Why Does Helping Sacramento’s Abused Kids Matter?
By Christine Briceno and Janeen Dodson

This month, we all honor the historical contributions of women, often shining a spotlight on the work of committed individuals whose contributions have been relegated to the shadows.

As former residents — and now board members — of the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento, we salute the remarkable Genevieve F. Didion, who was the less famous step-grandmother of acclaimed author and Sacramento native Joan Didion.

Among her contributions to improving the lives of Sacramento children, the late Genevieve Didion was a founding board member of the Receiving Home, a nonprofit residential care campus for foster children that is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The face of CRH has changed – although its mission has not – in the years since Didion stepped forward to make a difference in the lives of abandoned, abused and neglected youngsters in the turbulent World War II era.

State law encourages quicker placements of children in foster families (now called resource families) or their reunification with family members. At the same time, kids who are harder to place – typically older youngsters and teens who have suffered longer histories of trauma before coming to CRH – have become a larger share of CRH’s clientele.

Didion would have been fine with meeting the needs of older, sometimes more troubled youngsters, we’re certain, judging from her outspoken advocacy of local leadership on behalf of children. She served for decades on the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education, and it’s no coincidence an elementary school is named for her.

Less known is that, in November 1944, when the Junior League and Sacramento Rotary co-founded the Children’s Receiving Home, Genevieve put her advocacy into action on its first board. Originally located in the historic Drescher house at 1423 H St, the home served 12-15 children at a time.

In the years since its founding, CRH has served 75,000 children, us among them. In 1964, it moved to a roomy six-acre campus near Watt avenue and Auburn boulevard. Public donations, which are crucial for CRH, last year reached a record $1 million.

We are grateful to Didion, her fellow founding board members, the Junior League and the Sacramento Rotary for creating a thriving, publicly supported place where our region’s children can be safe from further abuse, trauma and neglect.

As former residents, we appreciate beyond words that CRH sheltered us from the sexual trauma and emotional abuse we separately suffered at the hands of those entrusted to care for us. Because we know first-hand what it means to be safe, we’d like to end this in our own words, in the memory of Genevieve Didion.

From Christine Briceno: “I was lost, terrified and ashamed when I was rescued by law enforcement, and CRH gave me safety, solace and patience (even when I acted out) in a way that allowed me to take control of my body and heart and to grieve and heal. 

“CRH gave me the seeds of hope that grew into an incredible future. We must continue to educate our community about the effects of abuse and trauma on children and to increase resources to the staff, caretakers and families entrusted to care for them.”

From Janeen Dodson, “Thirty years ago, the Children’s Receiving Home was my safe haven as I escaped years of abuse and trauma within my own home. Until then, I had no idea there were other kids out there like me, hiding in the shadows and forced to keep secrets out of fear for our lives.

“The Receiving Home’s reach is far greater than the 75,000-plus youth who have come through its doors, because many of us share our stories of survival, creating a ripple effect of inspiration, hope, and resiliency.”

Christine Briceno (right) is Director of Member Account Services with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), a parent, and a member of the CRH Board.

Janeen Dodson (left) is Deputy Director of Audit and Evaluation with the California Department of Housing and Community Development, a parent, and a member of the CRH Board.