Hillsides Community Blog

Why the Nassar Case Proves We Should Believe the Children

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO


Simon Biles, a young woman who was in foster care, is the 2016 Olympic individual all-around, vault and floor gold medalist, and balance beam bronze medalist.  Photo credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The notorious case of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of more than 150 women and girls he treated as a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State sports physician has brought the issue of sexual abuse once again to the forefront. As victim after victim testified and addressed him, it was clear that these women had been transformed. They were no longer victims but advocates determined to not only seek justice but to assure that such abuse stops.

Their pain and trauma is only too familiar to many of the children served by Hillsides. Like the victims of Nassar, their perpetrators were more likely than not to be someone familiar and with easy access. The physical violation is more painful because of the violated trust, which can leave a lasting impact emotionally. Revisiting such horrors further traumatizes the victims, however, like pulling off a bandage, the wound can finally be addressed and the healing process begins.

The greatest enablers of such abuse are silence and ignorance. Like Nassar, perpetrators often have a plausible reason for their actions to counter the questioning of their victims. Parents, guardians, and other responsible parties often accept such rationales, questioning rather the perception of the child. The first rule of thumb when a child reveals anything questionable is to take the revelation seriously. Any activity that leaves a child uneasy, let alone traumatized, must be acknowledged. Until an investigation can determine the facts, caution must rule and a child must be protected from further contact. Children should be taught to never second-guess their perception and feel comfortable to raise concerns and ask questions without fear. Silence, which only reinforces a feeling of shame, is the culprit regarding perpetuating abuse.

Important lessons can be learned in hindsight. One parent expressed that she should have taught her child what to reasonably expect in a physical examine to mitigate inappropriate actions in such a setting. Staying engaged, being informed, encouraging questions, showing sensitivity to reactions–all these help to create an environment supportive of a child and serve as a strong deterrent to abuse.

The other lesson learned is that systems need to stay focused on the children and assure their safety. In this case, we saw how the systems protected a perpetrator. The institutions bear some responsibility to ensure that all contact with children is safe. Bureaucracies driven by self-preservation can fail to protect those they purport to serve. The inability to protect children must be addressed; otherwise violence will be perpetuated.

The challenge is how to foster a safe environment without introducing unnecessary fears or suspicions into the impressionable lives of our children. Finding a balance is important, and the attention brought to this issue because of the Nassar case can serve to, once again, encourage us to not be complacent and instead be ever-vigilant.

Common Relationship Mistakes to Avoid this Valentine’s Day (and the Rest of Your Life!)


by Natalia Hughes

In my years as a therapist, I’ve come to realize that relationships are very much like learning how to walk when you are an infant.  Walking starts with the basics of sitting, rolling, and learning how to crawl. It then leads to pulling yourself up, walking with help, cruising and then standing and balancing on your own. Before you know it, you are taking your first step and, with practice, you will be walking like a pro.

Like learning to walk, relationships are a process.  The ability to have a healthy, loving relationship takes time (baby steps!) and self-awareness. Failed relationships happen for many reasons, and the failure of a relationship is often a source of great psychological anguish.

Most of us have to consciously work to master the skills necessary to make a partnership flourish. It is important to identify patterns from failed relationships so that we can learn from them.  With Valentine’s Day coming up and love in the air, I thought it was a good time to list five common patterns to avoid:

  1. Losing yourself: People often make the mistake of losing their identity when they are in a relationship.  Remember, you are an individual. A strong, well-developed identity for both parties is a key component to a secure relationship. When you’re in a relationship your partner enhances you, it does not consume Without two separate “I’s,” there can be no “we.”
  2. Over-sharing. Often people suffer from the “too much information” syndrome early on in a relationship.  The first few months of getting to know someone is the time you need to establish a firm foundation for the partnership to thrive. You don’t want to make the mistake of revealing deeply personal information too soon.  That level of intimacy and confidence takes time to nurture, and should be saved for when the relationship is more securely rooted.
  3. Focusing on the negative and assuming the worst: Not everything your partner says or does will sit well with you. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. Try not to assume that you and your significant other will see things the same way or that you can read each other’s minds. No one is perfect and like you, your partner deserves the benefit of the doubt. The key to maintaining a happy, healthy relationship is not focusing on those shortcomings, but rather, those characteristics that you cherish about your partner.
  4. Shutting down communication. Silence and walking away is not always safe even though it may feel like it, which is why so many of us do it when hashing out difficult issues with our partners. Instead of clamming up, take ownership of your feelings and communicate them honestly and directly. Managing your emotions appropriately is the basis of a communication style that can resolve conflict and lead to more established bond.
  5. Thinking the past dictates your future. Be mindful of your learning process in relationships. History has a way of repeating itself unless you mindfully makes changes. Take an honest look at your previous relationship mistakes so that you can avoid repeating them. This means confronting your fears and dependencies, and not looking to your partner to take responsibility for what is yours.

Like walking, building a strong relationship is a work in progress that is rich with discoveries and always filled with challenges. Being mindful and open will help you to avoid some of the bumps in the road, and disarm the behaviors that can undermine your relationship.


Natalia, who received a master’s degree in Marriage Family Therapy from the University of Phoenix, is a CalWORKs therapist intern with Hillsides in our Family Resource Centers, Pomona.   CalWORKs is a state-wide program that provides employment services and other benefits to families in need.   

Natalia is a firm believer that the more we strive to learn, the more we will grow individually and as a culture. Her greatest passion is to teach others to continue to grow on their self-journey of discovery.  “I enjoy helping my clients find healthy perceptions of themselves, fortify their loving relationships, and apply self-growth in order to be balanced individuals,” she says.




Why Two Organizations are Better As One

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO
Joe Costa 2 180 pixMany of our regular funders ask how the affiliation with Bienvenidos has gone, given its significance for both organizations. Integration of two organizations is best-described as a work in progress, and that certainly is true for us. The ultimate test of the success of our efforts to become one integrated system of care is judged by our ability to effectively serve those in our care.
Recently, when asked this question, I was reminded of a recent case involving one of our children in residence. A young boy in his teens arrived at Hillsides very withdrawn. His hair covered his face as if he were hiding behind it. His voice was low and almost inaudible. He was extremely reluctant to engage with others and isolated himself. At the time of admission, many assessments were conducted, and the nursing department discovered that he had a severe case of acne and prescribed medication that cleared it up. As his appearance improved, so did his willingness to interact with his peers and staff. A treatment plan to lighten his depression and regular counseling sessions helped him feel confident to express his concerns. Soon a plan was also put in place to get him back to his community of origin. Since his family is unable to welcome him home at this time, a resource (foster) family has been identified through the Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption Program. He is now completing the residential program, still in touch with his family, and beginning the process of being welcomed into a resource family.
This boy’s story offers an insight into the various services offered by our energized integrated organization, which is driven by our mission to help those we serve heal, grow, and thrive. It would be impossible to facilitate such services if it were not for the full array of services we now offer: an enhanced intake system, nursing and mental health programs, and residential care that can access resource families for children ready to move on to the community while still staying in touch with their biological families. This range of services has been assembled through the affiliation of Hillsides with Bienvenidos.
There is always more to do to strengthen our integration as one organization. Our board of directors and senior leadership team are committed to this ongoing process. We hope that those who have supported either one or both organizations will continue to do so as we strive to be ever-effective. The effort is worthwhile if, at the end of the day, together we are able to impact the life of a child, young person, or family more than if we had remained apart.

The Top 12 Reasons to Attend Hillsides Gala, La Nuit des Rêves


Our gala is coming up on February 24, and here are just a few reasons you won’t want to miss it.

  1. For those of you missing the Parisian landmarks, you can feast your eyes on a giant-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower as you enjoy the marbled elegance of The Langham Huntington, Pasadena.
  2. We will be pouring “real” French champagne, not that sparkling wine stuff!
  3. Chef Denis Depoitre of The Langham is creating a unique menu for the event with a French flair that we can tell you will be incroyable!
  4. You’ll get a chance to wear that show-stopper dress again or dust off that tux or black suit from the recesses of your closet. Dressing up is always fun for a good cause.
  5. You can rub elbows with your all-time favorite weather man, NBC 4 weathercaster Fritz Coleman, who serves as emcee for the evening.
  6. You can bid your heart away on an amazing slew of auction items, including a Holland America cruise, a stay at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Disney lot, and a Laguna Beach ocean view getaway.
  7. You’ll have an opportunity to meet some celebrities of the past, the ill-fated Marie Antoinette and Louise XVI, who will be circulating the room with heads very intact.
  8. If you win the Rose Bowl package, which includes Rose Parade and Rose Bowl tickets, you will already have your plans set for New Year’s Day 2019!
  9. The incomparable Jacob Maarse Florists is providing all the flowers and your head will be spinning as you witness the sea of gorgeous arrangements.
  10. After dinner and during the dancing portion of the evening, we will be serving macaroons from the noted French bakery, Ladurée, as well as bags of French Fries.
  11. We repeat, we are serving French Fries after dinner!
  12. You will be helping fulfill the dreams of the 14,000 children, youth and families Hillsides serves. You will be making a difference in the lives of those who need help the most.

Get your tickets by Feb 16 here!  Thank you in advance for the support of our annual gala, the biggest fundraiser of the year!

Why the Turpin Family Abuse is a Failure Not Only of the Parents but a Community


The story of 13 siblings, mostly children, being tortured and imprisoned by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, in Perris is horrific. For most of us, it is unimaginable how something like this could happen. What possibly could have contributed to such behavior on the part of the parents? What extraordinary isolation from family, friends, and community allowed these conditions to persist for years?

In this kind of situation, we often point to the failure of the child welfare system. The Turpin family somehow went unnoticed. Some might say that they were quirky and considered harmless. To the extent that there may have been reason to question the well-being of the family members, respect for individuality and beliefs deterred any questioning.

Typically, the ties with extended family would be an important source of connection that could have surfaced a concern, but it seems that even in this regard the Turpins were sufficiently distanced from extended family to raise any alarms. Isolated and governed by paranoia and delusions, this family descended into a pattern of behavior that endangered the well-being of its members significantly. It seems that if not for only the determination of one young girl to defy the odds, this heinous situation would still be continuing.

Once again, this kind of a story indicates how vulnerable children are and how completely dependent they are on the good judgement and selflessness of their parents. Absent that, children are at risk of being subjected to harmful circumstances that have long-lasting impact on their physical and emotional health.

How could this have been prevented? Given the vulnerability of children and the frailty of many families, a more embracing approach of the community may have made the difference in this situation. It is unacceptable for extended family members to absolve themselves of the responsibility to look out for the children of family members. It is unacceptable for school systems to abrogate their role of assuring appropriate educations even for children educated at home or through private schools. It is unacceptable for health care professionals to not see beyond the immediate need to understand the social factors that impact health.

The story of the Turpins is not just of a despotic father and mother who failed to protect their children. It is the failure of a community to claim responsibility for all its children, regardless of a family’s ability to support and nourish a child. Children no matter their biological ties belong to all of us. At any given time, families need to be supported by their extended family and community in order to best care for their children.  For a parent to resist the support of family and community should be cause for us to examine what might be a more pressing issue.

Although the community was unengaged it is now called to be a refuge for these children who will begin the life-long process of healing from the great harm that has been done. It will require resolve and resources to undo the damage; how much less traumatic it would have been if those in the community had intervened earlier.

Let us take on a new attitude characterized by an embrace of all children and families and develop systems and resources that break down isolation and assure care to the most vulnerable.

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