LOSING BATTLE? "Children are becoming an endangered species," says county Supervisor William G. Steiner, whose career has been devoted to children's causes. Child abuse incidents reported in Orange County number more than 40,000 annually, compared with just one-fourth that number 10 years ago. . . . His answer: more focus on prevention. Money to expand such programs is tough with the county bankruptcy. But, Steiner warns: "For every dollar we spend on prevention, we spend 10 dollars dealing with the problems created after the damage is done."
BALANCING ACT: One local operation Steiner boasts about: the Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Center. It has a program that deals with low-risk families before they become high-risk. Says director Kathy McCarrell: "These are parents who care about their children, but because of their low income or other stress factors, taking care of them becomes a low priority. We help them prioritize, so the children can come first."
FIGHTING BACK: A chilling statistic: Disabled children are the most vulnerable to abuse. But at the Blind Children's Learning Center in Santa Ana last week, children were taught self-defense by noted author Millicent Collinsworth, above, visually impaired herself. . . . They cannot always fight back, she says, but at least they can learn what an unwanted touch is, and how to tell someone to stop--or tell someone who can intervene. . . . Says center spokeswoman Lynn Morgan: "She was so intensely dedicated to the children. She worked hard on their self-esteem."
GROUP GROWTH: Olive Crest in Costa Mesa was founded 22 years ago with one group home for children facing risk of child abuse. Now, besides its 175 foster homes, it's up to 22 group homes--13 in Orange County. Its goal is to own all its homes, to reduce costly rentals, which cut deep into its monthly budget. . . . One helping hand this month: State Farm Insurance donated $100,000 toward that goal. A widespread pledge campaign may begin next year.