Children’s advocates are urging community leaders to tackle such issues as affordable housing and a living wage as ways to help curb child abuse and neglect.
The county last year had 314 verified child abuse cases, according to the Napa County Child Abuse Prevention Council. Last week, the group presented its annual “Report on Children” to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
Those 314 child abuse cases could cost the community a total of $94.2 million over the life of these people. Children suffering abuse are more likely during their lives to require mental health services, be arrested, require special education, require public assistance and lose earning potential, the report said.
Much of the report looks at easing stresses in family life.
“We know abuse and neglect is more likely to happen when parents are stressed and overwhelmed,” said Michele Grupe of the Child Abuse Prevention Council.
Housing cost is considered a financial burden if it takes 30 percent or more of a family’s income. In Napa County, 40 percent of residents face this burden. In 2017, average apartment rents were $1,000 for a studio, $1,713 for one bedroom and $2,085 for two bedrooms, the report said.
Napa County should take every step necessary to bring affordable housing to its former Health and Human Services Agency property on Old Sonoma Road in the city of Napa, the report said. Also, the community should revisit 2013 joint city/county housing task force recommendations that have yet to be implemented, it said.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza was struck that 441 school-age children were homeless in 2015-16.
“Those are kids in Napa Valley going to school with the worry of whether they have a roof over their heads,” he said. “We’re better than that.”
The report addressed wages. A family of three in Napa County needs to make $55,288 annually to afford basic needs. Twenty-seven percent of families that size earn below this amount and 10 percent are below the federal poverty level of $20,420, the report said.
“Until living wages are the norm, taxpayers will continue to subsidize employers who pay substandard wages, by paying for subsidy programs that serve poor, working families,” the report said.
The report didn’t say what an hourly living wage might be in Napa County. The state minimum wage is $11 per hour for employers with at least 26 employees and $10.50 an hour for employers with 25 employees or fewer. This figure is to increase to $15 an hour by 2023.
County supervisors in 2015 and 2016 looked at the living wage issue without taking action, in part because the state raised the minimum wage. Some in the business community expressed concern that setting too high a living wage law for the county would cost jobs.
Supervisor Diane Dillon told Grupe that it would be difficult for the county to take action on a living wage without the cities involved. The county Board of Supervisors could pass such a law only for the unincorporated county, given it doesn’t govern the cities.
The report said recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have traumatized children and their families. It urged the county to do such things as ensure mental health resources are available.
Grupe told the story of a local woman who is afraid to renew her daughter’s health insurance or take her daughter to and from school. The daughter has trouble sleeping because she is afraid her parents will be deported.
“This is not acceptable,” Grupe said.
Supervisors praised the 2018 Report on Children and Grupe thanked the county for the support it has provided so far to children. Whether the county will take further steps in coming months remains to be seen.
“Engaging in the conversation of child abuse and neglect is difficult,” Grupe said. “But it is the most important conversation we can have, in my opinion.”