published on March 8, 2012 - 7:33 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Esther Elizabeth Franco

Executive Director

Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention

What we do: Coordinate community efforts to prevent and respond to child maltreatment—child abuse and/or neglect.  

Education: MBA from California State University, Fresno and a BA in business management & organizational behavior from Fresno Pacific University.
Age: 52

Family: Single. My greatest family treasure is being an aunt to eight nieces and four nephews!

How did you come to your position with the Fresno Council on Child Abuse Prevention, Esther?  
I was a board member who stepped in as interim director when we were looking to fill the executive director position, but after three months the board asked me to apply and I’ve been the director for almost five years. I had prior experience in managing multi-county divisions for national nonprofit organizations in fund and program development, but FCCAP by far has been the most challenging and rewarding professional experience of my career because I believe protecting children from abuse/neglect is the most profound way to change the world.   

What accomplishments are you most proud of since you came on, Esther?  
I’m proud of several significant changes in administrative and program outreach efforts. However, I would have to say that Adam’s Project is what I am most proud of because we were able to successfully implement a primary prevention program that will save lives.

Describe the new program, Adam’s Project, to educate on shaken baby syndrome, Esther.
When I became director of FCCAP, Dr. John Scholefield informed me that FCCAP needed to address the Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) problem in our community because it is one of the most devastating forms of child abuse. It can cause paralysis, blindness and mental disabilities. Then in 2008, when Children’s Hospital reported that of the 17 children who died from abuse/neglect, 14 showed signs consistent with SBS, FCCAP’s committee found “the Dias model” — a hospital-based and evidenced-based SBS prevention program created by pediatrician Dr. Mark Dias that sustained 47-percent reduction rates. We then asked Adam’s grandmother, Maria Alvarez-Garcia, to join the project, naming it after Adam Carbajal, who at age 1 was shaken by his mother’s then-boyfriend, and continues to suffer from seizures eight years later. His story of surviving SBS is included in a DVD presentation and a brochure. The program was launched in November 2011 with all six hospitals participating in dispensing approximately 17,000 brochures each year for every new birth in Fresno County.  

What is the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center of Fresno County and what is FCCAP’s role there, Esther?  
Since 1998, FCCAP has administered the only authorized child forensic interview center in Fresno County where approximately 350 children are interviewed each year for allegations of physical or sexual abuse, or if that child has witnessed a crime. When a child is brought to the MDIC, our Child Forensic Interview Specialist (CFIS) is given the challenge of obtaining a statement from the child in an objective, developmentally sensitive and legally defensible manner. California law requires multiple agencies conduct a thorough investigation, even though the child may be suffering from trauma, shame and fear.  Needless to say, emotions are overwhelming for parents when they learn their child may have been abused and often the child feels embarrassed or guilty about the abuse and may interpret a parent’s anxiety as anger towards them. All these emotions add to the child’s distress and can compromise the interview process, thus diminishing the chances for a successful prosecution and conviction of the offender. Our MDIC is designed to overcome these obstacles by reducing the trauma in the forensic interview process and by coordinating support services by other agencies. FCCAP’s primary focus is to minimize the trauma to the abused child by reducing the number of interviews and interviewers. The profile of the average child interviewed at the MDIC is a Hispanic female under the age of 13 for sexual abuse.

What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job, Esther?  
I’d have to say the Child Death Review process is probably the most difficult for me because I think there is nothing more tragic than the death of a child, especially when the cause is maltreatment.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Esther?   
My first “real job” was a laboratory aide at the Central California Blood Center right after graduating high school to put myself through college. I thought I wanted to be a laboratory scientist like my mother who was the lab supervisor & pheresis director at the time. However, after five years of working in a laboratory, processing blood donations into platelets and cryoprecipitate, I decided to change my major to business and applied for a donor recruiter position working in community relations for another four years. So instead of processing blood I was asking people to donate it. It was a wonderful experience and opportunity to work amongst professionals and I still maintain several friendships that originated from the Blood Center.   

What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Esther?  
My roots date back to my maternal and paternal grandparents who migrated from Mexico in the 1930s. They were legal migrant farm workers and instilled great work ethics in their children, which in turn my parents passed on to our family. I’ve worked and volunteered for various nonprofit organizations throughout the Central Valley hoping to utilize my experiences for the advancement of children’s issues, particularly those pertaining to the unique challenges of young Hispanic girls and women. I believe we all make a difference by the life we live.
What do you do in your spare time, Esther?   
My favorite activity is spending time with Nico, my 7-year-old nephew.  Other favorite pass times include testing new recipes (on my staff & friends), gardening, quilting and taking weekend trips along the California Coast.

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