly classes lasting 2.5 hours.
In contrast, court-ordered parenting classes only last a minimum of 12 hours, which Velasco says is not long enough to make any meaningful change.
“Parents have to join. If you really want to change, it can’t be a quick fix, ”she said. “A lot of it is about rethinking how you were raised and how your parents impacted your life. This is how the cycle breaks.
Carrillo said his group used a “non-judgmental approach” to class, and cited internal data showing the class helps reduce risk factors for abuse. She said that a large number of parents who sign up are referred to CAPC by friends or family members who have successfully completed a course.
“It’s a force-based model,” Carrillo said. “It’s really about building the strengths of a family; instead of looking at what’s wrong, we want to look at what’s right and build on that.
SHARE THE SPIRIT
The Share the Spirit vacation campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, serves needy residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties by funding nonprofit vacation and outreach programs.
To make a tax-deductible contribution, cut the coupon accompanying this story or go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate/.
Readers with questions, as well as individuals or businesses interested in making significant contributions, can contact the Contra Costa Crisis Center, which administers the fund, at 925-939-1916, ext. 408, or [email protected]