Social Services wants abuse to be a community conversation

FRESNO, Calif. - April is "National Child Abuse Prevention" month. Fresno County officials say 2,200 kids are currently under the court's jurisdiction, but there is hope for those families.

Zenaida Machuka was a different person 11 years ago.

“I was in a relationship of domestic violence 5 years. I was an addict for 20 years. I was an alcoholic for maybe 10 years of my life,” Machuka said.

Her addictions were so bad that she lost custody of her four children.

“And that's where I realized that I need to do a change, and getting involved with Child Protective Services really changed my life. I was very angry, but at the end, I was very happy. Because who knows where we would be today,” Machuka said.

That's because today Machuka works with parents who've lost their kids, like her.

She helps them go through programs to get their lives back on track.

“We work one on one with them, and we help them understand that child protective services does not want your kids. They want you to stay with your kids,” Machuka said.

Tricia Gonzalez is deputy director of child welfare in the Fresno County Department of Social Services.

She said the problem often has complex roots.

“If that parent is somebody who grew up in, in own trauma, and in their own abuse cycle, it's hard for them to kind of, see that difference,” Gonzalez said. “Isolation, substance abuse, violence in the home, and just, not really kind of, having a support network, so sometimes poverty will play into that.”

Machuka said she grew up in a single-parent home and even lost a brother to heroin.

“I saw that the drugs were in my family, and I saw how it helped you escape, and that's what I did,” Machuka said.

Machuka's reminder to parents now is that there is hope, but you have to want to fix the problem.

After the children are removed from the home, Gonzalez said the case could go to court, or parents will go to voluntary meetings or follow a safety plan.

“Reunification to parenting classes – and maybe substance abuse treatment, you know. Whatever is warranted, given what we're looking at,” Gonzalez said. “What we know is that kids don't belong in the system.”

Gonzalez said she hopes child abuse becomes a community conversation to bring about a permanent solution.

Machuka said those hurting should never be afraid to ask for help.

“Reach out,” Machuka said. “Don't stay silent and let it get to the point where you lose your kids – because those kids are the ones that suffer.”

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