I was deeply moved by my mother’s experiences as a public health nurse in Chicago, Il., one of the most dangerous counties (Cook County) in America. In those days, public health nurses went to the homes to serve their clients, and my mother often returned in tears as she witnessed the horrific living conditions and experiences of thousands of children. Sometimes she’d make a quick visit to a family on a Sunday to deliver food or a warm coat (out of my closet) to ensure a child was safe. At a young impressionable age, I was introduced to child abuse, and today I continue to honor my mother for her passion and love for our family, our community and to children.

When my first daughter was born, I read about the horrific death of a girl about the same age. Her father had beaten her to death. I cried late into the night and wondered how someone could kill his own child. Subsequently, I became an active volunteer by joining a local council of professionals in child abuse prevention, and I realized more laypeople like myself were needed to help abused children.

Everything I learned and observed left me angry and upset, ultimately motivating me to search for answers and assistance. After volunteering at Hillcrest Receiving Home (San Diego County emergency shelter) and speaking to local volunteer groups, I launched the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation in 1981 (renamed Promises2Kids.org in 2009) alongside Rob Butterfield, Renee Comeau and others to actively involve laypeople. We began by querying professionals to determine where to start to prevent abuse and learned about contributing factors: the high rate of drug addicted newborns, the shortage of basic needs of many infants, the outdated/overcrowded emergency shelter for children, the need for a child abuse hotline and computerized data collection to replace file cabinets, actively advocating to politicians to improve children’s services, etc.

We focused our priorities and began to resolve needs. For example, after building the Polinsky Children’s Center, which replaced Hillcrest Receiving Home, we moved on to solve new problems. There are other important local organizations which focus on assisting abused children, and we persevere side by side. No one has the complete answer.

Norma Hirsh