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In Oceanside : Shelter Offers a Haven for Abused Kids

Times Staff Writer

Judy Haworth-Adams has a favorite story about her days as a young, energetic but naive social worker in Los Angeles.

There was this woman, Mrs. Jones, who kept beating her son, Johnny. After a particularly severe beating--one that landed Johnny in an emergency room--Haworth-Adams was called to work with the mother.

“What is the problem?” Haworth-Adams asked.

“I can’t get Johnny to pick up his toys,” Mrs. Jones replied.

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“How does that make you feel?” the social worker continued.

“Angry,” the mother said.

Haworth-Adams immediately dove into the project of helping this woman. With Haworth-Adams’ help, Mrs. Jones lost 20 pounds, got a new hairdo, completed counseling and enrolled in a local junior college. And she stopped beating Johnny.

“So, after everything was complete, and I’m looking at this prize package that I personally helped create, I ask her ‘So, Mrs. Jones, do you have any last questions?’ ”

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“Just one,” the woman replied. “How do I get Johnny to pick up his toys?”

Now, as director of North County’s only family counseling center and shelter for abused children, Haworth-Adams is still dealing with the age-old issue of child abuse.

“Interestingly enough, here I was trained in psychotherapy, I had two kids of my own, but I didn’t know how to get Johnny to pick up his toys,” Haworth-Adams said.

At Casa de Amparo, next to the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, Haworth-Adams and the entire staff of the center advocate a package of counseling and self-help groups to enable parents to get their children to pick up toys without battering them.

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For Haworth-Adams and Susan Richardson, who was instrumental in founding the shelter in 1979, a child abuser is not so much a sick person as someone who is lacking in parenting skills, someone who has never been taught to discipline properly.

Casa, as it is referred to by the staff and its charges, provides the shelter for the children until the parents have learned to become better parents.

“Picking up toys requires a number of skills. It requires some environmental changes,” said Haworth-Adams, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor. “First, you need a toy box, then the child needs some guidance and a reward for good behavior . . . . Eventually, the parents realize that this works and the children learn to pick up toys.”

The sounds of birds chirping and rustling leaves mingle with the distant sounds of children at play at this nonprofit residential treatment center that was once the San Luis Rey Academy, a Catholic high school for girls. The center began accepting abused children, placed there voluntarily by parents, six years ago and began taking in court-appointed charges four years ago.

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Richardson, also a licensed family counselor and considered an expert on child abuse by her colleagues, set out to open a child shelter 10 years ago after her involvement with North County’s Woman Resource Center, also located next to the Mission.

“Women would call the resource center and say they were abusing their kids and I didn’t know what to say,” Richardson said. “We had a lot to learn.”

At that time, the only shelter in the county was the Hillcrest Receiving Home, near downtown San Diego.

Casa, with its 30-member staff, has a capacity for 23 children from newborns to teen-agers. It operates on a $600,000 budget, the bulk of which comes from the state, with area cities and private donations make up the difference. The Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton pays for one of Casa’s child abuse counselors to remain on the base five days a week to work with Marine families.

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Casa is the first stop in North County for children suspected by authorities of being abused. Most of the younger children stay at the facility from 48 hours to 30 days, while some of the teen-agers may stay as long six months. About 800 children were housed and treated at the shelter last year, while 600 parents participated in counseling groups.

A few of Casa’s charges are pitifully abused. In one recent case a 2-year-old boy suffering from malnutrition was unable to crawl, let alone walk.

A few of the teen-agers have nowhere else to go. Unwanted at home, they have run away from an unending list of foster homes but are not considered “bad enough” for juvenile detention facilities.

For Richardson and Haworth-Adams the goal of Casa is to send the children back to a safe home. The process of creating a safe home begins as soon as a child is put into Casa’s custody.

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The parents or parent are sent (usually by Juvenile Court) to group parenting classes at Casa, told to join Parents Anonymous, a self-help group for abusive parents, and in some cases enter into individual counseling and psychotherapy.

Two other groups, Parents United, a group to aid parents with the problem of incest and molestation in their families, and Daughters United, a support group for young girls who have been victims of molestation, meet at Casa.

Counseling programs and support groups like those offered at Casa are effective but “not a panacea for the child abuse problem,” said Melinda Lasater, an assistant district attorney in the juvenile dependency division, which handles court-ordered protective custody cases.

“Casa is one of many programs available to deal with an abusive situation,” she said. “It’s a good one but you can’t say that counseling is going to correct every bad situation.

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“You can’t depend on one program in child abuse. It depends on the severity of the abuse. Sometimes criminal charges should be pursued instead of counseling, but Casa is an alternative.”

If social workers from the Department of Social Services determine a child’s home is safe after the treatment, the child is returned to the custody of the parents. If it appears the counseling is not achieving its goal, the child is usually placed in a foster home.

The theory is that if the counseling can change one problem successfully in an abusive family, the change may bring a ripple effect which can cause other good changes.

“If you take these parents and you give them a set of skills, they can get their children to comply in a parent-pleasing kind of way,” Richardson said. “And that in turn makes the parents feel better about themselves.”

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“No longer do they see little Suzy as a monster that embarrassed her mother when she cried in the mall,” said Haworth-Adams. “The parents realize that normal children do those things and that it was too much to expect a 4-year-old to sit in a stroller for hours while they shop.”


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