RANCHO MIRAGE — Last year, between 400 and 500 forensic interviews of suspected child abuse were conducted at the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center. That is more than one child per day that a police detective  brought into facility to gather potential evidence of abuse.

During February, 166 separate clients passed through the Center, generating 600 appointments.

John E. Thoresen

“It is staggering,” said John Thoresen, director and executive officer of the Center. “I don’t think it’s overwhelming, I think it’s staggering to think that in a community of 400,000 permanent residents that a detective has to come into this facility every day.”

The Coachella Valley has 11 percent of Riverside County’s population, but has more than one-third of the forensic abuse case reviews, according to Thoresen.

“I don’t know if that is because law enforcement is more in tune to investigating, or if there’s more reporting, or it’s because this facility is here,” he said. “Who knows?”

Forensic Interviews are ordered by law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office or Child Protective Services.  The Barbara Sinatra Center offers a child-friendly environment and state-of-the-art recording equipment to assist in the evidence gathering to assist in the prosecution of suspected child maltreatment including: sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and witness to violence.  The Forensic Interview Department is staffed by a full time on-site forensic interviewer.

Nationwide, 20 percent of child abuse cases go unreported.  That is not the case in the Coachella Valley, Thoresen said. That is likely due in large part to the high-profile presence of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, which raises the awareness of child abuse. The Center also has an active outreach program. Through the outreach program, the Center provides training and education throughout the community to help identify and prevent child abuse and neglect.  A licensed therapist visits different school sites, boys and girls clubs, Betty Ford Center Children’s Program, local school district events and meetings, and local colleges to educate and bring awareness to the issue of child abuse and neglect.

The underreporting is much less in the Coachella Valley, so the reported cases are skewed towards a higher number, Thoresen said.

To demonstrate how awareness plays out in the real time, Thoresen provided an example.

Generally, the Center has a caseload that is about 60 percent females, 40 percent males from the ages of 3 to 18. When news of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse sex scandal broke at Penn State with the boys, there was a lot more awareness about the issue. The Center’s numbers completely flipped for about a six-month period. It was 60 percent boys and 40 percent girls, Thoresen said.

“Awareness is very important,” Thoresen said. “I’m sure what happened is that people start talking about it at the dinner table, or kids saw it on the news or whatever and boys said, ‘Oh, that happened to me,’ or whatever.”

That’s one of the primary reasons the nonprofit Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Foundation in conjunction with Wonder Media developed a national campaign on child abuse awareness and prevention. The program’s main goal is to educate children ages 5-12 about what to do when confronted with abusive behavior, safe and unsafe touches, going to a parent or another trusted adult if they are confronted in an unsafe situation, and that it is not their fault. The program was launch in the 2016-17 school year.

“We know that awareness helps,” Thoresen said.

“One of things, which is vitally important for this community, is the fact that this facility is complete. Not only do we do the counseling, but this facility is also used by law enforcement for all of the forensic interviews that are conducted in cases of suspected child abuse from Banning to Blythe,” Thoresen said. “It’s important that the children can come to this facility. They don’t have to go to the hospital for an exam, which is traumatizing enough. They don’t have to go to a police station to be interviewed. They can come to a very child-friendly environment where they feel comfortable, their parents feel comfortable and law enforcement loves coming here.”

That, Thoresen said, is just one more reason the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center matters.

The Center, founded by Frank and Barbara Sinatra and located on the Eisenhower Health campus, is the one of two children’s facilities that the focal point of an aggressive Make March Matter fundraising campaign. For the second consecutive year, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has partnered with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center (BSCC) in conjunction with CHLA’s campaign. The goal is to raise at least $250,000 during the month of March in the Coachella Valley in support of services for children and families at CHLA and BSCC.

Since it was founded in 1986, 23,000 abused children have passed through the Center’s doors.

If you would like to contribute the best way to do that by going to www.makemarchmatter.org and finding out which businesses are supporting the campaign. Then go out and support those businesses.  You can also make a donation directly on the web site and 100 percent of those funds go directly CHLA/BSCC.