Innovator in child sexual abuse identification and treatment
As the founder and executive director of the Child and Family Institute (CFI) in Sacramento, Sandra Baker developed innovative approaches to the identification and treatment of children who experienced sexual abuse. Her contributions to this critical topic include developing an intervention model recognized at the state and national level and expanding resources to serve victims of child sexual abuse.
A licensed clinical social worker who earned her MSW from California State University, Sacramento, Baker was working in child protective services in Sacramento County when she became aware of an increasing number of children who had been sexually abused. Finding little research on the topic and few intervention and treatment resources, she left her position in 1978 to establish the Sacramento Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program, which evolved into the CFI. Until her retirement in 2005, she challenged myths about child sexual abuse; developed groundbreaking programs to treat both victims of sexual abuse during childhood and their family members, including perpetrators; and contributed to knowledge in the nascent field of child protection and treatment.
Baker understood the need to provide services for the entire family and the need for multidisciplinary approaches to working with the problem, approaches that were controversial at the time. She coordinated activity with the District Attorney’s Office to hold sex offenders accountable; brought in mental health professionals to provide treatment for victims and their family members; and provided feedback to the courts. The treatment model included a diversion program for offenders and collaboration with the County’s Probation Department, which proved very effective.
Her accomplishments as executive director of the CFI also include initiating a juvenile sex offender treatment program, developing outreach programs for pregnant and parenting teens and homeless youth in Sacramento schools, and establishing an information and referral phone line. The institute developed a national reputation as a leading sexual abuse intervention and treatment program.
In addition to establishing the CFI, Baker participated on an advisory committee for the California Victims of Crime (VOC) program, encouraging the program to change its guidelines related to the eligibility of children for VOC benefits. Thousands of children who had previously been denied resources because the VOC focused on adults and the parents of abused children subsequently had access to the benefits program.
Baker also published articles about child sexual abuse, contributed to VOC guidelines for mental health professionals working with child victims of sexual abuse, testified at state and federal hearings on the topic, and presented at numerous conferences on issues related to child sexual abuse. Her impact on the field of child protection in California cannot be overstated.