Beach Cities Propose Coordinated Effort Against Child Abuse

Times Staff Writer

Officials from three South Bay beach cities that have been among the hardest-hit by recent child molestation cases are attempting to coordinate child abuse education and prevention programs.

Representatives from Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach have written a seven-page proposal to the South Bay Hospital District that calls for a comprehensive review of services in the three cities and the possible creation of a permanent South Bay office on child abuse.

The proposal is designed to provide a clearinghouse for programs and services in the three cities and to eliminate costly duplication. It has been unanimously endorsed by all three city councils.

"Duplicate and, at times, triplicate acquisitions of materials and labor is needlessly occurring, and unless an effort is made to coordinate these several programs, effectiveness, efficiency and, above all, the community, will begin to suffer," the proposal states.

Program Assessment

The proposal, expected to be submitted to the district this week, asks for an initial $10,000 grant to employ a consultant to conduct an assessment of community programs, resources and needs. Depending upon the outcome of that study, the cities will apply for a second grant in about six months to follow through on the recommendations.

"This isn't a problem that is limited to geographical boundaries," said Manhattan Beach City Councilman Russell Lesser, who represented that city on a panel that drafted the proposal. "We could all do a better job if we work together. No one has a monopoly on good ideas."

Programs addressing child abuse have existed in the three beach cities for several years, but with allegations of child molestation at the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach last year, officials say the need for services has grown. In the McMartin case, seven former teachers at the preschool were charged with 208 counts of molestation and conspiracy, about two-thirds of which have been dismissed. Their preliminary hearing is still under way.

Four Others Closed

Since the McMartin Pre-School closed, allegations of child molestation have forced the closure of four other preschools in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach which drew pupils from all three beach cities. Moreover, sheriff's deputies are investigating more than 1,000 complaints of child abuse in the beach cities, according to Hermosa Beach Councilman John Cioffi, who has been active in the movement against child abuse.

In response to the wave of reported child abuse incidents, numerous nonprofit organizations stepped up child abuse education and prevention programs and all three beach cities allocated money for the same purpose.

Manhattan Beach, for example, last year allocated $66,000 to hire a full-time community coordinator to develop a health education program. That job, which became part-time in June, includes assisting the Manhattan Beach School District in working child abuse education into its curriculum.

In Hermosa Beach, city officials allocated $50,000 in March for a similar post, a position that has not yet been filled.

While there have been no preschools closed in Redondo Beach, officials there recognized the child abuse problem, too, and set aside a $75,000 state grant for child abuse prevention and education through the city's neighborhood watch programs. The Redondo Beach Police Department also designated an investigator for child abuse cases and offered special training for its officers in the area of child abuse.

'Re-Inventing the Wheel'

"The three beach cities were each responding in isolation to an issue of common concern," said Gary Bess, former director of the South Bay Free Clinic and now director of the Los Angeles Free Clinic, who was the primary author of the proposal. "Each community in part was re-inventing the wheel," he said. As testimony to the cross-community support for the proposal, representatives from the city governments and school districts participated in drafting it, Bess said. Among those involved were Cioffi, Lesser, Redondo Beach Mayor Barbara Doerr, Manhattan Beach School District Supt. Byron Burgess, Redondo Beach School District Supt. Nick Parris, Redondo Beach Community Resource Director Pat Dreizler and a Redondo Beach School District administrator, Shirley Rogers.

Cioffi said that the city of El Segundo has also expressed an interest in the program, but it was excluded from the formal proposal because it is not part of the South Bay Hospital District. The district, a public agency with an elected board, gets its money by leasing South Bay Hospital to American Medical International Inc.

Raising Awareness

"I am sure that none of the beach cities or the hospital district would object to sharing information with El Segundo or anyone else," Cioffi said. "This whole thing is about raising the awareness of the community."

Kathleen A. Belkham, executive director of the hospital district, said it will take at least six weeks after the proposal is submitted for the five-member district board to make a decision about the grant. She said the district has committed just $250,000 of the $900,000 available to community organizations for the 1985-86 fiscal year.

Belkham said the idea of better coordination of child abuse education and prevention programs in the three cities is not new, having been raised several months ago during public budget hearings held by the district. Representatives from counseling agencies and other professionals who deal with child abuse testified that there are adequate resources in the South Bay but inadequate efforts to coordinate them, she said.

Need for Coordination

In a report prepared last month for the district by a graduate students from UCLA, survey data showed that area residents--identified as "consumers" in the report"--also expressed a need for coordination. "An improved method of matching target consumers to appropriate services was felt to be more important than increasing the number of health care providers," the report said.

Although the proposal mentions the possibility of creating a South Bay child abuse prevention office, Bess said that portion of the proposal will depend upon the findings of the consultant. Dreizler said that the South Bay Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence, a nonprofit group in Redondo Beach, already coordinates many programs in the three cities.

"The intention of the program is not to duplicate resources," Bess said. "If the assessment shows that the coalition or any other group already has the mechanism to carry this through, then let that be. The more important thing is that the objectives are carried through."

Advisory Board

If the hospital district provides the funding, the proposal envisions the establishment of an advisory board of community leaders, professionals in the field of child abuse, health and human service agencies, educators, clergy, law enforcement officials, therapists and residents. The board would serve to ensure that the assessment of community needs reflects a cross section of the three cities, according to the proposal.

In a second phase of the project, requiring additional money, the proposal suggests activities such as the development of a child abuse resource library, publication of a quarterly newsletter to be distributed to all residents, participation in lobbying for legislation relating to child abuse, and training of police, teachers and other professionals in the area of child abuse prevention and detection.

"We are just trying to make people aware that child abuse really does take place--even in nice little beach cities," Cioffi said. "And the point of this proposal is to provide the most program to the most people for the least dollar spent."

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