Napa County in 2018 had 149 substantiated cases of child abuse involving 242 children, with another 201 cases still under investigation.

“Given that abuse cases go severely underreported, we can reliably deduce that there are at least 500 children in Napa County suffering toxic stress, emotional trauma, physical abuse, neglect or all four,” said a new report by the county’s Child Abuse Prevention Council.

The council wants the Napa County Board of Supervisors to play a role in changing the situation. Last week, members of the council made a presentation to supervisors.

The 242 child abuse victim tally in 2018 was less than the 314 reported to supervisors for 2017. Still, the six-year trend is upward, with 2017 being a spike.

Napa County’s 2018 rate of a little over eight substantiated victims per 1,000 children is above the state rate that’s closer to seven. It’s also above the 2012 county rate of six, showing the growth over time.

“Child abuse is a persistent problem within Napa County and the impact is significant,” council co-chair Michele Grupe told supervisors. “Child abuse impacts not just the child, but the family, the community and society at large.”

The council sees economic factors at play in the local rate.

“Despite Napa Valley’s worldwide reputation as a wealthy community, the reality is that Napa is one of the poorest in the state when considering economic pressure on families for housing, child care and other basic costs,” the group’s report said.

The Insight Center estimates a Napa County family of four must make almost $80,000 annually to meet basic expenses. Nineteen percent of Napa residents live below this figure.

Child abuse in 2018 will cost the Napa community $72.5 million over the lifetime of the victims, council officials told supervisors. Of this amount, $52.7 million is lost lifetime productivity, $3.8 million is education, $2.8 million is child welfare, $1.8 million is criminal justice and $11.3 million is health care.

That calculation comes from the San Francisco-based child abuse prevention group Safe and Sound and the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. It estimates the cost per victim is $303,000.

Various statistics were used to come up with the figure. For example, abused children are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28 percent are more likely to have an adult criminal record and 77 percent are more likely to require special education. Victims are more likely to be unemployed, the Child Abuse Prevention Council said.

“Child abuse is a core underlying factor to many of the ongoing struggles of this community, such as high rates of high school dropout, homelessness, incarceration and chronic health issues,” the council’s report said.

Jenny Ocon of the council talked about what Napa County could do if it spent the predicted lifetime cost of child abuse — $72.5 million — on trying to prevent child abuse. That money could send all county children to preschool. It could buy 107 median-priced houses for families.

But the Child Abuse Prevention Council didn’t ask the county to dig into its budget for $72.5 million. Its requests were more modest, such as working to bring housing to the county’s surplus Old Sonoma Road property. The county intends to sell this site for housing that would have to be approved by the city of Napa.

“We know there is a housing crisis in our community and the difficulty of families being able to afford housing,” Ocon said.

Other request include:

- Support legislation that provides resources to community-based organizations offering services to prevent adverse childhood and community experiences.

- Support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposals in such areas as paid family leave programs, universal health care coverage, housing affordability, child care infrastructure, universal preschool and disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

- Support the relationship between the Child Abuse Prevention Council and the county Health and Human Services Agency to strengthen the child welfare system through legislation and initiatives.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht noted Newsom made his initial budget proposals in January and is now releasing his May revise version.

“Help us work through what the May revise looks like and what to support at that point,” he said to Child Abuse Prevention Council members.

Board Chair Ryan Gregory thanked the council for working with the county on its annual legislative platform. The platform details what type of initiatives the county will lobby for at the state and federal levels.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.