A Conversation About YMCA of San Diego County’s Partners in Prevention Initiative

Child abuse and neglect are critical issues that require a community-wide approach to effectively address. By prioritizing the well-being of children and families, we can make a significant impact in reducing these harmful incidents in our community. Partners in Prevention aims to do just that.

Partners in Prevention is a countywide initiative that unites over 200 community partners to help families access resources and supports necessary to prevent child abuse and promote family well-being.

To gain a clearer understanding of the critical role that the YMCA plays in driving real systems-level change to child abuse prevention, we sat down with Aimee Zeitz, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Well-Being at YMCA of San Diego County and Project Director of Partners in Prevention.


YMCA: How did the Partners in Prevention initiative come to be, and what was the driving force behind its creation?
AIMEE: In May, 2019, the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention hosted a Statewide Prevention Convening.  A cross-sector team from San Diego attended and started to identify strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect across our county.  The strategies, priorities and activities were included in a proposal to the Children’s Bureau and we were awarded a grant as part of the Community Collaborations to Strengthen and Preserve Families cohort in October, 2019. The YMCA submitted the proposal in partnership with Child Welfare Services, First 5 San Diego, American Academy of Pediatrics- CA 3, SAY San Diego, Casey Family Programs and many others.

YMCA: Why do you believe the Partners in Prevention initiative has the potential to reduce child abuse and the number of children entering the child welfare system?
AIMEE: We believe that if we can increase family protective factors (things like access to concrete/ basic needs, parenting supports, social connectedness, etc.) then we will decrease the risk of child maltreatment and increase overall health and well-being.  To increase family protective factors, we must increase our cross-sector collaboration and ensure access to high quality services.  Essentially, we want to make sure families can get connected to the supports they want and need for their families to healthy, safe and thriving.

YMCA: Can you share some of the key strategies or programs implemented by Partners in Prevention to support families and prevent child abuse?
AIMEE: One exciting activity has been shared work around shifting from mandated reporting to community supporting. We’ve been part of developing a Community Response Guide, which is both a process and a tool to improve consistency in making child abuse reports to the hotline and reduce unnecessary involvement with child welfare.  We know that many reports are made related to needs about the impact of poverty, and those needs are likely best met through community resources not through child welfare. What will be needed for an alternative to a hotline report is a way for families to easily connect to resources and supports, and we’ve done a lot of work with partners to improve referral pathways to make sure families get to what they want and needs, when, where and how they prefer. Another key strategy has been a focus on equity, justice, inclusion and belonging.  We know that children and families of color are disproportionately involved with child welfare, along the entire continuum of a hotline call to investigation and unfortunately out of home placement. Partners in Prevention has leaned in to understand the root drivers of these inequities, and begin to address them through program, policy and practices. 

YMCA: It’s amazing how collaboration can amplify impact. Could you share an example of how partnering with other organizations, communities, or even counties has supercharged your efforts?
AIMEE: We’ve been able to work with the most amazing partners to accomplish some of our project goals.  One key strategy for this project has been to engage with community members who have been impacted by the child welfare system.  In partnership with the Childhood Obesity Initiative, we were able to develop a compensation model and process to support community member participation in feedback sessions, community meetings and an ongoing community council.  Instead of developing separate approaches and potentially competing for community members to engage with our efforts, we joined forces to develop a shared plan and leverage our impact. At the state level, we’ve had the chance to elevate the need for a shift from mandated reporting to community supporting.  Through participating in participating in state-wide efforts like the Citizen’s Review Panel, a Mandated Reporting to Community Supporting Taskforce was created including multiple work groups include PiP staff and partners.  This is a great example of the ripple effect of our effort. 

YMCA: If we were having this conversation five years from now, celebrating all you've accomplished, what would you hope to tell me?
AIMEE: What are the milestones you dream of reaching? We are actually wrapping up our 5th year of this project in September and we are so proud of our accomplishments!  We’ve engaged hundreds of partners and community members to influence San Diego’s Comprehensive Prevention Plan and the visioning of county-wide prevention hubs which will be community pathways to resources. We’ve trained over 1200 family strengthening and support providers in service delivery best practice frameworks, including launching a process of becoming the first HOPE- inspired (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) community.  We’ve also witnessed a huge change in our Child Welfare Services as they’ve become the first Child & Family Well-Being Department in the nation.  The name change demonstrates their commitment to pivoting from child welfare interventions to shifting resources and efforts to reduce child maltreatment and involvement with child welfare when not needed!

YMCA: How can individuals and communities get involved and support the Partners in Prevention initiative?
AIMEE: You can find out more here and/or contact Aimee Zeitz. And, we are excited that as Partners in Prevention wraps up, we’ll be embarking on another journey with Partners in Equity, also funded by the Children’s Bureau.  We will spend the next 5 years focused on addressing local drivers of racial disproportionality in partnership with community members, partners and the Child and Family Well-Being Department.  To join the effort, please contact Ariane Porras. 

By cultivating a connected community that nurtures caring, strong, safe, and healthy families, Partners in Prevention is making strides in creating a safer and more supportive environment for children and families in San Diego. Together, we can make a difference and build a brighter future for our children.